Kira is in it right now. They radiate creative ideas and generative energy, so it’s no wonder that they keep finding and attracting so many captivating projects. Inquisitive, warm, and sincere, they make our conversation so smooth, it’s as though we’re old buds. To kick off our Profiles series of GatherBay community members (or “GatherBaes”), I spoke to Kira on Zoom about growing up locally, their Holocaust descendants group, the power of representation in film, the glaring lack of health education for teens, and one of the best sunset spots anywhere. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Editor’s note: GatherBay Profiles is our interview series spotlighting the vast array of community members doing rad things! Released twice per month, the series aspires to celebrate GatherBay’s greatest treasure—the people around us. Want to be profiled? Email email@example.com, subject line, “Profiles.”
Jason: Kira! I’m curious: What brought you to the Bay?
Kira: I grew up in Sonoma County in Sebastopol and then I went to school in the Midwest. When I thought about where I wanted to live, I wanted to be close to my family but somewhere with more events and more community. I loved Berkeley when I was a kid, so I thought I’d check it out and it’s been great.
How does the East Bay feel different from Sebastopol?
There’s just a lot more going on. In Sebastopol, you can find most things you need or want, but there’s maybe one of each thing like a Reform synagogue or a bookstore. Here, wow, you can really find your little niche! I’ve been enjoying exploring that and always feeling like there are more options.
Yes! I love the culture of micro cultures here. Is there anything that’s surprised you about living in the East Bay?
I’ve been surprised by what a huge Jewish community there is. Growing up in Sonoma County, I definitely knew Jews and was involved in Jewish community, but it felt like I was an outlier or there were times in my life that I was in terms of my Jewish identity. That part of me was not always honored by classmates or people around me. Being here, it’s been great to be like, “Wow, there’s so many different ways to be Jewish.”
On that note, what does your Jewish life look like these days?
Finding different inroads into the Jewish community has been a big way that I’ve met people here. I like being on the listserv [Editor’s note: this refers to an informal Google group where people share Jewish events, housing opportunities, and miscellaneous queries] and I go to events at Base Bay, which is great. Growing up, being Jewish was a lot about going to [religious] services. That’s not really something I do now. It’s something I’m open to, but it’s been cool to engage more with Judaism as a social and cultural identity. I’ve also found a lot of community through this Holocaust descendants group that I started, which has been awesome and unlike anything else in my life.
Can you tell me what that group grew out of?
My grandpa is a Holocaust survivor. That’s been a big part of my upbringing and a huge part of my Jewish identity. Though I have a lot of Jewish friends, I was finding that I didn’t have as many who understood that aspect of the experience. So I emailed the listserv, and I just said, “Hey, does anyone know about any groups that exist for people in their 20s and 30s?” People were like, “No, not really.” I met so many people who responded who said they wanted to do this. It was an outpouring. So we were like, “Okay, we’ll get together!”
It’s such a powerful idea to form a group and have a way of talking about something that is really difficult to talk about.
Some people come from families where it’s really hard for the relatives to talk about, and so they haven’t. Others come from families where they talk about it all the time. We connect around that. It’s often very emotional and it takes me some time to recover from the group, but there’s also a lot of levity in being around people who have the same experiences. It’s weird that it can be funny, but it is funny sometimes, and it feels good to be able to bring some lightness to it.
I love that. I think it’s so crucial.
It’s also been meaningful to realize how many people are affected. The group has been really formative for me. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of writing about intergenerational trauma but also intergenerational resilience and the things we can take from our ancestors. I feel like being Jewish in the East Bay has given me a lot of ancestor energy.
Switching topics, tell me about your work with Peer Health Exchange!
I’m working with high schoolers, teaching health education and talking about mostly sexual health and mental health. I strive to find spaces for young adults to talk about these things and really open up. It’s a near-peer model, where I’m quite a bit older than high schoolers, but I’m also younger than a lot of their teachers. So hopefully, they’ll feel more comfortable asking me questions about their lives and feeling like I’m closer to their experience.
Is there a major shortcoming in school education programs?
Absolutely. I remember feeling it as a student myself. We learned so many important things at school, but what about how we engage with each other? Specifically, relationship education. So many adults fall headfirst into having to figure out thorny situations. Fourteen-year-olds are already in difficult situations, but are experiencing things for the first time. It feels like a good moment to be forming healthy habits early and thinking about how we can protect ourselves and others.
I know you’ve done some filmmaking. I was curious when you first became interested in that path?
Before this role, all of my post-college work experiences have been in film. I love storytelling and I love starting conversations about taboo topics, which is also why I’m doing the education work. I really like making films to communicate more unspoken feelings. I’ve made films about gender, womanhood, safety, as well as coming out as nonbinary and that emotional process.
Was there a filmmaker or a movie that had a particularly lasting impact on you?
When I was little, I felt very different from my classmates. I always said, “I’m Jewish, I have lesbian moms, I’m so different.” My family would watch this documentary called That’s a Family that was all these different families in the U.S. and them just going to the laundromat or having dinner. It was a profound experience for me as a little kid being like, “Wow, I’m seeing how other people live their lives.” I still carry that with me, wanting to offer that to other people and make them feel less alone.
Okay, now onto our version of the Proust Questionnaire: Tell us a poem, book, movie, play, or piece of art or media that you love.
One of my favorite books is called The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. It’s about a group of gay men in Chicago experiencing the Aids crisis and then following them decades later.
What’s the Bay’s best-kept secret?
This is not really a secret, but I do feel that it’s underrated. The sunset at Berkeley Marina is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
What was a recent time you felt some kind of spiritual connection?
The other day my partner and I went up to Tilden Park in the Berkeley hills and it was legitimately snowing, which felt very peaceful and like I was just part of this big world with all the snow on the ground. That would be the moment.