Israeli, Jewish programs in the spotlight at NJPAC

Israeli, Jewish programs in the spotlight at NJPAC

Series focuses on politics, art, and culture

John Schreiber, president and CEO of NJPAC, jumped at the idea of presenting programs celebrating Israel. Photo courtesy NJPAC
John Schreiber, president and CEO of NJPAC, jumped at the idea of presenting programs celebrating Israel. Photo courtesy NJPAC

When Max Kleinman, who was serving as a fund-raising consultant at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), brought a new programming idea to John Schreiber, its president and CEO, he couldn’t have found a more receptive audience.

“We produce programs that speak to and for a dozen nationalities and ethnicities each season,” said Schreiber in a phone interview with NJJN. But, he said Kleinman had pointed out, “we had never specifically focused on programming targeted to the Jewish patron.” 

The idea presented by Kleinman, a resident of Fairfield and former longtime executive vice president/CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, was to use Israel’s approaching 70th anniversary in 2018 as a springboard for a series of programs that would “celebrate the founding of the State of Israel,” said Schreiber, and put a spotlight on “what’s happening politically and culturally around the country.”

Israeli-born musician Oran Etkin will headline the WBGO Children’s Concert at NJPAC’s annual TD James Moody Jazz Festival. Photo by John Abbott

Schreiber embraced the concept immediately. Jewish himself, he said, “we know that generally speaking, Jewish community members are culturally literate, are interested in the arts, and have consistently attended over the seasons.” Of course, Jewish and Israeli artists have performed at NJPAC throughout the years and, occasionally, Jewish-themed programs are presented; of particular note was the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s annual UJA Benefit Concert, which ran for 18 years before ending in 2015.

But his notion, Kleinman told NJJN, was to “showcase Israel’s vast achievements in a multi-pronged approach, with programs relating to the country geopolitically, culturally, and musically.”

And so, after much consultation and planning — and help from Kleinman and others in securing funds — last fall saw the launch of “Conversations, Concerts, and Film,” which fulfilled NJPAC’s goal to showcase Israel’s “history and current challenges, its storied past and hopeful future, and its rich artistic fabric.” Series events took place both at NJPAC and at other venues.

Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, will return to NJPAC this fall to participate in programs on critical issues in the Middle East. Photo by Jon Roemer

Among the experts and dignitaries who appeared on panels focusing on critical issues in the Middle East were former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt Daniel Kurtzer. A Celebration of Israel at 70 on Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus featured a program on New Trends in Israeli Dance and Music and a performance by the popular group IsraBand.

Two iconic Israeli violinists, Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman, performed together, and Zukerman also appeared with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Renowned Israeli jazz guitarist Roni Ben-Hur gave a free concert at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark.

And in May, Dr. Eric Goldman of Teaneck, a noted expert on Jewish, Yiddish, and Israeli films, examined Israeli society and culture as reflected through the country’s cinema.

The series continues

“Conversations, Concerts, and Film” resonated so positively with audiences, said Schreiber, that it seemed only natural that the series continue this fall. Now, however, the focus is “not specific to Israel, but is broader in its definition,” and all programs will be at the center in Newark. “That’s one of the great things about NJPAC,” he said; because of its “variety of performance spaces, we are able to constantly add to and update our offerings, so we can continually complement what we have on the schedule.”

“We’re always looking for opportunities to present programming you can’t find anywhere else,” Schreiber added, emphasizing that he’s always happy to have patrons and friends of NJPAC share ideas.

He is also happy with the line-up this fall:

• David N. Myers, a professor of Jewish history and studies at UCLA, will present a program based on his 2017 book, “Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction,” on Monday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m. Myers, “an entertaining and educational speaker and author — and a tremendous amount of fun,” said Schreiber, unpacks the mysteries of Jewish history in under an hour.

• Returning to share his expertise will be Kurtzer, who will moderate a series on Foreign Policy in the Middle East, with a focus on journalism and diplomacy. On Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 7 p.m. he will be joined in the conversation by Middle East expert and award-winning author and journalist Robin Wright, a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

• A talk with Prof. Dan Ben-David will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 31, at 7:30 p.m. The founder and president of the nonpartisan Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research at Tel Aviv University, Ben-David is also a senior faculty member of the Department of Public Policy at Tel Aviv University. Among his many honors, he was named “Person of the Year” by the “Calcalist” newspaper, and twice was among the 100 most influential people in Israel chosen by the “Haaretz-TheMarker” newspaper.

• Oran Etkin, an Israeli-born jazz and world music performer and composer, will appear on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 1:30 p.m. Schreiber said the musician, who studied Arabic music at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem, is known for his work with children and will headline the annual WBGO Children’s Concert as part of NJPAC’s annual TD James Moody Jazz Festival.

• Also returning to the roster is Goldman, with a program on filmmaker and mogul Dore Schary (see sidebar).

Among the performers in last year’s series were violinists Itzhak Perlman, left, and Pinchas Zukerman. Photo courtesy NJPAC

The full schedule of events seems only to have fueled the commitment to develop future presentations that offer “engaging conversations about what is happening in Israel and the Middle East and cultural programming that celebrates Jewish heritage,” said Schreiber.

One idea in the early planning stages is transforming “Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy” — the 2013 PBS Great Performances documentary that chronicles the unique role of Jewish composers and lyricists in the American musical — for the stage, complete, said Schreiber, with “a live band, videos, singers, and narration.”

Kleinman said he is eager for “the continuation of this type of programming,” not least because of the Jewish community’s “deep roots in Newark.” Now that the community is mostly centered in towns outside the urban area, he said, he sees NJPAC as “a great force for bringing the suburbs and the city together.”

For a full schedule of events and ticket information, contact Chelsea Keys at or visit

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