The Foundation’s New Jewish Culture Network (NJCN) is accepting applications for its music commission! A musician/composer will receive $10,000 to develop a new touring project. The NJCN is a pipeline for contemporary performing arts that explore the Jewish experience. NJCN is a collaborative commissioning and touring program represented by a select league of performing arts presenters. Past commissions recipients include Alicia Svigals for The Yellow Ticket (2012) and Galeet Dardasthi for Monajat (2011).
Applications for the NJCN 2013 Music Commission are due April 30th.
As the key supporters of Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, – the people who made the film possible – I wanted to let you all know about a State Department sponsored trip with the film to Kyiv, Lviv and Moscow from which I just returned. Former US Ambassador to Ukraine, John Tefft had seen and liked the film and in
vited me to be part of their ongoing program in public diplomacy and cultural exchange.
While I was excited to return with the film to Ukraine, where of course Sholem Aleichem lived, and to visit Russia, which, even during darkest Soviet times, continued to teach Sholem Aleichem in public school, I was unprepared for just how moving the trip would be. The depth of response from the Jewish and even non-Jewish communities in these three cities was somewhat overwhelming. I know most of you have travelled there and met with members of the Jewish community so you’ll know to what I am referring.
I showed the film to film school and creative writing students in Kyiv and Moscow, to a Jewish congregation in Kyiv and in open screenings in all three cities. Afterward, in each location, I was besieged by young people, sometimes a half or a quarter Jewish with tales of lost Jewish roots in their families, of targeted murders and hidden Jewish identities, all of whom were now desperate to learn about and reclaim their Jewish identity and past and felt spurred on to do so even more so after seeing the film.
The yearning and interest was so palpable it has convinced me that I need to return to the Former Soviet Union again, both to read Sholem Aleichem stories with young and old alike, to take the film to other cities there, and to initiate the early stages of a new documentary film project focusing on the lost and recovered identities of these young people, a natural follow up of sorts to the Sholem Aleichem film.
So thanks again to you all for helping me to make the film possible. Meanwhile, we’re in the midst of completing a series of lesson plans around the film to get it to high school students across the country. It already has had a strong university-based distribution which continues to grow. While our strong success in theaters (and soon to be streaming on Netflix!) is gratifying, I want you all to know that I’m working to give the film a lasting legacy, made possible by your generosity.
The Foundation has done extraordinary things, but a reality check is in order to understand that organizations which can’t be funded may have to face that fact. Under Elise Bernhardt’s direction we got out of our deficit situation, yet even with the enthusiastic support of the artistic community we never were able to sustain and really fund an organization – as distinct from programs, which are (and may well remain) fundable. Remember that the Federations used to pick up the lion’s share of the bill, and that’s simply no longer the case.
But let’s not wring our hands. Jewish culture lives! That’s not in question. It’s kind of sad that Jewish culture has to live in spite of, rather than because of, the support of the organized Jewish community. Nevertheless, reality checks are important.
I do, in fact, still believe that, given our amazing track record, we should declare victory and call it a day. Spending more money to manage cultural activities than can be spent supporting creative people is unconscionable. And in my opinion it’s very much to the credit of Elise and the FJC board that they have come to that conclusion as well.
The FJC is proud to announce that its 2013-2014 New Jewish Culture Network music commission is The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book. Composed by Bosnian-born, Los Angeles-based accordionist Merima Ključo, The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book traces the incredible journey of one of Jewish culture’s most treasured manuscripts.
Ključo is collaborating with animator and visual artist Ruah Edelstein to create a multimedia project exploring the Sarajevo Haggadah as a symbol of diaspora and displacement.
The book was smuggled from Spain during the Inquisition, hidden from Nazis during WWII by a Muslim librarian, saved from the ravages of the 1992 Bosnian War, before eventually being restored to the National Museum in Sarajevo. Ključo’s commission uses the Sephardic traditions of Spain, Italy, Austria, and Bosnia-Herzegovina and also draws inspiration from Geraldine Brooks’s historical novel, The People of the Book.
The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book performance was commissioned by the Foundation for Jewish Culture’s New Jewish Culture Network, a league of North American performing arts presenters committed to the creation and touring of innovative projects, and developed in residence at The Yellow Barn. The Yellow Barn will host a work-in-progress presentation at Sandglass Theater in Putney, VT on October 24 and 26, 2013.
Alongside Ključo and Ruah Edelstein, The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book’s artistic team includes pianist Seth Knopp, founding member of the Naumburg Award-winning Peabody Trio, and dramaturg Derek Goldman, an award-winning stage director, playwright, and scholar.
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The 2014 tour will include the following stops, along with artist-in-residency workshops, talks, panel discussions, and other public programs to be announced:
- March 20 and 22, 2014 , The Yellow Barn, Putney, VT : The Sarajevo Haggadah World Premiere
- March 2014 (Date TBD), Boston, MA: Co-presented by the Boston Jewish Music Festival and the New Center for Arts and Culture
- April 4, 2014, Dallas, TX: Nasher Sculpture Center
- May 2014, (Date TBD), San Francisco, CA : Co-presented by The Contemporary Jewish Museum and the JCC of San Francisco . Performance in conjunction with the CJM’s 2014 New Music Series
- August 2014 (Date TBD) , Toronto, Canada : Headline event at Ashkenaz Festival, North America’s largest Jewish music festival
- Fall 2014 (Date TBD), Austin, TX : Performance in conjunction with the University of Texas-Austin’s Texas Performing Arts series.
The New Jewish Culture Network is the Foundation for Jewish Culture’s pipeline for contemporary performing arts that explore the Jewish experience. NJCN is a collaborative commissioning and touring program represented by a select league of performing arts presenters, both Jewish and general. Music composition is a priority for the first several commissions. Past commissions recipients include Alicia Svigals for The Yellow Ticket (2012) and Galeet Dardasthi for Monajat (2011). The 2013-14 commission and tour has received major support from the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Anne Abramson Foundation and other donors.
This summer brings news about several FJC grantees we wanted to share:
Artist and former JCAA recipient Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who has been the the artist-in-residence at the New York Department of Sanitation since 1977 (and the only artist to hold that position), makes art about process, tedium, and survival. Ukeles, whose work is the subject of three shows this summer, is the subject of a fascinating profile over at Tablet Magazine. It notes that while her large-scale performance and installation projects – which can take five to 10 years of planning – sometimes cause her to fall out of the public eye, “her performances from the late seventies that explore the exploitation of sanitation workers have struck a chord with younger curators interested, perhaps, in the parallels between the 1970s economy and today’s.”
Sukkah City, the documentary film that follows a groundbreaking 2010 sukkah design competition in New York City, sold out its world premiere at the Jerusalem International Film Festival on July 9 and 10. The film was a winner of a Lynn and Jules Kroll Film Fund grant. Filmmaker Jason Hutt, who also directed the FJC-supported documentary Orthodox Stance, documented the 2010 competition from its inception through its selection process.
The film’s Jerusalem premiere garnered glowing coverage in The Times of Israel, Ha’aretz (subscription required), as well as the Atlantic Monthly online, which quoted director Jason Hutt, who said he went into the film understanding this was a unique moment for his city: “I’d guess that Sukkah City was probably the largest non-Orthodox, non-Israel centered public expression of Jewish life in the history of New York.”
Corrie Siegel, an artist, curator and educator, and also one of the L.A. Six Points Fellowship grant recipients, will be part of a new exhibition called Borderlands, running from August 17 through September 20, 2013 at the Actual Size gallery in Los Angeles.
This group exhibition will feature works by Siegel, as well as artists Rona Yefman, Daniel Kiczales, and Tanja Schlander. Using Israel as a focus, the works will explore the complex interaction between multiculturalism, nationality and politics as well as how they affect the individual. The goal of this exhibition is to expose Los Angeles to a talented group of international artists and create a nuanced space for dialogue about the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict.
The E-News will feature an in-depth profile of Corrie Siegel and a further look at the LA Six Points Fellowship program next month.
In 1998, when she was eighteen, Israeli model Linor Abargil was raped at knifepoint. Just two months later she entered and won the Miss World competition. If this combination sounds improbable, then you only need to meet Abargil.
A decade after her ordeal she decided to journey around the world speaking to other victims of rape and sexual abuse, including celebrities like Fran Drescher and Joan Collins. It’s this five year journey that’s the subject of Brave Miss World, winner of the foundation’s 2012 Kroll Film Fund grant.
Brave Miss World follows in the tradition of award-winning, Foundation-supported documentaries that tackle urgent social issues. Moreover, as with several award-winning FJC documentaries – Crime After Crime and Budrus, for example – the team behind this film has become deeply involved with its subject’s cause. In this case, it’s Abargil’s fight to raise consciousness about violence against women.
“What was so compelling about Linor was her determination to keep speaking out and fighting for justice on behalf of other women no matter how hard it was on her,” the film’s director and producer Cecilia Peck (daughter of Gregory Peck) recently told The Daily Beast.
In June, that fight went to Washington, D.C., where Linor Abargil was invited to meet with Lynn Rosenthal, the White House Adviser on Violence Against Women. Both Abargil and Peck were on hand for a screening of Brave Miss World at the prestigious the American Film Institute’s AFI Docs festival. The film was also screened on Capitol Hill thanks to the efforts of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.
Building on a decade-long mission to speak out against rape and overly-lenient sentencing laws, Abargil hopes to use the film as part of an educational screening series about rape prevention on college campuses.
Furthermore, Brave Miss World isn’t the only Foundation film which tackles the thorny subject of violence against women. Released in 2011 to wide acclaim, Crime after Crime tells the dramatic story of the legal battle to free Debbie Peagler, an incarcerated survivor of domestic violence. Peagler was wrongly convicted of the murder of her abusive boyfriend, and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
The team behind that film is conducting a nationwide social impact campaign (Free from Abuse) to allow victims of domestic violence charged with fighting back against their persecutors to present evidence of abuse in court and reveal the true nature of the circumstances surrounding the charges against them. Meanwhile, the film’s protagonist Joshua Safran, an attorney who has worked pro bono on Peagler’s case, will be publishing a memoir this September about the unconventional upbringing that helped him on the road to social justice.
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Audiences on both coasts will have a chance to see some of our most acclaimed documentaries at film festivals this summer!
Four documentaries supported by the Foundation’s Kroll Film Fun will be featured at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival later this month and into early August.
Brave Miss World will show on July 31 and August 4. Dancing in Jaffa, a look at ballroom dancing classes with both Israeli and Palestinian children, will show on July 26, and August 2, 6 and 10. Joe Papp in Five Acts is a loving look at the man behind New York’s illustrious Public Theater. It runs July 27, August 3 and 7. Finally, Sukkah City, which features some of the most imaginative designs from a 2010 sukkah-building competition in New York, will be showing July 30, August 4 and 5.
Meanwhile, the documentary Numbered, a look at the relationship between Holocaust survivors and their camp tattoos, will be shown at the Hamptons Synagogue in Westhampton, NY, at their Jewish Film Festival, on Tuesday, July 16. (The movie was prominently featured on the homepage of the New York Times last year). And Inventing Our Life, focusing on the century-long history of the kibbutz movement in Israel, will be featured on Monday, August 26.
Two weeks ago, Andrew Ingall traveled to Tel Aviv for an annual film forum that brings together American and European producers to meet Israeli documentary filmmakers. The experience turned him into a major booster for Israeli film.
“It’s just so impressive — the level of creativity, the quality of filmmaking coming out of this tiny country is just so high,” says Ingall, who is in charge of the Foundation’s Kroll Fund for Documentary Film. “Since we’re a foundation interested in Jewish arts around the world, it affirmed the idea we should be supporting filmmakers from all corners. Naturally, that includes Israel.”
Ingall attended the CoPro forum to learn about new Israeli films, to see colleagues from other film funds, and to meet those editors who commission documentaries at major networks like the BBC, France Télévisions, NDR North German Radio & TV, and TV Brasil, among others. In the past, Kroll film fund recipients including The Law In These Parts got their start at CoPro.
The Kroll Film fund is accepting applications for finishing funds through July 16. While the fund supports primarily American film projects, any non-American project can apply as long as one of the lead production team members or companies is American.
Some exciting documentary projects at this year’s CoPro included:
- The Visual Crash, directed by Yael Hersonski (a former Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artist). This film uses multi-visual documentation of the 2010 Gaza Flotilla battle including footage confiscated by the Israeli army.
- An Apartment in Berlin, directed by Alice Agneskirchner, a cross-platform media project about young Israelis living in Berlin who embark on an experiment to refurnish the original apartment of a family deported by the Nazis.
- The Muses of Isaac Bashevis Singer, directed by Shaul Bester, a biography of the great Yiddish writer and Nobel laureate as told through nine of his female translators.
- Censored Voices, directed by Daniel Sivan and produced by Hilla Medalia and Neta Zwebner-Zaibert (film fund grantees for Dancing in Jaffa), a myth-busting documentary about the Six Day War using newly discovered interviews with Israeli soldiers as well as a talk with the famously interview-shy Amos Oz.
Another day, another piece about the state of funding for the arts in the Jewish world. Today the Jewish Week published an editorial that linked the recent news about the closing of the New York-based Six Points Fellowship program (the LA-based cohort runs through February 2014) with similar closings (Heeb, JDub, SF’s Traveling Jewish Theater).
“The closing of the Six Points Fellowship closes one door through which many young Jews may have entered,” the editorial concludes somberly.
News about the shuttering of the New York Six Points Fellowship, and a broader discussion about the importance (or lack thereof) of the arts to the larger Jewish world, has been bubbling in the press for the past fews weeks. Late last month, The Forward reported that after six years, 30 grants and 3 cohorts (two in New York, one in Los Angeles), the NY-based program was ending. This set off responses by Joshua Ford, Associate Executive Director at the Washington DCJCC, as well as others.
While it’s true that the arts are not at the top of the agenda in the Jewish world, it’s also possible to see this latest development as part of a larger (and ongoing) struggle — one of making the case for the arts in an increasingly bottom-line-driven world. Just today comes word from the New York Times about the humanities under attack on college campuses. The arts — always seen as needing patronage and assistance – have a tough time when self-sufficiency becomes the sole argument for utility in a purely market-driven world.
That’s why arguments like those generated by Harvard University’s groundbreaking Report of the Task Force on the Arts are more important than ever. Especially for the same young people that the Six Points Fellowship and other programs targeted.
In brief, the report explores how the arts teach young people how to generate and experiment with new forms, methods, and ideas. As undergraduate learning continues to shift toward problem-based learning, especially in the sciences, it is the arts’ emphasis on practice and experimentation that helps students to understand the challenges that go into new discoveries.
But the value of the arts is more than simply cognitive. Much of art-making is physical and transforms the body—whether learning a dance step, embodying a character on stage or using a paintbrush—and these newly developed muscles and neural pathways provide an experiential education that is equally critical.
As long as the world needs empathy, imagination, and creativity, we will require the arts.
Projects like Harvard’s task force have helped many of us start to make the argument for the importance of the arts — both in the Jewish world and beyond. Now it’s up to us to extend that conversation.