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July 22, 1994 - Image 79

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-07-22

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Richard
Siegel leads
the National
Foundation
for Jewish
Culture to
stimulate
new Jewish
culture
activites both
locally and
nationally.

SUZANNE CIWSSLER

SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

Richard Siegel:
Accelerated
acceptance.

Culture Catal St

"Bill our years ago, the
creators of Fiddler
on the Roof Jerry
Bock, Sheldon Har-
nick and Joseph
Stein—were recog-
nized with a Jewish
Cultural Achieve-
ment Award from the National
Foundation for Jewish Culture
(NFJC).
During the ceremonies, re-
ported NFJC Executive Director
Richard Siegel, the three talked
about how the musical has been
performed all over the world,
meeting audience acceptance and
identification with the characters.
"In particular, they described
the run that the show had in
Japan," Mr. Siegel recalled. "At
the opening of the production, the
Japanese director told them that
the show was so Japanese he
didn't understand how Ameri-
cans would understand it!"



Mr. Siegel, recently in Detroit
to speak at the annual conference
of the Council ofJewish Theaters
(CJT), considers this a very im-
portant message for his 34-year-
old organization, which works
with artists, cultural institutions
and communities to stimulate
new activities.
He believes the experience in
Japan affirms trends he has not-
ed in his work promoting Jewish
culture in and out of Jewish cir-
cles.
"The Jewish cultural product
is astounding, and there is an ac-
ceptance that is unprecedented,"
said Mr. Siegel, who has been
with the New York-based foun-
dation for 14 years and heads a
staff of 10.
"If you want to see Jewish the-
ater, you don't have to go to a
Jewish theater. You can go to
Broadway and see Conversations
With My Father or The Sisters

Rosensweig; if you want to see
Jewish exhibitions, you can go to
the Smithsonian and see the
Dead Sea Scrolls or to the New
York Public Library and see He-
brew texts."
As Mr. Siegel administers the
agency that helps advance the
Council of American. Jewish Mu-
seums, the Council of Archives
and Research Libraries in Jew-
ish Studies and the CJT, he notes
a generational trend that he be-
lieves contributes to the acceler-
ated acceptance ofJewish artistic
works.
"We are now in a surge con-
cerning how to reintegrate who
we are as Jews with who we are
as Americans," said the NFJC ex-
ecutive director, whose agency re-
ceives funding from the Council
ofJewish Federations, individual
contributors, foundations, special
events and Jewish Endowment
for the Arts and Humanities.

the first- and second-generational
conflicts, the first generation
wanting to preserve the Jewish
identity and the second wanti-
ng to break out into the general
world," he explained.
We're finding a dramatic shift
in cultural orientation and see-
ing more of a focus on issues and
concerns being faced at the end
of the 20th century."
For example, the NFJC re-
ceived a $140,000 grant from the
Covenant Foundation support-
ing the development of a new mu-
sical theater piece by Elizabeth
Swados. Anti Seraphim deals
with the issues of black-Jewish
relations and will be presented in
the New York City public school
system.
Ms. Swados is working with
African-American and Jewish
children to develop her work. It
is hoped that it can be taken on
tour to Jewish communities
around the country or at least
modeled so that Jewish commu-
nities can use it for their own pur-
poses.
Still another trend impacted
by the foundation involves the
quality level and volume of Jew-
ish scholarship.
"The effort in the early years

"The dynamics that we're ex-
periencing as a community are
the dynamics that other ethnic
and cultural communities are ex-
periencing. The exploration of
how to maintain a particular
identity in an open society is
something that we feel as Jews,
but it's also felt by African-Amer-
icans, Hispanics and Japanese.
"Because so many Americans
are struggling with this question,
our experience can be of interest
and value to far larger con-
stituencies than just the Jewish
audiences."
Mr. Siegel, who plans an an-
nual Institute on Jewish Arts,
has noted a pattern of changes in
subject matter covered by Jewish
artists and considers the changes
very positive.
"If you look at the plays we've
awarded grants, you'll see that
we're moving away from the
kitchen dramas that deal with CULTURE page 90

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