Recently in The CJN, I wrote about the inherent ageism of otherwise superb Jewish incubator programs and intensive retreats that place a cap on participation at age 40. I advocated for shaping more intergenerational Jewish spaces and for not excluding mid-career artists or second-career entrepreneurs from communal support.
To expand the conversation, I interviewed four Jewish artists over the age of 40.
Boundless creative energy is in the blood of Philadelphia musician Susan Lankin-Watts. Her mother is the celebrated drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts, who at 83 regularly prods her daughter and The Fabulous Shpielkes band-mate: “How can we get that gig?” Forty-nine- year-old Lankin-Watts recently started a graduate program while launching Philly’s Community Klezmer Initiative, getting out an all-ages crowd of 200 for a klezmer dance party. For her, the benefits of collaborating with both her octogenarian mother and emerging artists are keenly felt.
“There’s a really nice energy that you can lose when you get older. What you don’t have when you’re 20 is rich years of skill, depth and wisdom about your art. But if you can combine both energies, then you’re golden.” Regarding her ongoing artistic projects, she said: “I feel more creative now than ever, but there’s less of an accepting format for my creativity than 20 years ago.”
Fifty-year-old dancer and performer Andrea Hodos from Los Angeles also feels she is thriving artistically. After having children, Hodos chose a more stable career in education, but, as she shared: “By the time I was ready to jump back into the arts when I was turning 40, I made a transition out of being a Jewish educator and no longer qualified for any of the institutional support that the Jewish community was giving.” She asserted: “Don’t discount my ability just because I spent a decade raising kids. I still have new ways of approaching my work and the impact my work can have on the community.”
For musician and director of the Montreal Jewish Music Festival, Jason Rosenblatt, 42, being a parent is also a major factor in his career. Because his artistic work generates modest income, he teaches, leads choirs, and plays simchahs in addition to recording and touring with several projects, including his acclaimed group Shtreiml. Given his family commitments, he expressed: “I would rather see something from the Jewish community that is a grant submission process [as opposed to retreats] where the artist creates the program for himself.”
Aaron Lightstone, from Toronto’s award-winning band Jaffa Road, is greatly informed by making music in intergenerational spaces. “As an artist in my 40s, I have a lot to learn from peers my age and older. And I’ve met musicians in their 20s who are amazing. I get a lot of inspiration, teaching and energy from them.”
Hodos participated in NewGround, a Muslim-Jewish partnership program, after pushing for the removal of their age cap. Joining those young adults affirmed her belief in cross-generational work: “I have been finding as a Gen X person that I can help to build bridges between boomers and those younger. I think the world is always more interesting when you get people who are different next to each other. My hope is that more of these incubator programs for artists and innovators will open themselves so it will be more creative for everyone. There are people who got lost in the shuffle and we have a lot to offer.”
Lankin-Watts speaks to ageless creative energy: “People often say to me it’s time for the new generation to take over, it’s time for my mother to step down; but I don’t think its ever time for anyone to step down. If you’re alive, you create. You create a heartbeat. You create a breath. As long as you’re alive, you have something new to bring to each day.”
Evelyn Tauben is a writer, producer and curator.