You Should Know: Marlee Waleik

Markee Waliek. Photo courtesy of Marlee Waliek

Ellen Braunstein

Marlee Waleik is building a Jewish artists’ collective — a community of theater and visual artists connected through common heritage and a commitment to sharing ideas.
Her Tribe 12 fellowship, a Jewish leadership experience, gave her the resources and motivational tools to create such a collaboration, she said. “I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get something off the ground.”

This is Waleik’s second year living at Moishe House Philly. The home is the nexus of a peer-led Jewish community organization for young adults, ages 22 to 32. The four roommates run social events at the home and around the city.

“I didn’t know my roommates too well before I moved in, but we grew to love each other and we do a lot of really fun events from barbecues to karaoke nights to a Purim drag show,” she said.

Waleik is working on the arts initiative with Gavriela Weitzman, one of her three roommates, who is a printmaker.

“A lot of different art mediums often keep to themselves. I really value collaboration,” said Waleik, a 2020 graduate in musical theater from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
She envisions a space where Jewish artists can come together to present their art, work together on projects and potentially create one giant project that spans multiple art forms.
Waliek said that arts culture can be isolating as well as competitive.

“I’m not a productive artist when I’m constantly comparing myself and thinking of myself as a competitor,” she said. “I want to be known as a facilitator and a collaborator, someone you want to work with and not against.”

The programming she co-leads for Moishe House needs to feel like hanging out with one’s closest friends, she said. “The events should be educational, spiritual and most of all — silly.”

Waleik loves art, film and theater that is wacky and eccentric. She knows Rocky Horror Picture Show by heart. She listens to all types of music and can play basic piano, melodica, guitar and ukulele.

“I love trying new things, meeting new people and being Jewish,” Waleik said. She appreciates weird art and strange, campy movies. “You can find us on a Saturday night after Shabbat watching a weird movie.”

She works as a nanny, having downsized her job as a day care teacher. “I love helping out parents and I love kids.”

Marlee Waliek participates in a community building activity. Photo courtesy of Marlee Waliek

Waleik grew up in a musical and theatrical home in Natick, Massachusetts. Her father played in a rock band and her mother was a buyer for Newbury Comics, a pop culture and music store chain. The home was traditionally Jewish, “but not super-religious.”

Her father grew more observant after Waliek left home for college.

“A few years ago, he became Orthodox, which led me to seek out more observant spaces in Philadelphia,” she said.

She attends services at multiple locations, including Mamash Chabad, the Sephardic Congregation Mikveh Israel, Mekor Habracha and the South Philadelphia Shtiebel, both Modern Orthodox synagogues.

The Philadelphia Shtiebel is a favorite.

“It’s home to many young people, which I really enjoy. I’ve found my own path to living more of an observant lifestyle,” Waleik said.

She moved back home for a while after college and returned to Philadelphia where she found friendship, kinship and acceptance.

“There’s so much warmth and love from this community. That’s when I started thinking that maybe I could go back to my art, theater and performance roots with a Jewish twist,” Waleik said. “It made things a little tricky. I no longer want to perform or do any work on Shabbat.”

The words of Rabbi Akiva inform her Jewish life, she said.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” she said. “To me, it encapsulates what I’m trying to do right now. I want to foster a space and my home to be a place where people feel welcomed and accepted for who they are, regardless of their personal Jewish beliefs and identity.”

Ellen Braunstein is a freelance writer.


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