Have you ever heard of the Foundation for Jewish Culture? It is a New York-based organization that was founded some 53 years ago and is dedicated to the advancement of Jewish cultural life and creativity in the United States. Since 1960, the foundation is credited with channeling some $50 million to Jewish scholars and artists.
Last week, the foundation’s board voted to end its operations next year. That vote appears to be part of a continuing trend of eliminating central Jewish agencies. And although the foundation may spin off some of its programs, its closure risks silencing a significant national advocate for Jewish arts and culture.
We have no doubt that the arts will survive the closure of the foundation. Nonetheless, its focused voice will be missed.
Individual and communal creative expression, through word, image, movement, voice, musical instruments and the manipulation of materials has always been part of Jewish life. And many of those creations still speak to us through the ages. For example, we get inspired by the familiar liturgical melodies sung in the synagogue during the holidays. And each time an intricately crafted mosaic floor is revealed in an ancient synagogue, we are struck by its timeless beauty. The scriptures are full of poetry and song. The Talmud, which is as much lore as it is law, is a feast for the imagination and paints our Jewish heritage and traditions in strange and vibrant colors. So arts and culture are very much a part of our Jewish soul.
The postwar period in the United States witnessed the blossoming of American-Jewish culture. As the immigrant generation was supplanted by American-born Jews, and Yiddish gave way to English, Jewish artists created new identities through music, poetry, film and especially the written word. With that transition largely over, and with virtual spaces available in addition to traditional venues, we have no doubt that the 21st century will bring a different form of expression to our community. We welcome the creativity and the anticipated varying forms of expression, and eagerly await new cultural communication with a profound Jewish flavor.
Art and culture, like prayer, have the ability to take us to new levels of experience and appreciation. Our community benefits from that exposure. So, while we will miss the cheerleading of the foundation and are appreciative for its service, we look forward to welcoming the rise of new and increasingly creative advocates for Jewish arts and culture.