There is an old Yiddish saying that, like many old Yiddish sayings, is not a positive one: yeder makht shabes far zikh. “Everyone makes Shabbos for themselves.”
Art, like Shabbos, represents the separation between the everyday and the spiritual, between the ordinary and extraordinary. We celebrate alone if we must. But we flourish in the presence of others who share our values and our vision.
This is why we are so heartened by the arrival of a new film fund, Jewish Story Partners (JSP).
JSP is backed by Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation and the Jim Joseph Foundation (both founding partners of CANVAS), and the Maimonides Fund, among others.
In addition to these forward-looking donors, JSP is led by an accomplished team, including award winning filmmaker Roberta Grossman and veteran former Sundance Catalyst director Caroline Libresco.
I had the great honor of serving on the first jury for Jewish Story Partners and seeing work from a diverse pool of documentaries such as:
- Maxim Pozdorovkin’s The Conspiracy, on persistent conspiracy theories about Jews
- Billy Shebar’s and David Roberts’s Meredith Monk: Dancing Voice, Singing Body about the astonishing Jewish-American artistic polymath
- Sandi DuBowski’s Rabbi, on the epic journey of Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie
(There’s not enough space to list all the fantastic films: I urge you to click here to learn about the filmmakers and their projects.)
The experience left me energized on so many levels, but two key takeaways stand out:
1. The range of voices, modes of expression, and subject matter of these grantees reinforce the notion of a renaissance of Jewish art and culture. Every submission expanded the notion of what a Jewish story can be and who is best suited to tell it.
2. The need is great. The level of excellence we saw in that first talent pool was astonishing, but we simply couldn’t fund them all. And documentary film is just the tip of the iceberg, one medium in a much vaster sea of Jewish creativity.
The good news is that over the past few months, I’ve heard from at least four different organizations—two regional and two national—that are looking to launch similar funds for Jewish film. This is a tremendously hopeful time.
Because the crisis and the opportunity are becoming clear to all of us.
The 21st century ushered in a profound flourishing of Jewish creativity. But that fledgling renaissance, a startling opportunity, was met with a crisis, a rapid decline in charitable support that threatened the vibrancy and imagination of Jewish culture.
CANVAS was born out of this disconnect. We designed it to meet the crisis and nurture the opportunity, because a renaissance is not possible without patrons.
Our first round of grants were being decided just as the pandemic hit. In that moment, we were confronted with an entirely new crisis. We knew the price to be paid by working creatives would be high. We just couldn’t imagine how high.
The nonprofit arts and culture sector has suffered the highest job losses. The decline was 244% higher than the next hardest hit sector. And unlike the secular world, the Jewish world has no NEA, NEH, no Foundation for Jewish Culture to support any kind of meaningful recovery.
At the same time, the potential of creative expression—for deepening connections to our heritage, for recognizing our modern selves in those expressions, and for fostering cross-cultural understanding in a time of surging antisemitism—has become that much clearer. The opportunity is even more visible after a year of relying on the fruits of creativity to carry us through isolation and despair.
None of us should make Shabbos for ourselves. The creative community supports us in so many ways. We are honored to support them in return, and to do so in such good company.
If you have ever been moved by a song, touched by a film, inspired by a work of fine art—then we hope you’ll join the cause, whether as a CANVAS partner, a JSP partner, a patron of our grantees, or of any Jewish artist that inspires you. And wherever you choose to give, please let us know—we’re working hard to build a community of support and you are invited.