JCCA program to focus on art, identity
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JCCA program to focus on art, identity

Fifteen-year-old David Leshaw is no stranger to filmmaking. The Teaneck teen has been making short action movies for years, and recently co-wrote, directed, and edited a film for his school drama competition.

"Until now, David’s efforts have been intuitive," said his father, Jerome Leshaw. But this summer, when the Yeshiva University’s MTA student takes part in workshops on digital video at the first-ever JCC Maccabi ArtsFest, he will — the family hopes — learn more about formalized methodology and technique. And he’ll be doing it under Jewish auspices.

"That’s important to us," said Leshaw. "In his current [film] class" — which David is taking in Long Island with a group called New Media Tour — "the focus is completely secular. Now he’ll get to leave town, stay with a Jewish family, eat kosher food, and still get to pursue his hobby."

"I’m looking forward to connecting with other Jewish kids who are equally, or more, interested in film," said David. "They’ll be my age, Jewish, and interested in the same thing. Those three things are important to me."

Arlene Sorkin, director of ArtsFest, said the idea for the event has been percolating for 10 years. When the Jewish Community Centers Association launched its New Initiatives Fund, the project was first on its list.


David Leshaw

Pointing out that the group’s sports-based JCC Maccabi Games, now entering their ‘5th year, have been a major success, Sorkin noted that the upcoming arts program — to be held Aug. ‘0 to ‘5 in Baltimore — will address the needs of those teens, 13 to 16 years old, who prefer the arts to sports.

"The event will be unique in that it’s specifically for Jewish teens who are into the arts," said Sorkin. The concept of the Maccabi program is to use a particular "hook" — whether sports, Israel, or now art — to bring Jewish teens together, she said. She noted also that, unlike the participants in the Games, ‘0 percent of those registered for ArtsFest have identified themselves as Orthodox.

Some 170 teens from 19 JCCs have registered for the event, which will be hosted by the JCC of Greater Maryland and use the agency’s entire facility, including an art gallery, the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, and a black-box theater for film screenings. Area families will provide home hospitality for participating teens. Sorkin said the eight artists-in-residence booked for the event are "great professionals" whom the teens — at this stage in their life — would not ordinarily meet.

Classes include digital video, instrumental music, musical theater, reporting, technical skills (lighting, sound, etc.), visual arts, and vocal music, and learning will take place through daily master classes, workshops, and the mentoring of works-in-progress. A "gala finale art festival" will be open to the public.

Also integral to the program are Jewish elements such as "Days of Caring and Sharing," through which teens will participate in acts of community service, arranged through Baltimore’s Department of Social Services Foster Care Division. In addition, said Sorkin, the students will take part in "Hang Time, designated periods each day that will include values-oriented discussions, games, songs, and crafts, led by four Israeli shlichim."

All students were interviewed prior to registration, and some JCCs required auditions. After all, said Sorkin, just as with the Games — where a youngster would need to have some basketball skills in order to play on a basketball team — teens who want to participate in a jazz band must already play an instrument. The JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly will send two participants: David, and Brian Tucker of Woodcliff Lake.

"Our dream is to see the kids grow and to further appreciate the art they’re passionate about anyway," said Sorkin. "But our main goal is to strengthen the students’ bonds to their Jewish heritage, community, and Israel," she added, pointing out that 10 students from Ashkelon will be coming from Israel to join the program.

Students have already been able to interact with one another through a Website called Art Space, "kind of a private MySpace," said Sorkin, who noted that it can only be used by those registered for the event. Not only can the youngsters communicate with one another through the Website, but the artists-in-residence have been posting ideas and things to think about in advance of the gathering, she said.

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