Issue #1

  1. Introducing PROTOCOLS

  2. Something That Could Feel Alive

  3. An Argument After Watching Gentleman’s Agreement

  4. Hard Times

  5. Fear and Isolation in American Zion

  6. Untitled

  7. Becoming Disco

  8. Project 2x1

  9. The Hamsa Flag

  10. Finding Home #61: Beloved

  11. Three Poems

  12. Judaica

  13. The Other Within

  14. Am I Anne

  15. On Choosing

  16. This Shall Also Pass

Project 2x1

Hannah Roodman


Part I

Recently, I ran into my friend, a long-time Crown Heights resident, who told me that post-November 2016 she doesn’t buy from local Jewish stores anymore.  As a woman of color, she felt betrayed by her Jewish neighbors, the majority of whom voted for Trump.

My friend, Vernice, is not a Jew. Her best friend is a Holocaust survivor.

Rewind to June 18, 2012, the day I moved to Crown Heights from Chicago, exactly one day after my college graduation.

Immediately after unloading my luggage, I ran two blocks to the local simcha venue; the girl who was to briefly be my roommate had just gotten engaged.

While there I was introduced to dozens of people and new friends (all women, the men were on the other side of the mechitza). I had only just arrived to Crown Heights, but I already belonged to this vibrant community. A place for both people like me, who had chosen to embark on a “Baal Teshuvah” path towards an Orthodox lifestyle, and others, whose families helped build the movement of Chabad Hasidism.

In 2012, at the age of twenty-two, having left bubble after bubble (West Rogers Park, Chicago, yeshiva in Israel, my college sorority) all that mattered to me was that I finally found a place where I belonged.

My overwhelmingly romantic view of Crown Heights lasted for about a year before its novelties began to fade; the glamour of my grassroots, bohemian shul, the one really great Kosher restaurant, the (modest) women’s fashion game. In that year, I had grown more confident in my voice and the value that I brought to this community as someone from the outside. Ironically, my liberal-leaning politics seemed to make some of my Baal Teshuvah friends there uncomfortable. Yet, there were other friends, themselves having grown up in Crown Heights, who desired these critical  conversations. People who were beginning to explore their desired lifestyles beyond what their parents had regimented.

In this time, I became more aware of my context, as a diasporic Jew in gentrifying Brooklyn, where ghosts of race wars walked, where Jews were not just the dreamers of messianic redemption, but were the very real characters in this neighborhood’s history, politics, and certainly, its real-estate market.

In this time, I became more aware of my context, as a diasporic Jew in gentrifying Brooklyn, where ghosts of race wars walked, where Jews were not just the dreamers of messianic redemption, but were the very real characters in this neighborhood’s history, politics, and certainly, its real-estate market.

In 2012, the Crown Heights I showed up to was predominantly black or Jewish. But gentrification (not spoken about) was well on its way. From the Jewish community’s perspective, this meant that the neighborhood was now white enough to be safe.

For many of the Jews who had lived through the violent Crown Heights riots of the 90s, the trauma buried itself in a deeply entrenched belief that black people created the violence in Brooklyn and Jews (like always) were the victims. Twenty years later, the peace-building infrastructure that had once existed to help these communities connect and work through their tension, had disappeared. Latent racism continued in the Jewish community.

I felt it in the loose use of the Yiddish word shvartze to talk about black people, often subtly implying a dangerous, racial blackness beyond the word’s literal, chromatic meaning.

I felt it in the absence of any conversation about the experience of Jews of color or converts.

I heard it in my friend’s analysis of his Crown Heights upbringing, in which he posited that the neighborhood’s racial lines made it easy for Jewish parents to keep their kids insulated, more easily distinguishing Jewish culture from black (and implicitly non-Jewish) culture.

I heard it in the complaints of angry Hasidic men on labor day, when the West Indian Day parade forced their exposure to thong-clad women and weed-filled air.

I heard it in the double-standards expressed to me by Chabad spokesman Rabbi Shua Hecht. I asked him, “In what ways can Crown Heights Jews show solidarity with our black neighbors?”  His response was, “We try to give out ice cream to non-Jewish children at our holiday events.” This solution seemed perfectly sufficient to him.

In those moments, I felt deep frustration and alienation. Yet I trusted that I was not alone in my desire for more permeable borders, to cross cultures, to live in a neighborhood of connected communities. This dream birthed Project 2×1, a documentary I directed.

Produced in 2013, the film uses first-person point of view storytelling, facilitated by the then-nascent and much-hyped Google Glass technology, to juxtapose the cultures of the neighboring Hasidic and West Indian communities of Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

These representations of life aimed to expose the beauty and humanity of the “other” and reveal similarities between these worlds, such as rituals of hair-covering and oral histories that yearned for distant homelands (the Rastafari Ethiopia, Jewish land of Israel).

My hope was that the Crown Heights Jewish community would acknowledge that their culture of segregation did not always serve them nor their neighbors. I wanted them to be inspired to reciprocate the friendliness and curiosity that so many of my black neighbors expressed towards me and towards the project, even towards Jewishness overall.

The film, and the ten subsequent screenings we organized around the neighborhood, catalyzed some truly inspiring conversations and inter-cultural dialogue. The impact was epitomized after one screening, when a Jewish woman named Adina came up to me to say that she was embarrassed by her own racialized fear, having avoided walking near a park where Trinidadian men gathered on Sundays to play basketball and dominos.

Today the film is part of the curricula at local Jewish non-denominational service organization Repair the World and the local, historically black university Medgar Evers College.


Part II

A few months ago, I watched the film again for the first time in four years. An act of confrontation with intense, rapid change

of my own identity,

of my neighborhood

of the formulation of new questions.

On a personal note, I wondered how did I fear so much rejection of the Jewish community then, when it seems so obvious in hindsight that I would eventually distance myself from this community?

I wondered what value does this project still have in a post-Trump context?

Does it offer anything to people like my friend Vernice, the woman I mentioned at the beginning?

Does it offer anything to the Crown Heights Jewish community today?

Is the film’s only remaining value in its application as a cultural literacy tool for people on the outside of these two communities who are looking for greater familiarity with their neighbors (or what the neighborhood used to be)?

Every responsible narrative must own its biases. I didn’t understand this when I was twenty-three and hustling to market the film, sensitive and defensive to criticism. This is the first time that I offer my own critique of Project 2×1, in the hopes of carrying it into new, deeper conversational contexts within and beyond the Crown Heights communities. Perhaps this critique can support the broader Jewish community’s efforts in approaching the challenges and opportunities of anti-racism work in and between the Jewish world and its neighbors.

To begin, my omissions and oversights. The thirty-minute film does not contain any of the following terms:










or capitalism.


The film does not contain discussion about:


false equivalence,

history behind the race-riots,

the economics of the Jewish real-estate market,

racism within the orthodox community towards Jews of Color,

the religious and non-religious reasons for separation that contribute to the cultural divide,

the cultural and ethnic differences between:

African Americans and Caribbean Americans in New York,

the Chabad Hasidic community and other Jewish communities.




My Jewish world lacked this vocabulary. I was raised to believe that Jewishness was a biological race. It is only in the past two years that I started to understand the aforementioned terms and the complexity of my own whiteness in navigating these questions. The vocabulary cannot exist if we are too afraid to call each other on this behavior.

Today, the Jewish world desperately needs educational resources about how race operates from within and without the community. Today, we must call upon Orthodox Jewish leaders to discuss Judaism in a post-Holocaust world of rising white supremacy and the reasons (trauma, fear, tradition?) behind entrenched tactics of separation and the narrative of victimhood.

In 2012, my theory of change posited that inter-community dialogue would only be possible when each party came from a non-defensive position and perceived a clear and cohesive picture of the other.

To this end, 2×1’s narrative represents two cohesive cultural communities. I isolated West-Indian/Rastafari culture in my representation of black identity in Crown Heights. There are no representations of the other people of color–Latino, Muslim, African American–in the neighborhood.

Today, my theory of change has flipped 180 degrees. In order to do the messy, deep anti-racism work we must foreground the nuance of community, we must leverage the incohesive elements to undo stereotypical assumptions about the other and our own tribalistic separatism. By showcasing the Jewish world’s heterogeneity, particularly the histories of Jews of color, the false lines between “Jewishness” and “blackness/brownness” begin to break down.

Finally, the film deliberately does not represent the Hasidic community in a way that reinforces the image of their intolerance, just as it does not reinforce stereotypes of violence and aggression in the black community.  Yet, concerning the Jewish community, I believe this approach is no longer constructive in today’s desperate and polarized political climate. My Jewish neighbors are celebrating Trump because of what they see as his heroic gestures like his pardon of Sholom Rubashkin and his decision to move the American-Israel embassy to Jerusalem. These celebrations further isolate Jews from their fellow Americans and demonstrate a complete disregard for the bigger picture of the nightmare that America has become for so many.

Today, Crown Heights is no longer predominantly black and Jewish. However, the displacement caused by real-estate inflation and gentrification cause strain within both of these communities. Hasidic Jews are also being priced out of the community (or are living seven people to a two-bedroom apartment, like my best friend’s sister’s family). In this reality, I believe there is an opportunity for real, progressive alliance between Chabad Jews and their long-standing black neighbors to work together to protect affordable housing in Crown Heights. However, this type of movement only works when there is sincere recognition and appreciation of each other’s contributions to the neighborhood.

I offer a few additional considerations for anyone who may wish to continue the work of Project 2×1, be it in Crown Heights or those who may be considering creating this kind of work in other contexts.

  • The value is in the discursive nature of the participatory filmmaking process and the film-screening events. It’s not in the artistry of the media itself.
  • Form a cross-cultural team. Representatives of the communities are fundamental to the potential impact of the project.
  • Collaborate with community leaders to co-create discussion guides to accompany this media. These discussion guides should be treated as living, breathing documents.
  • Think of this project as an organizing tool. How can the film be tied to local community advocacy strategies? Who will/can act as ambassadors to activate the film within the communities?
  • Be aware that filmmaking can be a highly extractive process. It is critical to reciprocate/compensate the generous contributions of the community, particularly the elders, who participate in the filmmaking/research process.
  • If/when you feel stuck with your editorial direction, look for beauty. Tradition is beautiful. Co-existence is beautiful. Beauty leads to greater respect for one’s subjects while still opening up complex questions.
  • As social-issue media-makers, we must push our creative thinking about the use of technology in our process. The effectiveness of this kind of storytelling is not contingent on polish. It’s contingent on resourcefulness. In Project 2×1’s case, Google Glass was an opportunity to de-purpose cutting edge technology from its threat of surveillance and move it towards a positive-humanistic goal. We sacrificed picture-quality to do something that would instead incentivize participation and the broader media’s interest in popularizing our work.

In Project 2×1’s case, Google Glass was an opportunity to de-purpose cutting edge technology from its threat of surveillance and move it towards a positive-humanistic goal.

To close, a final consideration/blessing:

During the Crown Heights riots, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was deeply pained by the violence, famously said, “There are not two communities, we are one community.”

How might we better protect, steward, and evolve our cultures towards this kind of deep truth?

I firmly believe that this messy work is the work of young people: To investigate, understand and evolve our ancestors traditions and ways of being. Our personal and collective liberation depends on the ways in which young people steward their traditions and cultural legacies, however painful or alienating this process may be. I bless us all with the courage and commitment to accept this responsibility with pride.


Hannah is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker and experience designer. Find her work on her website and follow her on Instagram @hroodman.