Beth El brings N.Y. speaker series to Tidewater

by | Dec 21, 2012 | Uncategorized

Say the words, “92nd Street Y” to someone who’s moved to Tidewater from New York or New Jersey. Chances are, eyes will brighten with a knowing look, and a sigh, or sound of longing, may follow.

An abundant and expansive calendar of cultural, educational and community events are offered at 92Y and its affiliate venues in Manhattan.

A sampling of the speaker series lineup for this winter and spring includes Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer, comedians Joy Behar and Judy Gold, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, and actor Jason Alexander.

Beginning in early 2013, Tidewater audiences will have the chance to see some of those very speakers at the same time audiences in New York are seeing them, through a program called 92Y Live.

Congregation Beth El in Norfolk is preparing to install the satellite receiver and other technical equipment necessary to receive simultaneous broadcasts from New York as select 92Y Live events take place.

Using money received through a grant award from the burgeoning Synagogue- Federation Partnership of the Tidewater Jewish Community, Beth El will welcome its congregants and the entire community to these special events. Audiences will watch from Myers Hall, which can seat 300 people. If demand is greater, the program can be broadcast in the temple’s sanctuary.

In addition to the grant, funded by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, the Tidewater Jewish Foundation and the Simon Family Foundation, co-sponsors for the 92Y Live program will include the UJFT and the Milton Kramer Scholar-in- Residence Fund at Beth El.

“A few years ago, one of our members— Mickey Held—found out that a synagogue in a Pittsburgh was broadcasting 92nd Street Y, and brought it to our attention,” says Pam Gladstone, Beth El’s executive director. “We were starting to discuss it seriously about a year ago, and that was right about the time that we got information about the grant from the United Jewish Federation, and thought, ‘This would be the perfect thing to apply for!’”

Harry Graber, executive vice-president of the UJFT, says he was pleased and excited, particularly as a former New Yorker, when he received the grant proposal.

“The diversity of proposals we received from area synagogues showed that the boards, administrators and staff were looking at significant and creative ways that they could use funds to help strengthen their congregations and the greater Tidewater Jewish community as well,” Graber says. “We are looking forward to hearing and seeing some great speakers in this live format, celebrities and musicians and intellectuals that many of us might not have the chance to see or hear otherwise.”

“I was very excited when the Synagogue- Federation initiative emerged from the UJFT strategic planning process and received approval from our board of directors” says Alvin Wall, UJFT president. “I believe that approving this grant is approving not only the 92nd Street Y at Beth El but the 92nd Street Y for our community. The opportunities for collaboration and synergies with other Jewish agencies and institutions are enormous.”

Originally founded in 1874 as Manhattan’s Young Men’s Hebrew Association, the 92nd Street Y has grown into a cultural institution that offers speakers, classes and performances in diverse areas, including education, the arts, health and wellness, and Jewish life. More than 300,000 people a year visit 92Y and its branches in the city.

The organization began broadcasting remotely 10 years ago to a handful of Jewish Community Centers, says Jessica Schneider, director of broadcast programming at the 92nd Street Y. Now, there are more than 100 participating organizations across the country, including the JCC in Newport News.

“We have had overwhelmingly positive reactions from the communities where we broadcast,” Schneider says. “It’s proven to be a really nice way to make our content accessible to both small and large towns, that may not have the resources to book someone like Al Gore, who is speaking in January, or who wouldn’t have the opportunity to hear a speaker who can’t go on an extended speaking tour, like Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, who’s speaking this February.”

Schneider says the speakers are from diverse fields who are experts willing to share their love and passion for a particular topic. Sometimes a moderator (usually very knowledgeable in the field) leads the discussion and asks questions submitted from both the New York and remote audiences, and sometimes speakers, such as Elie Wiesel, request a solo engagement.

A former New York City resident, Beth El’s Rabbi, Jeffrey Arnowitz, is excited for the program to begin.

“I never got to go when I lived in New York, but the 92nd Street Y is a culturally iconic institution that people talk about all the time,” says Arnowitz. “This is a way for us to be able to bring in top-notch, interesting speakers that normally would cost in the tens of thousands of dollars—totally cost prohibitive to us—and making it accessible to our community. It really expands the level of education and cultural offerings in this area.”

Arnowitz and Schneider both say that seeing these performances live brings a different energy and feeling to audiences. There are also opportunities for Beth El to get DVDs of performances if there is enough demand for the program.

“We have a small Jewish community here, but we play like a big Jewish community,” says Arnowitz. “Our synagogues, the Federation, our agencies, enable us to achieve far beyond what anyone would expect us to be able to achieve, and the reason we can do this is because the Jewish people work together here. It’s something I’m very proud of, especially the leadership roles our synagogue members have taken in the community.

“I see the Synagogue-Federation Partnership as a natural and positive step forward,” he adds. I believe strongly in fusion, not fission, and as this grant shows, when you bring organizations together the community can accomplish great things.”

by Laine M. Rutherford