Encinitas foundation launches reality TV-style contest for young Jewish artists

Mia Schonn, 33, a mosaic muralist in Tel Aviv, Israel, is participating in "Expedition Maker."
Mia Schonn, 33, a mosaic muralist in Tel Aviv, Israel, is participating in “Expedition Maker,” an online arts competition produced by Moishe House in Encinitas.
(Courtesy photo)

‘Expedition Maker,’ created by Moishe House, features 10 ‘makers’ from the U.S. and Israel competing for weekly votes


Young Jewish adults will soon have their own reality TV-style competition series to watch when “Expedition Maker” launches online this Sunday, Feb. 21..

The Encinitas-born, four-week series will feature 10 Jewish designers ages 22 to 37 from throughout the U.S. and Israel competing in an elimination-style art contest. The first episode debuts at 9 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 21, with follow-up episodes on Feb. 28, March 7 and 14. The winner will be announced on March 21 and will be chosen by a public vote for a $5,000 cash prize.

“Expedition Maker” is being produced by Moishe House, a global engagement program for Jews in their 20s and early 30s. It is headquartered at the Leichtag Foundation campus in Encinitas. Launched in 2006, Moishe House was created to help young Jewish adults reconnect with their faith and culture during the in-between years after college and before career success and parenthood.

Besides operating 142 houses worldwide where young Jewish adults can live together and share Shabbat and other Jewish cultural traditions, Moishe House runs Nai, an events division that offers immersive cultural experiences. Among these experiences is Camp Nai Nai Nai, a Jewish summer camp for adults in their 20s and early 30s, and several “Expedition”-themed events, including Love in the Sukkah, a weeklong matchmaking game for Jewish singles. (The name “Nai Nai Nai” comes from the sung phrase used in place of words in Jewish songs).

Last year, the pandemic forced Nai to move its camp and other experiences online, which led to the creation of “Expedition Maker,” which is modeled after TV contests like “Project Runway” and “Top Chef.” For the series, all 10 makers pre-filmed their work at home in each of the four art challenges, but only those artists chosen by voters to move forward each week will be seen in subsequent rounds.

Lisa Klig, director of Camp Nai Nai Nai, said the camps, “Expedition Maker” and other Nai events are designed to reduce the isolation many young Jewish young adults may be feeling as they rebuild their community networks and deal with the challenges of the pandemic.

“We know that immersive experiences are an incredible tool to bring Jewish young adults together as a generation,” Klig said. “We create those connections in new ways. The camp is all about creating an opportunity for people to disconnect from their 9 to 5 and daily grind, and connect in a human, authentic way through play, through joy, through being silly and not taking oneself too seriously.”

Hillel Smith, 36, a Jewish graphic designer, illustrator and muralist in Washington, D.C.
Hillel Smith, 36, a Jewish graphic designer, illustrator and muralist in Washington, D.C., will compete in Moishe House’s “Expedition Maker” art competition series.
(Courtesy photo)

Klig said “Expedition Maker” is a way to showcase the incredible depth and diversity of talent among young Jewish artists and to create connections between the artists and their viewers. Not only will the audience be able to vote on their favorite projects each week, they will also be able to take part in weekly “playshop” do-it-yourself art classes hosted by the makers.

The 10 artists are Eli Kaplan Wildmann, a 37-year-old interactive paper and urban artist in Jerusalem; Eugene Zeleny, 31, an artist and mechanical engineer in Newton, Mass., whose skills include woodworking, leather art, costume and prop design and 3D printing; Hadar Cohen, 28, a printmaker, weaver and performance artist in Los Angeles; Hillel Smith, 36, a graphic designer, illustrator and muralist in Washington, D.C.; Kayla Ginsburg, 28, an illustrator, painter and textile artist in Chicago; Mia Schon, 33, a mosaic, paint, collage and street artist in Tel Aviv; Naom Mason, 32, a printmaker and dye artist in Worcester, Mass; Rachel Jackson, 28, a bookmaker, calligrapher and woodworker from Somerville, Mass.; Alix Kramer, 25, a knitter from Chicago; and Yehoshua Hooper, 37, an illustrator and calligrapher in Denver.

To recruit the contestants, Klig said she sifted through more than 100 video applications with judges from three national arts organizations: Asylum Arts in Brooklyn; Atiq: Jewish Maker Institute in Berkeley; and Mitsui Collective in Cleveland, Ohio. Klig said the goal in casting was to find top young artists in their fields who represent the full diversity of the Jewish community in terms of geography, sexuality and gender.

In order to watch “Expedition Maker, vote on the winners and take part in the playshop classes, viewers must register at

— Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune