Jennifer Bleyer, founding publisher of Heeb and now a NY Times staff writer, has a wonderful piece about Levi Okunov up on Nextbook:
Okunov is seen as a model not just for having transcended his story, but for having incorporated it into a larger story without abandoning it completely. The standard narrative of lapsed religious Jews (or any Jews, for that matter) is that they are forever suspended in inner turmoil and guilt. This is the narrative popularized by the Nathan Englanders and Shalom Auslanders of the world, and especially beloved by secular Jews for confirming a smug fantasy that religion is oppressive and unhealthy.
But Okunov does not seem fraught with existential angst, perhaps because he has a loving relationship with his family. Although his parents were distressed when he first left the fold, they now have a close relationship with him, speaking with Okunov on the phone regularly and always welcoming him home. His mother believes that he is somehow saving souls through his work and has said she would eagerly attend one of his fashion shows if there were a divider separating men and women.
Okunov seems to find nothing contradictory about being a fashion designer and bon vivant who spontaneously breaks into Yiddish song and still considers himself a Hasid, if not in practice then certainly in spirit. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about him is that in his mind, everything is OK. It might seem incongruous from the outside, but to Okunov, juggling the pieces of his seemingly disparate identities feels perfectly fine.
This 2-week open studio project features 11 artists in fashion, music, performance art and video. One regular admission ticket gets you in Sunday - Thursday to watch works-in-progress, meet artists, and attend concerts, salons, runway show, poetry slam, and parties.