Culture, Religion

Make Tshuvah Early! Prepent with Storahtelling

Elul is a busy month for Storahtelling founder Amichai Lau Lavie. He’s returning from Israel, is knee deep in studies, and on Sunday he began his 3rd annual 40 day blog leading up to the High Holidays, Prepent!  It should be a good read.
This comes on the heels of an announcement from the decade-old Torah ritual theatre company that it is  restructuring and that Lavie alsos assume the Interim Executive Director role following Executive Director Isaac Shalev’s  departure after just 18 months.

“This transition comes at a time of important growth and transition for Storahtelling. Isaac, the Board and the Executive committee have all agreed that the best interests of the organization are to scale back, spend time rethinking our capacities, programs, operation and scope of mission and vision rather than continuing in the same model.”

Programs will continue and  High Holidays services will happen, but how the organization will  survive long term? Like other darlings of the emergent Jewish sector, the organization has faced difficulties during the economic downturn.
In 2009 it cut staff and budget by 50% but survived thanks to a unique partnership with the 14th St. Y /Educational Alliance that gave it a rent free home for offices, programs and presentations. A year later it moved into Makom Hadash, a co-working style innovation hub in Lower Manhattan, and with seeming new energy, hired Shalev, former COO of Birthright Next, in February 2011.
The the organization’s struggle to marshal resources for operations is obviously ongoing and perhaps it has yet to recover from the financial meltdown.  Other emergent Jewish cultural entities have withered during the crisis. Jdub Records announced its spin-down last year.  Heeb went web-only as did Zeek, which became part of the Forward.  Mimaamakim ceased publishing and 6 Points Fellowship had its UJA-Fed funds slashed.  All have either folded or radically changed their model. Whatever emerges could look radically different, and that would be only appropriate for an organization that has staked its name on radical approaches.
It raises a larger issue. Despite becoming centerpiece of engagement and  revival,  Jewish arts, culture and media have never truly gotten their due.  Elise Bernhardt, Executive Director of the Foundation for Jewish Culture, has asked North American Jewry aloud, “Where is the support for Jewish Culture?”
Let’s hope this is a year of spiritual and financial renewal for Storahtelling, and for the Jewish cultural sector generally.  The organization is asking for direction from their fan base, which they are soliciting.  More likely, it will be dictated by the bottom line.

7 thoughts on “Make Tshuvah Early! Prepent with Storahtelling

  1. This could’ve been a really exposing post. A red flag and reminder to other organizations to file your taxes and pay employees. Instead it’s a “hey, Amichai will fix it” thing. Too bad.

  2. @Sherlock – Feel free to expand on your thoughts in the comments. Those who have ties to both Jewschool and Storahtelling have not felt comfortable sharing details of the sort you intimate. If you would like to contribute facts that inform this conversation it would be welcomed.

  3. According to IRS data (freely available online), storahtelling had their nonprofit status revoked. The repercussions of something of that magnitude are immense, tell a much larger story of what’s going on, and cannot always be fixed by a charismatic leader.

  4. Revocations are not in and of themselves telling. It may be a simple issue of getting into com pliance with 990 filings which can be tricky for young organizations. Reinstatement is fairly common. Both general operating support for arts initiatives and second stage funding for emergent organizations are severely lacking in the Jewish world. That is the larger point and Surely those would aide in many of the problems organizations face, including those you mention.
    They seem to be continuing programs and operations so they are committed to mission. If you are intimating mismanagement or gross misconduct you will need to layout details and point to facts. Vaguary and anonymous accusation are unhelpful in revealing the truth you wish to be revealed.I’m not an investigative journalist trying to score a gotcha, I’m a Jewish cultural worker who understands that there is weak systemic support for the important service providers in our field.

  5. You’re kidding? Status was revoked because Amichai failed to file for a few years in a row. (Again, look up the IRS info available online.) This is not a common problem that many “young organizations” face.
    “Both general operating support for arts initiatives and second stage funding for emergent organizations are severely lacking in the Jewish world. That is the larger point and Surely those would aide in many of the problems organizations face, including those you mention.”
    This happened well before storahtelling was considered second stage. And has nothing to do with lack of support for arts initiatives. He did not know how to run an organization. He made a big mess. He screwed up. At some point, he needs to own up to this and start to make amends instead of hiding it, passing the blame to other staff, firing staff, transferring fiscal responsibility to other organizations (Hazon/Mechon Hadash – which is how storahtelling is now continuing). Those are facts. Look up the IRS statements and the story is clearly there for all to see.

  6. @Sherlock You seem to know an awful lot about about this situation, more than was initially intended for this post. How are you connected to the organization and why do you want to remain anonymous?
    How much responsibility did Amichai have while he was away in Israel? IRS documents don’t really tell stories so much as back them up. So tell us a full story.
    If Amichai didn’t know how to run an organization, he wouldn’t be the first artist who didn’t. I can’t judge him on that. He sure created something interesting the process.
    Thanks for the comments!

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