The Education Ministry’s Jewish culture department funded 110 Hanukkah performances around the country this year, but the vast majority featured male-only casts. The performances included a wide variety of shows for children – plays, musicals, magicians, circuses and concerts, but 76 of them – 69 percent – featured only male performers.
In addition, of the 34 performances that did include female performers, almost half were directed only at female audiences. Only 19 performances involved mixed-gender audiences and included female performers.
In addition to the performances, the department also funded about 30 other events, including tours and children’s attractions.
The Jewish culture department does not make the list of events that it funds public, and when Haaretz asked for the list of Hanukkah events, the department responded that there was no “organized list.” As a result, Haaretz obtained the figures by examining the details provided on the department’s Facebook page regarding various events.
The department’s budget for the past year was 218 million shekels ($63 million), an increase of 50 million shekels over prior years. The budget funds Jewish culture projects, organizations sponsoring educational activities related to the Land of Israel and organizations that work to deepen Jewish identity, in addition to municipal Jewish culture departments in some 140 communities around Israel.
Although other government ministries also fund some Jewish culture events, the Education Ministry’s Jewish culture department provides the bulk of state funding for this purpose – about 30 million shekels a year.
No clear criteria or monitoring
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In 2019, Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a liberal Orthodox group, published a report about the funding that the Education Ministry department provides to municipal Jewish culture departments. It concluded that there are no clear criteria for obtaining funding, nor do local governments monitor how the funds are actually spent. As a result, there is often a major disparity between the amounts allocated for an event by the Education Ministry to a local government and the amount actually spent, the report said.
The report also stated that the criteria for funding of specific events are very broad. Therefore money often goes to events with no obvious connection to Jewish culture, such as stand-up comedy shows or clothing fairs for women.
In addition, according to the report, many events funded by the Education Ministry’s Jewish culture department in 2018 contained clearly political content, including speeches by politicians from the Likud, Shas and Habayit Hayehudi parties.
“The system is built on serving political/religious goals that represent a very particular aspect of Judaism,” said the author of the report, Tani Frank, who heads Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah’s religion and state department.
“Jewish culture budgets have become fertile ground for various political parties to reward people close to them and impose a one-dimensional Jewish agenda disconnected from most Israelis. We urge elected officials in local governments to institute orderly work procedures that will make egalitarian and diverse funding of Jewish cultural activities possible in a way that respects the diversity of views in Israeli society,” he said.