The Shmooze

NYC Slashes Funding for Folksbiene Yiddish Theater

By Michael Kaminer

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Under a rather unfortunate headline alluding to chopped pork, the New York Daily News this weekend reported that the “venerable” Folksbiene Yiddish Theater will lose a $5,000 earmark from New York City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Queens).

The 96-year-old Folksbiene — “the last Yiddish company to still play to huge audiences in Manhattan’s lower East Side,” according to the News — tops a list of 52 groups “that have had their City Council-sponsored pork-barrel items suddenly yanked back.”

The paper reported that $756,000 in earmarks to small community organizations has been “drastically slashed” — largely due to “technical errors or a sudden change of heart by a sponsoring lawmaker.” Weprin’s less-than-compelling explanation for the Folksbiene cut was a “clerical error,” according to the News. The theater company will still receive more than $10,000 from the city. In an e-mail to the Forward, the Folksbiene’s board chair contended that “in these trying fiscal times, it’s not unexpected that any government grant or member item would be delayed… As difficult as our budget is, that it might be beneficial in awakening the public to the need to contribute to the growth of their culture.”

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld also claimed that “tens of thousands enjoy us annually. Only 1/4 of our revenue comes from ticket sales. The rest comes from generous individuals, a dedicated board, foundations and government entities. As we say in Yiddish — ‘es kapit arayn’; it ‘drips in.’ One day, some visionary donor will see the impact we’re having on the unaffiliated, the affiliated and everyone in-between — young and old alike.”

As the Forward reported in June, the Folksbiene recently hired Montreal theater veteran Bryna Wasserman as executive director.


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