When Aaron Dworkin walks into a room of potential funders "I really freak people out," he tells The Jewish Week. "They see my last name and say ‘we were expecting someone old, white, balding and Jewish’ and I show up, young, black and seemingly not Jewish."
Dworkin, winner of one of this year’s 25 coveted MacArthur "genius" fellowships, is the founder of Sphinx Music, which he started in 1996 to increase the involvement of black and Latino youth in classical music: in music schools, orchestras and audiences.He is also a Jew. Born 35 years ago to a white Irish-Catholic mother and black father in upstate Monticello, he was adopted by a Jewish couple when he was two weeks old. His adoptive parents, both scientists, raised Dworkin and his brother on the Upper East Side before moving to Hershey, Pa. when Dworkin was 10.
"My parents raised us with more of a cultural experience than a specific religious perspective," Dworkin says. "I didn’t have a bar mitzvah but we celebrated Chanukah." When he was 13, his family took a trip to Europe that included a visit to the Nazi concentration camp Dachau. "I saw where these atrocities happened and I was just terrified," Dworkin says. "Until that point I hadn’t really understood about the historical persecution of Jews."
While in Manhattan, he saw race and skin color "just like eye and hair color," as one bit of a person’s individuality. Then, in Hershey, where he was the only black person besides one other black family, "the world began to teach me about race," he says. He began to struggle with reconciling the parts of his identity. "When I came back from Europe I was exposed to the idea that blacks and Jews don’t get along. So one part of me is not supposed to get along with the other?"
He studied the civil rights movement and the roles Jews played in it. And it was then as a young teen that he began to turn to music for solace, escape and truth. He plays violin and piano. "Music crosses all of that," he said. "The arts have this ability to transcend the man-made barriers we put between ourselves.
"I’m black, white, Irish, Jewish. So I’ve been exposed to a lot of different perspectives on the world. My own beliefs are myriad."Now Dworkin is a father himself, to 6-year-old Noah. Dworkin’s wife, Afa Sadykhly, is from Azerbaijan, daughter of a Muslim mother and Jewish father: and is also a violinist. Noah is in first grade in public school near their Ann Arbor, Mich., home, but attended preschool at the local JCC.
"He’s been exposed to and practices some Jewish traditions but we haven’t really defined things for him yet. I hope to expose him to a variety of different beliefs and let him know what his heritage and family culture is and let him explore himself," Dworkin says.
He hasn’t yet decided what he’ll do with the $500,000 that comes with being a MacArthur fellow. "I still haven’t gotten my head around it," he said.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual list of the country’s largest fund-raising organizations has just come out. This year’s Philanthropy 400, as it’s known, includes United Jewish Communities, the umbrella for 155 Jewish federations, at No. 42, making it the highest-ranking Jewish group on the list, based on the amount raised from private sources including individuals, foundations and corporations. If UJC had provided complete data on all Jewish federations it would have ranked No. 2 on the list, behind only the United Way of America, since it estimated that the system raised $2 billion last year. Instead, it is listed as having raised just under $252 million, which does not include money raised by federations. UJC’s income from private donations in 2004 fell 27 percent from what it was a year earlier, according to The Chronicle. A dozen Jewish federations raised enough money to get on the list on their own.
Next comes the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, with private income up 8 percent in a year at No. 60, the Jewish Communal Fund of New York, with income up 30 percent, at No. 82 and UJA-Federation of New York, whose income dipped 1 percent, at No. 83. Chicago’s federation, ranks at 133, San Diego’s Jewish Community Foundation at 177 and Hadassah at 183, with income down 11 percent over a year earlier.
Yeshiva University more than doubled its private support in 2004 over the previous year, and earned spot 192 on the list. The Jewish federations of Cleveland and the San Francisco area rank at spots 202 and 215 respectively. P.E.F. Israel Endowment Funds ranks 229 and Detroit and Boston’s Jewish federations at spots 237 and 238. Brandeis University is at 239, Baltimore’s Jewish federation at 243, American Society for Technion at 247 and the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science at 263. Los Angeles’ Jewish federation is at spot 277, Northern New Jersey’s Metrowest Jewish federation at 292 and Washington D.C.’s federation at 315.
The Anti-Defamation League ranks this year at 302, with nearly $48 million in private support, and the American Jewish Committee at 357 with just over $40 million raised from private sources.
The Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, which raises funds to benefit Jews in the former Soviet Union, makes the list for the first time this year, at spot 391. Off the list this year are American Friends of Bar-Ilan University and New Israel Fund.