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Hello from Cincy Jewfolk! In this newsletter you'll find reporting on Cincinnati Jews and issues important to you, as well as assorted pieces about Jewish holidays, identity, and food.

In this edition: Cassondra Vick visited the open house for the ish Garage, the new home for the cultural Jewish engagement org, in mid-January. She reports for us on what the space is like, how ish plans to put it to good use, and why the org is focusing on a garage after starting as a festival.

Also below: Kimberly Edelstein, a former Butler County magistrate who alleged she was fired for being Jewish, has been awarded $1.1 million in damages by a jury.

By the way, we're hiring for a local editor and engagement coordinator for Cincy Jewfolk! If you, or someone you know, is interested in writing about local Cincy Jewish news, get in touch at – and if you're interested in working for us, check out the job description.

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Ish Opens Garage Doors For New Event, Rental, And Co-Work Space

Visitors at the open house of the ish Garage, with open garage doors visible in back. Courtesy
By Cassondra Vick

Ish (stylized as ish), the Cincinnati Jewish cultural engagement organization, has a new home.

On Jan. 19, ish held an open house & fundraiser for its new ish Garage in the heart of Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood. Meant as a community space, ish envisions the garage as a place to “park yo’self” – that is, a place where you can have a meeting, hang out, use as a coworking space, and create art.

ish began not as a place, but as an event: a semi-annual festival held in Washington Park. The leap from a festival to a garage might not seem an obvious one, but for Lauren Goldberg, ish’s director of communications and brand, it was a natural fit.

“We created this experience for people, and they really connected not just to Jewish culture but Cincinnati history, Jewish art – and so we realized, ‘This is a space for us,’” Goldberg said. So ish turned a metaphorical space into a literal space.

The garage concept is critical for ish, which sees open garage doors as creating a welcoming and open environment for community members.

True to the name, the sides of the historic building open up garage-style, and during the open house, despite the cooler weather, they were wide open. Lights changed colors in the windows of the upper floors, and smooth jazz from a small band wafted out the balloon-decked front door.

In attendance were a diverse crowd: Jews and non-Jews of many genders, ethnic backgrounds, and ages. Artists, ish board members, various community partners, and even residents from the neighborhood came by.

Like the crowd, the food at the open house was eclectic and represented a pluralistic Judaism: everything from certified kosher, catered goods to potluck vegan chili. Over 200 people attended the open house, ish said, and the organization raised over $3,000 to help cover upcoming events.

“[T]o see such a wide array of people from so many facets of our community in our space was simply sublime,” said Christine Chait, the development and events manager for ish.

“All the other Jewish institutions in our city are beautiful and engaging but for generally one demographic,” and aren’t programming with intersectionality in mind, said Chait. “Something we’re harnessing is making these Jewish spaces accessible and available to all.”

At the open house, one woman noted how refreshing the availability of such a space as the ish Garage was in this community. She noted how many kinds of Jews she was seeing at the open house. We need a space like this, she told me; the sort of thing she usually saw provided by Chabad.

Chait said ish wants to have a space where Cincinnati Jews can engage culturally, but not religiously, with their Judaism. Chait, like many area Jewish professionals, can practically quote both the Pew Religious Landscape Study and the more local 2019 Cincinnati Jewish Community Study off the top of her head.

She noted that Americans are less religious than ever, according to the Pew study, and that according to the community study, over half of our Jewish families are interfaith.

That can make some Cincinnati Jews feel like they are forced to make choices about which Jewish spaces they think they’ll be accepted in. But, said Chait, “we make that choice easy because we don’t engage religiously.”

Touring the Garage, you’ll see lots of spaces devoted to different kinds of activity. All areas are available for use or rent, starting with the main space intended for gathering and events. There are tables scattered about, all on wheels, so they can be arranged modularly.

In addition to one-off space rental, ish has also introduced membership plans for the use of the space. “We’re starting to roll out a plan for individuals, businesses, professionals, and teens,” said Goldberg. “People can come in, they can co-work, they’ll have a discount on events, discounts on merch, on tickets… so it will be awesome.”

Up the steep, early 20th-century stairs (historic zoning prevents some updates, Chait told the group) is a surprising variety of spaces that members and others will have access to. There are two fully-furnished, Airbnb-style apartments. A smaller one features a kitchenette, a pull-out sofa and a washer and dryer.

Meanwhile, the large suite features a lofted bedroom, a full-size living area with fireplace, and a real kitchen. Down the hall is a coworking space that could also be used for meetings, which lets out onto a small patio.

These spaces will be used not just as a place people can rent out for guests, visiting synagogue speakers, or whatever needs Jewish Cincinnati might envision, but also as an event space. A local Jewish caterer, Rotem Greniman, and a private chef, Adam Cohen, will soon co-host a pop-up dinner in the room on Valentine's Day.

The last stop is the loft area at the top of yet more stairs, featuring the desks at which the ish staff themselves work. Back downstairs, down a hall, and past two all-gender restrooms is a small kitchen that can be used during events and serves as a staff eating area.

Finally, the Garage opens up into a large room, also with garage doors, meant to appeal to the teen crowd. There’s a comfortable macrame-style swing, a carefully curated selection of books in a cozy corner, and an entire wall of board games.

Jeanne Bilyeau, a representative of The Friendship Circle, a Chabad Initiative bringing together teen volunteers with children with special needs, was hanging out in this area representing her organization and answering any questions people might have.

The Friendship Circle collaborates with ish, and ish helps them get the word out about their newly-launched initiative, said Bilyeau. There were several Friendship Circle magnets scattered on a nearby locker.

“Normally, we do that at Chabad,” Bilyeau said to a small group asking questions about her organization’s events, her presence speaking to the genuinely pluralistic Jewish space ish is trying – and it seems, succeeding – to create.

About the writer: Cassondra Vick is a jack-of-many trades: trained as a librarian she’s served as a children’s librarian, the head of a small nonprofit, currently serves as the Communications Manager at Northern Hills Synagogue – and now she’s adding “writer” to the list. Married to a rabbi and with two small children, in her mythical free time she reads (of course) and lately she is making shrinky dink jewelry.
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More news:

In mid-2016, Kimberly Edelstein, then a Butler County magistrate, told her boss, Common Pleas Judge Greg Stephens, that she needed to take eight days off in October to celebrate the Jewish high holidays.

Stephens' response was, according to Edelstein: "Holy Cow, eight days." Four days after that incident, Edelstein was fired.

Edelstein sued Stephens, alleging religious discrimination, and pointed to Stephens – who is also a Baptist pastor – being motivated by "extreme Christian beliefs" in the firing.

Now a federal jury has sided with Edelstein, awarding her $1.1 million in damages, though the case may not be over as Stephens decides whether to appeal.

“The jury’s finding is an important reminder that the law provides protections to those seeking accommodations for religious beliefs and practices,” said Rabbi Ari Ballaban, director of the Cincinnati Jewish Community Relations Council, in a statement to JTA.

“Neither employers nor government institutions may retaliate against Jews (or other religious minorities) for seeking to exercise their protected religious rights.”
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