Does Jewish culture need a central address in order to thrive? Not according to the people who work there.
The Foundation for Jewish Culture, a New York-based organization that has given more than $50 million to Jewish scholars and artists since 1960, will cease its operations in the coming year. According to the FJC’s president and CEO, Elise Bernhardt, the organization will wind down its activities in 2014, work with attorneys to distribute its assets and seek new homes for its programs.
“Our operating model isn’t really sustainable. We would rather see our programs grow and prosper, and they don’t need to be under our umbrella in order to do that,” Bernhardt said. “Our object is to find organizations that are mission appropriate and that will be able to help them.”
Founded as a response to the destruction of European Jewish culture during the Holocaust, the FJC has gained attention in recent years for such programs as the Six Points Fellowship, a program for Jewish artists that closed its New York branch in May; the Lynn and Jules Kroll Fund for Jewish Documentary Film and the American Academy in Jerusalem, which began in 2011. Projects supported by the FJC include the Oscar-nominated film “Waltz With Bashir” and the film “The Law in These Parts,” which won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize in Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
While the FJC is financially healthy — according to 2011 tax filings, it has net assets of more than $4.2 million — it has struggled to support its operating costs in the face of decreased funding. Since 2007, grants from the National Federation/Agency Alliance, a coalition of 28 Jewish federations, have decreased to $179,760 from $625,889. Currently the FJC has six full-time employees, down from 10 at the beginning of 2013.
Joe Berkofsky, a spokesman for the Jewish Federations of North America, said that the change represents an overall decrease in the funding pool, as well as a renewed focus on organizations serving Jewish families that have young children, engaging young Jews, and supporting Jewish education.
“Jewish arts and culture might fit into those strategic areas, but there are shifting priorities,” Berkofsky said. “The agency is really evaluating organizations and allocating based on their alignment with strategic directions.”