Movement and Embodied Practice
In August 2016, Yoshi Silverstein was driving from Brooklyn, NY to King of Prussia, PA with fellow assistant coaches Tyler and Naomie for their CrossFit Level 1 certificate course. A longtime educator and professional in the world of Jewish Outdoor, Food / Farming & Environmental Education (JOFEE), Yoshi had taken up a CrossFit practice many years prior and began assistant coaching at his local CrossFit in Bushwick as a side-gig to his role as Director of the JOFEE Fellowship at Hazon that would allow him to work directly with students more frequently and to continue pushing his growth as an educator.
As any good Jewish educator does, Yoshi started daydreaming during a quiet stretch: what might a Jewish CrossFit look like?
While ideas of Jewishly-inspired workouts began popping into his head, Yoshi began to think about not just what the workouts and programs would look like, but an entire facility built around Jewish framework for fitness, wellness, and community building. Relatedly, he began thinking about many common challenges he and others had experienced when striving to improve their health and wellness.
For example, if you’re going to have people working out together, they’re going to be hungry and want to eat together. They’re going to want healthy, delicious, and nutritious food that comes predominantly from local and regional sources. Why not attach a cafe or communal dining hall to the fitness facilities?
And why not then attach an urban educational farm and nature playscape that allows the same people to connect with nature and their food more regularly?
As Yoshi’s car-mates started wonder where his mind had gone, the vision that would become Mitsui Collective had firmly planted in his brain and refused to budge.
Following the CrossFit course, Yoshi continued to coach at Bushwick CrossFit as well as deepen and expand his learning and practice around movement and fitness. He began riding his bike to his Manhattan dayjob at Hazon and listening to podcasts ranging from Move Your DNA with Katy Bowman (natural movement and biomechanics) and For the Wild with Ayana Young (land, nature, and wilderness connection) to the Barbell Shrugged series featuring hosts and guests from the CrossFit and weighlifting world.
Yoshi began to notice a missing link in the Jewish education world both specific to JOFEE and broadly — amidst programming for community building, nature connection, food & farming, outdoor education, etc self-care was occasionally taught as a Jewish value and emphasized as a practice, but minimal space and support were typically created to allow individuals to actually accomplish self-care. As with society at large, self-care was almost entirely reliant on the individual’s ability to find time outside program or work hours.
In parallel, even when movement and self-care options were offered at Jewish conferences and events, they tended to turn to options like Yoga or running groups or ultimate frisbee — certainly good options and a sign of their increasing popularity, but also a missed opportunity to integrate movement and wellness practices directly inspired and reflective of Jewish traditions, values, and wisdom.
In May 2018 Yoshi flew out to Colorado where his good friend Zack Finer and business partner Matt Bernstein, co-owners of ApeCo Movement School (formerly Boulder Movement Collective) and Ido Portal mentorship students, were hosting a movement seminar with Ido Portal himself. Following this deep dive into Ido’s methodology for movement research and practice, Yoshi began studying regularly with Kyle Fincham at Movement Brooklyn alongside his fitness practice and CrossFit coaching.
Coupled with the natural movement practices taught by Katy Bowman and others, these influences began to coalesce into frameworks for developing Jewish movement practices based on unlocking the cocreative potential of the human body for both function and artistic expression and on movement in relationship (chevruta) both to other movers and to our environments (aka movement ecology). Over the next two+ years Yoshi continued to develop and teach these practices in and around his full-time work with Hazon and continued movement study.
Also in 2016, Yoshi joined the first all-JOC (Jews of Color) cohort of Selah, a leadership development program run by Bend the Arc and the Rockwood Leadership Institute. This program was both Yoshi’s first experience being in an entirely JOC-centered space and a major push towards deeper learning and practice around antiracist approaches to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. Selah also encouraged fully centering a mind-body-spirit connection at the heart of Yoshi’s ongoing personal leadership work, bridging aspects of his life that had previously been kept more separate.
Over the next several years Yoshi would continue to be involved with JOC community and leadership in parallel to his work with both JOFEE and Jewish movement. He jumped on opportunities both to be part of ongoing JOC-focused professional conversations and to join creative efforts like The Kaleidoscope Project in New York that centered JOC voices and experience.
As this work and conversation moved forward, Yoshi became a key driver of a responsive and emergent shift within the JOFEE field towards a re-centered focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), leading to both a much-needed conversation for the field and a fourfold increase in JOC representation from any prior year at the 2019 JOFEE Network Gathering. During affinity space at the gathering, many of this group expressed appreciation for the rejuvenating power of time spent with Jewish community in nature and a strong desire for creating immersive JOFEE experiences solely for Jews of Color in order to create a more fully safe, supportive, and rejuvenating space for JOC in beloved community. Not only would such experiences create a more holistic and expansive sacred JOC space, they would also create opportunities for deeper JOC-specific sharing, teaching, and learning.
Launching Mitsui Collective
In late summer 2019, Yoshi and his wife relocated from Brooklyn to the Cleveland, OH area to be closer to family and put down long-term roots. As work with the JOFEE Fellowship began to wind down, conversations around launching Mitsui Collective began to evolve and yield fruit. What does the need for resilient community look like in the next one or two years, the next ten or twenty years, the next forty or fifty years? How do we begin building that community and what are the tools and practices needed for this on the individual, social, and ecosystem levels? And how do we build workplaces and careers that enable and empower the professionals in its community to live healthy and balanced lives that build personal and collective resiliency rather than engendering burnout and disfunction?
In the context of ongoing systemic racism, the resurgence of fascism and anti-semitism, and climate change and ecological devastation at large, unprecedented challenges were emerging both within the Jewish community and beyond. It had become clear that climate justice and racial justice — which are in essence two sides of the same coin — are two of the most pressing and urgent issues of our time. Any community and justice work emerging in this moment must address both. Mitsui Collective thus evolved into a vision that encompasses both embodied Jewish practice and racial equity at its core in service of building resilient community that supports all those who identify with and are connected to Jewish tradition, community, and peoplehood.
In late-Fall 2019, Mitsui Collective secured fiscal sponsorship with ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal and received its first grants for seed-funding and early program and staff support. Contracts with program partners proceeded over the coming months, and Yoshi jumped into Mitsui Collective full time in February 2020 following the close of JOFEE Fellowship Cohort 4 and wrapping up his time with Hazon.
Now in year two, Mitsui Collective continues to develop our work through early pilot programs and prototyping, thought partnership, and developing both a local and national presence as a voice in Jewish wellness, JOC leadership, diversity-equity-inclusion, and embodied Jewish practice.
In early summer 2021 we brought on our second staffer — Ariana Starkman — as Program Coordinator! Also involved in supporting our pilot Justice & Embodied Jewish Practice Kollel, Ariana brings a strong background in theater for social change, movement and embodiment work, and the environment. With increasing support, we hope to continue expanding our staff team soon!