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Israel to Boost Cultural Ties with Western United States

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In a major effort to boost cultural ties between Israel and the western Unites States, the Israeli government is co-hosting a conference at the University of Denver in Colorado.

The May 19-20 conference, “Building Israeli-American Cultural Bridges,” will bring together some 100 representatives from 10 western states, from Hawaii to Texas; cultural exchange experts; and Israeli officials from Jerusalem and the Israeli consulates in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston.

The meeting underlines a shift in Israeli policy away from traditional propaganda to presenting artists as the most effective ambassadors abroad to reach younger and more diverse audiences.

Meanwhile, American Jewish performers hope to break down barriers in reaching audiences in Israel.

This particular initiative by the western states also reflects some resentment that the region, despite its vast size, is still slighted by impresarios in Tel Aviv and New York.

“Too often, when great Israeli artists come to America, they never get beyond the Hudson River,” said John Rauch, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity which is co-sponsoring the Denver conference.

On the other hand, Israeli audiences have little appreciation for Jewish artists from America or other countries, he added.

Other problems facing Jewish communities in the West are poor communication and coordination among themselves, said Ido Aharoni, the Israeli consul for communication and public affairs in Los Angeles.

“Our first priority at this meeting is to establish an effective regional network, so that if Israeli artists come out, they will be booked for a string of cities, rather than appear in a single synagogue or campus auditorium in a single city,” he said.

As one information-sharing step, Aharoni said, his consulate is establishing a Web site on the Internet to spread the word on available artists and promote their appearances once they are booked.

A series of workshops at the conference will serve the triple purpose of getting artists, promoters and booking organizations together in one room, discussing the nuts and bolts of putting on a concert or film festival, and pushing new communication technologies.

As session on the “Electronic Cafe,” for instance, will explore techniques of cheaply connecting two or more sites via phone lines, rather than through expensive satellite links.

“That way, viewers in Phoenix, Seattle and Las Vegas can inexpensively watch a concert being given in Jerusalem,” Aharoni said.

The University of Denver, site of the conference, is a Methodist-founded institution with 8,500 students. Its Center for Judaic Studies, headed by Orthodox Rabbi Stanley Wagner, offers 36 courses.

In addition, the campus houses the only Center for Israeli Studies in America, a Holocaust Awareness Institute, an Institute for Interfaith Studies and Social Concerns, and the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society.

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