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At Foundation for Jewish Culture gala, Michael Chabon turns into the Pun-a-vitcher rebbe

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Michael Chabon in New York accepting an achievement award from the Foundation for Jewish Culture, June 10, 2013. (Shulamit Seidler-Feller)

Michael Chabon in New York accepts an achievement award from the Foundation for Jewish Culture, June 10, 2013. (Shulamit Seidler-Feller)

I hit the Times Center last night for the Foundation for Jewish Culture’s awards gala. The main event (at least for this lover of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”) was Michael Chabon.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author dedicated his remarks to wordplay in the Torah. Let’s just say he was the Punavitcher rebbe (I know, I know, but if you had been there, you’d smile a little). Unlike some other legendary Jewish writers out there, Chabon, decked out in a white suit, enthusiastically embraced the label.

Click here for the audio of his full remarks (plus the introduction by Nathan Englander).

The night’s other Jewish Cultural Achievement Award winners:

  • Philanthropist and film producer Scott Berrie
  • Lower East Side appetizer store Russ & Daughters
  • Award-winning historian Deborah Dash Moore
  • Bard College President and orchestra conductor Leon Botstein

The program also featured live musical performances by Alicia Svigals and David Krakauer’s quintet.

The master of ceremonies was Paul LeClerc, director of Columbia University Global CenterEurope and past president and CEO of the New York Public Library. He also happens to be the husband of Judith Ginsberg, who, in addition to being the executive director of the Nash Family Foundation, is the outgoing co-chair of the Foundation for Jewish Culture.

Josh Feldman (left) and Aaron Bisman help honor Rebecca Gruber for her work at the Six Points Fellowship, June 10, 2013. (Shulamit Seidler-Feller)

Josh Feldman (left) and Aaron Bisman help honor Rebecca Gruber for her work at the Six Points Fellowship, June 10, 2013. (Shulamit Seidler-Feller)

The night included a thank-you presentation to Ginsberg, as well as a bittersweet one for Rebecca Guber, the creator of the innovative Six Points Fellowship (which has been a part of the Foundation for Jewish Culture for several years). Why bittersweet? Because Monday night’s gala comes just a week after Guber was forced to leave her post due to a shortage of funds.

Before support for the program dried up, Guber helped secure $40,000 grants for 30 emerging artists in New York and Los Angeles to support their exploration of Jewish themes. (Click here for more details from the Forward.)

Chabon may have been the draw, but seeing Guber up on stage left me thinking about whether a sustainable model exists for identifying and nurturing a new generation of Jewish artists. And in case I need any more mental prompts, Aaron Bisman was up there too, helping with the presentation to Guber. The founder and CEO of the now-defunct JDub music label, Bisman found himself in a similar spot not too long ago, having secured an even more impressive burst of start-up philanthropic backing. But Bisman was unable to nail down consistent long-term support despite an impressive track record that included helping Matisyahu reach the big time.

There are plenty of complex questions to work through when evaluating what level of communal/Federation money should be going to support Jewish artists and what should be the process/mechanism for doling out those dollars. Whatever the answers are, it’s hard to believe they don’t involve folks like Guber and Bisman.

All that said, the biggest unanswered question: What can we do to get those “Kavalier & Clay” and “Yiddish Policemen’s Union” movies made already!?

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