America-Israel Cultural Foundation in Danger of Closing After Madoff Losses

Israeli cultural world shocked to learn major supporter of arts substantially harmed in Wall Street scandal.

The Israeli cultural world was shocked to learn that a major supporter of the arts was substantially harmed in the Bernard Madoff scandal. The America Israel Cultural Foundation reportedly lost $30 million of its endowment after it was deposited in what may be the largest investor fraud in Wall Street history.

These shockwaves have shaken some people into action. About a dozen of the foundation's musicians met over the weekend at the home of conductor and pianist Gil Shohat, and decided to launch a campaign asking graduates to help save the foundation.

The foundation has given grants to more than 11,000 young artists in the fields of dance, jazz, theater, arts and cinema over its 70-year history. Shohat says that if every grant recipient were to donate something - based on the individual's ability - the sum could be substantial.

The group is also considering organizing benefit concerts and performances.

Meeting participants included Joseph Brandshvilli, cellists Zvi Plesser and David Sela, flautist Eyal Ein-Habar and foundation director and former recipient Orit Naor.

"We have already received two substantial donations from graduates, including from oboist Yigal Kaminka, who has won three first prizes at Foundation competitions," Naor said. She explained that Kaminka donated his prize money from one of the competitions.

Naor sounded motivated to keep the foundation going.

"We are looking for a way to hold the annual auditions," she said, noting that the foundation is running both its operations and its emergency fund-raising efforts via the Web site The auditions and $2.5 million in annual grants were the culmination of a year's worth of preparations by about 1,000 students, as well as a measure of ability and talent.

In addition to the grants, the foundation assists museums to purchase art, commissions new works from composers, loans expensive musical instruments and funds dance workshops, prize-bearing competitions, art studies abroad and art exhibits, as well as other projects. Former grant recipients include well-known artists such as Daniel Barenboim and violinists Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Shlomo Mintz, as well as the current first violinist of the Berlin Philharmonic, Guy Braunstein, who is also involved in the salvage activities.

Naor says graduates are working now in Berlin, Israel, Canada and the U.S. to save the foundation, "but we also are asking wealthy individuals to whom culture is important."

"I simply refuse to imagine the foundation ceasing to exist," she says.