Also part of Next@19th is the so-called Sanhedrin, named after the ancient Jewish religious court. In a recent debate on whether Jews should get tattoos, speakers stood on each side of the room, and listeners literally took sides -- physically walking to one side or the other.
If Temple Israel is the right place, Person is the right person. Growing up in a progressive Reform synagogue in Brooklyn, she heard an English choir backed up by organ, and Yiddish singing accompanied by guitar. She even recalls a cantorial soloist with accordion and dancers on the bima.
But her route was not direct. Coming to South Florida in 1992, she went "shul shopping" and came up empty. "I didn't find other Jewish young adults who wanted creativity and community," she said.
Finally she gathered her own group at her apartment near Miami Beach's Lincoln Road. "Alterna-Jews," they called themselves, experimenting with things like interpretive poetry and tap-dancing at aPassover Seder.
Person then drifted off to jobs in Atlanta, Los Angeles and West Palm Beach before returning to Miami in 2004. She finally found a comfortable fit with Temple Israel.
For artists like Myriam Eli, having Next@19th as a venue is, well, a godsend. A Cuban Jew, half-Sephardic and half-Ashkenazic, she blends Turkish, Iraqi, Egyptian and other dance styles. She and husband Joe Zeytoonian have their own arts organization, called Harmonic Motion.
Eli says South Florida has music and dance venues for Haitian and Hispanic people, as well as the African diaspora. "But there's not a lot of presentation for Jewish material. Music and dancing and prayer -- it's all part of the same thing: connection with what I call the Great Power, and some people call God."
Rabbi Mitchell Chefitz, scholar-in-residence at Temple Israel, has a more expansive view. Chefitz, who invited Person to the temple, sees the rise of Jewish arts as a sign a historic "paradigm shift" in Jewry -- on a level with the shift in ancient times from temple worship and Torah study to synagogue services and Talmud study.
"There's a lot of searching, a spiritual longing for alternative approaches," he says. "People are missing an engagement with the Jewish soul, and there is nothing in conventional service or teaching that does it. But art, music, poetry -- that attracts them."
Person and company are hard at work on the next Guava Rugelach Festival, planned for Sept. 3-4. Thus far, they've lined up more than half-dozen acts including Myriam Eli. Also there will be Galeet Dardashti, a Persian-style composer and singer, along with a band called Yemeni Blues.
Dardashti's planned tour -- including New York, Boston, Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles – shows the spread of the new trend of Jewish arts. Linking them is the New Jewish Cultural Network and its parent organization, the New York-based Foundation for Jewish Culture.
The foundation has been around since 1960, but it focused first on scholarship. It broadened its scope in the last generation, says Andrew Ingall, its program officer for the arts.
"We did a study in 2005, which found that Jewish culture is the portal by which young unaffiliated Jews connect to Judaism," Ingall says. "That showed our funders that it was a worthwhile investment."
The goals of Next@19th are lofty, and the means are varied. How to know if/when to declare success?
Chefitz is rather blunt. "When people stand at the door. And when we get national attention and money."
Person is more general in her gauge of success. "If one person has been touched and is engaged, we've succeeded. It's an evolving measurement."
JDDavis@Tribune.com or 954-356-4730.