An empty 2.5-acre site in downtown Jerusalem is being developed for what is being described as a cultural and educational “landmark” to be known as the Jerusalem Arts Campus, funded by UJA-Federation of New York, the Jerusalem Municipality, the government of Israel and the Jerusalem Foundation.
UJA-Federation CEO Eric Goldstein and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced last week that the campus, which will house four existing academic cultural institutions, is set to open in 2020.
Goldstein said that UJA-Federation, whose goal is to raise $20 million towards the $50-million project, has already received a $10 million “naming gift” from the Kirsh family. He described them as “a global Jewish family … significant philanthropists who have a significant presence in New York.”
“Our family has long been committed to both Israel and UJA,” said Natie Kirsh, speaking on behalf of his family, which includes his daughter, Linda Mirels, immediate past chair of UJA-Federation.
The new campus will mark the 2017 centennial of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies (the precursor to today’s UJA-Federation of New York), and the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in the wake of the Six-Day War in 1967.
The foundation for the center’s three buildings has already been built, Goldstein said.
“It’s a critical project to help ensure a vibrant future for Jerusalem … essentially a Juilliard,” Goldstein said, citing the Juilliard School, a performing arts education center on the Upper West Side. “This would be a significant addition, an attraction in Jerusalem.” It is expected to accommodate more than 1,100 students in the center of Jerusalem and help establish its place as “a leading city of the world,” he said.
The four institutions have a current combined enrollment of 650 students.
The center, according to a statement on the Jerusalem Foundation website, can “recreat[e] the magnetic cultural nucleus that the German-Jewish immigrants nourished in the 1930s and ’40s.”
Goldstein said the center — which will house the Nisan Nativ Acting Studio, the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, the School of Visual Theater and the Center for Middle Eastern Music — is designed to raise the capital’s profile as a cultural venue and motivate people who may otherwise have not considered moving there.
“For thousands of years, Jerusalem has been a center of innovation and creativity,” Barkat said. “My vision for the city includes an essential focus on growing the city’s creative class … [and] bring[ing] the vibrant creative class to the city to stay.”
Barkat, who was a successful entrepreneur before becoming mayor in 2008, has sought to attract young, professional secular and Modern Orthodox Jews to a city with a large ultra-Orthodox population.
The cultural center comes at a fraught moment for Israel’s artistic community, which has felt under siege in the last year from the country’s culture minister, Miri Regev. The Likud Party politician has threatened to withhold funding from cultural institutions she considers too Ashkenazic-leaning or insufficiently patriotic.
The new campus will be above politics, Goldstein said. It “has absolutely no political leaning. The schools that will be part of the campus have a wide range of students from across the spectrum of Israeli society.”
The cultural campus, on Bezalel Street near the Gerhard Behar Center, was the mayor’s idea, Goldstein said.
It will also feature an outdoor plaza and performance sites.
Goldstein called UJA-Federation’s support for the campus one of three “centennial initiatives” in “the principal areas of our work” for which the philanthropy will be raising funds in the next year. The others are a renovation of the three campgrounds UJA-Federation owns in the Greater New York area serving more than 6,000 campers each summer, and the creation of two major anti-poverty “hubs” in Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens.