This week, representatives from Jewish cultural institutions from around the world convened in New York for the annual 'Schmooze Conference" of the International Jewish Presenters Association. Other commitments prevented my attendance, but I was fortunate to speak at the first one a few years back.
Its a wonderful concept, and it seems to have some practical benefits beyond collegiality. As with his other projects and contributions, I applaud Michael Dorf for bringing this idea to fruition. The greater opportunity, however, is for this Association to be more than an Annual Conference for the American Jewish community.
We know all the research and findings over the last decade about the impact of Jewish arts and culture and their role as a portal to Jewish identity. IJPA has an opportunity to be the voice of the providers of these portals and advocate for the artists and member presenters who are expanding notions of Jewish expression. With the arrival of Mp3 players and digital videos and music distribution, there is unprecedented opportunity to engage untold numbers of Jews, young and old. The passing of Debbie Friedman this week, with her innumerable musical contributions to Jewish life, underscores this.
Nevertheless, artists, performers and the cultural entities which present them, are the stepchildren of the Jewish communal world. They are endlessly called upon to donate their time and talents at Fundraising Benefits for causes other than their own. They are paid and funded poorly, yet made the centerpieces of communal life. They enrich Jewish life and inspire us in ways few aspects of our heritage can, yet there is no effort to support them on a national level.
IJPA, with its membership of Jewish cultural presenters from around the word, can and should seize the opportunity to advocate for the role of the arts in Jewish life and press for its support. True, many Federations fund the work of the excellent Foundation for Jewish Culture, and together, they can develop a North American Jewish Cultural Policy. 1% of the annual JFNA budget could establish a National Endowment for Jewish Arts and Culture as a national funding mechanism for Jewish Arts and Culture.
This is the opportunity for the IJPA, to take this case to the General Assembly. Jewish musicians and presenters don't need tour packages and networking as much as we need a voice in the organized community. We already know how to make music. Perhaps now is the time that we start to make some noise.