Elul is a busy month for Storahtelling founder Amichai Lau Lavie. He’s returning from Israel, is knee deep in studies, and on Sunday he began his 3rd annual 40 day blog leading up to the High Holidays, Prepent! It should be a good read.
This comes on the heels of an announcement from the decade-old Torah ritual theatre company that it is restructuring and that Lavie alsos assume the Interim Executive Director role following Executive Director Isaac Shalev’s departure after just 18 months.
“This transition comes at a time of important growth and transition for Storahtelling. Isaac, the Board and the Executive committee have all agreed that the best interests of the organization are to scale back, spend time rethinking our capacities, programs, operation and scope of mission and vision rather than continuing in the same model.”
Programs will continue and High Holidays services will happen, but how the organization will survive long term? Like other darlings of the emergent Jewish sector, the organization has faced difficulties during the economic downturn.
In 2009 it cut staff and budget by 50% but survived thanks to a unique partnership with the 14th St. Y /Educational Alliance that gave it a rent free home for offices, programs and presentations. A year later it moved into Makom Hadash, a co-working style innovation hub in Lower Manhattan, and with seeming new energy, hired Shalev, former COO of Birthright Next, in February 2011.
The the organization’s struggle to marshal resources for operations is obviously ongoing and perhaps it has yet to recover from the financial meltdown. Other emergent Jewish cultural entities have withered during the crisis. Jdub Records announced its spin-down last year. Heeb went web-only as did Zeek, which became part of the Forward. Mimaamakim ceased publishing and 6 Points Fellowship had its UJA-Fed funds slashed. All have either folded or radically changed their model. Whatever emerges could look radically different, and that would be only appropriate for an organization that has staked its name on radical approaches.
It raises a larger issue. Despite becoming centerpiece of engagement and revival, Jewish arts, culture and media have never truly gotten their due. Elise Bernhardt, Executive Director of the Foundation for Jewish Culture, has asked North American Jewry aloud, “Where is the support for Jewish Culture?”
Let’s hope this is a year of spiritual and financial renewal for Storahtelling, and for the Jewish cultural sector generally. The organization is asking for direction from their fan base, which they are soliciting. More likely, it will be dictated by the bottom line.