The highly regarded money manager and political advisor Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, a former aide to Governor Pataki and a principal of Bernstein Investment Research and Management in Manhattan, has been elected chairman of the board of directors of the venerable Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre, the country's sole surviving professional Yiddish theatre. The appointment of Wiesenfeld coincides with word that the City of New York is granting Folksbiene a record $1.5 million in capital funds as the company presses forward to establish a new permanent home.
Wiesenfeld, who joined the board in 2002, has been instrumental in guiding the small but resilient non-profit (that capped its 90th consecutive season at Carnegie Hall in June), into the upper ranks of New York culture. His efforts, and those of other board members including Board President Ben Feldman, a real estate executive, have allowed the company to gradually increase its annual operating budget and to go from producing one mainstage show a year to maintaining a year-round schedule with two mainstage productions and a wide array of other music, literary and theatrical events. This past season, the seventh under the artistic leadership of Executive Director Zalmen Mlotek, saw the company's offerings rise from approximately five annual events to an eye-popping 18 separate shows and concerts. The season's most conspicuous triumph was the widely praised sell-out hit "On Second Avenue" which earned two Drama Desk nominations (for best revival of a musical and for its star Mike Burstyn) and which returns by popular demand in October for an eight-week Off-Broadway engagement.
Wiesenfeld, 47, a native of the Bronx and a graduate of Bronx High School of Science, worked for the FBI in foreign counterintelligence before assuming high-level positions on the staffs of U.S. Congressman Thomas Manton and Queens Borough President Claire Schulman. He served in the Koch administration (as chief of staff to the traffic commissioner) and as executive assistant to U.S.
Senator Alfonse D'Amato. In 1995 he began a stint as Executive Assistant to Governor George E. Pataki for the New York metropolitan region. Wiesenfeld, who was also NY City regional director for the Empire State Development Corporation beginning in 1999, is currently an appointee of the governor, serving on the boards of the City University of New York and the United Nations Development Corporation, and as a commissioner of the Long Island-North Shore Heritage Area Planning Commission.
In his new role as chairman Wiesenfeld will continue to expand the company's base of support to include a wide net of philanthropic, private and civic funders. An example of this is a special Labor Day weekend concert Folksbiene is producing at the prestigious Hampton Synagogue, 154 Sunset Avenue (Westhampton Beach), an event spearheaded by Wiesenfeld. Starring Mike Burstyn, Eleanor Reissa and Zalmen Mlotek, the concert, on Saturday September 3 at 8:30P, brings Folksbiene's three-fold mission of preserving, adding to and mainstreaming the rich legacy of the Yiddish theatre to the attention of an extremely well heeled and involved Jewish community.
The city's recent commitment of $1.5 million is in addition to a previously awarded $400,000 capital grant from NY City and State, bringing the 2004-2005 total to just under $2 million. Taken together these funds will soon jumpstart a major capital campaign for the establishment of a permanent theatre and cultural facility for Folksbiene, complete with a museum for housing and preserving rare theatrical memorabilia and artifacts.
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