The concert was an installment of what Makor (pronounced muh-KOHR)
calls its Classical Cafe, which it has offered about once a month
for the past year and plans to continue. Earlier that day, students
from the Manhattan School of Music had played at the club's weekly
Jazz Brunch, and elsewhere in its five-story brownstone, there were
classes in Middle Eastern dumbek drumming, meetings of Makor's Hebrew
and French clubs (its Spanish club met on a different day), a workshop
on Jewish prayer and a performance by Vered Hankin and Howard Schwarz,
who read folk tales steeped in Jewish mysticism.
The previous night, Makor had presented its weekly Groove evening,
which can be anything from D.J.'s to live music with salsa or swing
bands. This particular week, the attraction was Fabio Morgera's Jungle
Jazz, a group that offers an updated blend of jazz and funk. Other
nights, Makor offers films in its 72-seat screening room, as well
as writing and poetry workshops, yoga classes, book groups and panel
discussions on public affairs. In fact, as busy as Saturday nights
and Sundays are at Makor, the weekend is in some ways its slowest
time, mainly because, as a Jewish organization under rabbinical oversight,
it observes the Sabbath from sundown on Friday to an hour past sundown
That said, Makor does have frequent Shabbat dinners on Friday nights,
including entertainment that does not violate Sabbath prohibitions
against, for example, using electricity: choral groups that sing
without instrumental accompaniment or amplification, or comedians
and speakers who, similarly, do not use microphones.
In a way, Makor — the word means source in Hebrew — has
been straddling two worlds with considerable success since it opened
in October 1999.
On the one hand, it aspires to be a cultural center
like any other: a place where one can hear both established and
see films that normally play in art houses (a Peter Greenaway series,
for instance, was presented at Makor as part of the Lincoln Center
Festival last year) and take classes in a wide variety of subjects.
And indeed, the audiences at the events I've attended — ranging
from concerts by the folk singer Richie Havens and the swing band
Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers to a film about Brian
Epstein, the Beatles' manager, and Mr. Grabois's cello recital — were
as diverse as any.
On the other hand, Makor's core mission is Jewish
education. Since Judaism does not proselytize, Makor's founders,
both heads of Jewish
outreach organizations — Rabbi Irving Greenberg, the president
of the Partnership for Jewish Life, and Michael Steinhardt, a philanthropist
who is the chairman of the Jewish Life Network — hoped mainly
to reach what demographic studies have identified as a large Jewish
population of 20- and 30-somethings who have no particular connection
with the Jewish community. Here, Makor's approach is fairly low-key:
the idea is that unaffiliated Jewish people attending its events
might leaf through the monthly calendar and decide to explore their
roots by taking a class.
"We certainly, as an institution, believe that it's a good
thing for Jewish people to discover more about what it means to be
Jewish," said Rabbi David Gedzelman, 41, who has been involved
with Makor since 1995, when it was in the planning stages, and who
is its creative and rabbinic director. "We think it's a good
thing if non-Jews discover more as well. Non-Jews take classes
here on Judaism. That's O.K. We really are committed to including
open society. I think people who come here feel that this is a
"We determined very early on that we were going to have a strong
arts and entertainment emphasis, and that we would juxtapose the
arts with the possibilities of Jewish exploration, education and
connection," he continued. "And we knew that to do that,
we would have to break through whatever preconceptions people might
have of a Jewish context. This had to be interesting, artistic,
creative, hip and cool."
Collaborating with other institutions is one way Makor has established
"The Peter Greenaway film series we did last summer with the
Lincoln Center Festival is a case in point," Rabbi Gedzelman
said. "It was an amazing thing for us. There's nothing Jewish
about Peter Greenaway and his films. Ken Sherman, who directs our
film series, made the decisions about which we would show. I've
seen a lot of them; to me, it's all weird, but they're always interesting.
And it's important to us to offer them and to work in partnerships
with serious cultural arts specialists in the city."
At first glance, Makor could be mistaken for a university student
center. Walking in from the street, one passes a notice about keeping
the noise down when entering and leaving the building (a remnant
of an early dispute with the neighbors, who complained that patrons
were too boisterous) and steps into a hallway with a ticket sales
desk to the right and a glass-walled lounge to the left.
Art Shows and a Cafe
One leg of the L-shaped lounge offers modest photography
and art exhibitions, as well as a bank of television monitors.
visits, two were tuned to Makor's Web site, www.makor.org. A third
offered sporting events, with the sound off. The other leg is a
reading room, with one wall devoted to magazines (heavy on literary,
and computer titles) and another to books (a collection that ranges
from volumes on Jewish mysticism to Hunter S. Thompson's "Proud
Across from the lounge, a flight of stairs leads to the second floor,
which includes classrooms and Makor's screening room; another descends
to the cafe, actually two rooms connected by a bar. A sliding door
between them gives Makor the option of splitting the space in two
and separating the restaurant from the larger room that is the main
theater. For events likely to draw large crowds, however, the sliding
door is opened. Food and drinks are available in both rooms: the
menu is kosher dairy and vegetarian.
The theater itself is fairly flexible, with booths
along the side walls, a low rectangular stage large enough for
a decent-size swing
band at the front, and tables of various sizes on the floor. When
an event seems to call for dancing — as the recent Lavay Smith
concert did, and the Saturday night D.J. evenings do — the
tables are removed.
"Our model for the room was Fez," Rabbi Gedzelman said,
referring to the jazz club under the Time Cafe on Lafayette Street
in the East Village, "because it's a square room with a low
ceiling. And it was important to us to create that context in the
building, and to offer a space that encourages artistic innovation.
It's not just that it's an entry point — that people might
come for the music and eventually go upstairs for something else.
That's a piece of it. But it's also that if these things happen
in the same place, they'll bleed into each other. The artistic
the bubbling of creativity that happens downstairs in the cafe,
is going to inform the intellectual, spiritual and religious exploration
that's going on upstairs."
A Bond With the Y
Makor might be best described as a hybrid of Fez
(or, on some nights, the Bottom Line) and the 92nd Street Y, another
that offers both an expansive arts program and more focused classes.
Actually, Makor is now a part of the Y. Mr. Steinhardt, who provided
the money to get Makor off the ground — $11 million to buy
and renovate the property, built in 1904 as a home for elderly Swiss
immigrants — gave the center to the Y as a gift in February.
(He is also on the Y's board.) The acquisition, in which Makor
became the Makor-Steinhardt Center of the 92nd Street Y, immediately
fears that the Y would impose its own more conventional institutional
style on Makor. But both Rabbi Gedzelman and Helaine Geismar Katz,
the Y's associate executive director, say Makor will retain its
"We've been in awe of what they've been able to do in less
than a year and a half," Ms. Katz said of Makor's arts programming. "I
think there will be a really good synergy between us. The cultures
are very different. We have 127 years of tradition; they're a startup.
They'll give a boost of energy and an edge to our thinking, and
we'll offer what comes from having been around for a long time.
fact that we have different kinds of spaces will benefit us both."
In fact, the first planned collaborations have Makor taking over
the Y rather than the reverse: in December, Makor is to present concerts
by the Israeli pop singers Chava Albertstein and David Broza in the
Y's concert hall, which seats 917, nearly three times what Makor
itself can accommodate.
Although Rabbi Gedzelman oversees both the arts and education offerings
at Makor, which has an annual budget of $3.4 million, his staff of
27 includes directors for its music, film and literary programs.
Except for those at the Classical Cafe, the music offerings are directed
by Brice Rosenbloom, who came to Makor in June 1999, after working
at Central Park Summerstage and the San Francisco Jazz Festival.
"The idea from the beginning was to be very diverse, very broad
in scope and mining all the genres," he said. "And at first,
it was very tough to attract both artists and audiences. Jazz, especially,
is a tough animal: it's hard to break into the scene with all the
major clubs downtown. So we may do a bit less jazz now than at the
start. We seem to have more success with singer-songwriters and the
New York contemporary folk scene. A lot of the artists you hear on
WFUV, you can hear here," he said, referring to the 1960's-ish
radio station at Fordham University, which has collaborated with
Makor on some programming.
Makor's other musical strength is, naturally, contemporary Jewish
pop music, a varied category that ranges from the almost Brazilian-sounding
music of the Israeli singer and guitarist David Broza to the hybrid
jazz and klezmer experiments of groups like the Klezmatics and soloists
like the guitarist Marc Ribot, the keyboardist Anthony Coleman and
the trumpeter Frank London, all of whom have performed at Makor.
The Classical Cafe concerts are more of an experiment.
They are on Sunday evenings at 8, and although the cafe's setup
is the same
as it would be for a folk or jazz concert — listeners can eat
during the show — no food or drink orders are taken while
the performers are onstage.
"Before we opened, I spoke with a number of people in the classical
music world about putting classical music in a cafe setting, and
I was rebuffed," Rabbi Gedzelman said. "I was told that
no serious musician would play in such a setting, that it's not
respectful. So we did one concert upstairs, and nobody came. I
the classical music world is missing an opportunity to play to
young adults with disposable income. I have a subscription to the
Philharmonic, and I don't see many people under 60."
The notion of presenting classical concert music
in a cafe is actually not so outrageous. Much of the Baroque chamber
repertory now performed
in more formal settings was created under exactly those circumstances.
And in the mid-1970's, the pianist Peter Serkin and his chamber
group Tashi made their names by giving a dressed-down performance
of Messiaen's "Quartet
for the End of Time" at the Bottom Line. Rabbi Gedzelman,
undeterred by his first attempts, engaged a guest curator, Pamela
to present concerts one Sunday evening every month.
"I had been wanting to do something like this for a long time," said
Ms. Goldberg, a pianist who studied at the Manhattan School of Music, "because
I believe that classical music should be more accessible and more
exciting to people who aren't already involved with it. I started
by calling musicians I knew who were engaging performers, and we
worked out a format in which I would introduce the musicians and
the works, and they play for 45 minutes. I was kind of skeptical
at first about the idea of people eating while they were listening.
But the audiences have been very quiet and respectful."
Sounding New Notes
They may also be in for some surprises. The next of Ms. Goldberg's
concerts is a solo cello recital by Darrett Adkins, a member of the
Flux Quartet, on May 20. Mr. Adkins is playing a Bach Suite and a
piece by Piatti, but most of his program is devoted to contemporary
works by Osvaldo Golijov, Morton Feldman and Kenji Bunch.
"My experience with younger audiences is that people who don't
listen to a lot of classical music have preconceptions about it," said
Mr. Adkins, who also played at Makor in October. "They think
that it's dead, old, stuck, difficult and overly long. So one of
the things I've done on this program is include pieces that are
no more than six or seven minutes long. Even the Bach: it's a 20-minute
suite, but it's in six movements. But those small doses are stylistically
distinct. Four minutes of Feldman creates a particular sound world,
enough to get people to say, `I want to hear more of that.' And
Kenji Bunch piece draws on 1970's rock guitar solos. People who
listen to Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton will find something familiar