San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys Federation launches cultural arts program

Synagogues and Jewish community centers are among the traditional paths to connect with the Jewish community. But The Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys is taking a different approach to outreach to local Jews with the launch of its new Cultural Arts Program.

“There is a new definition of what it means to affiliate in the Jewish community now,” Federation Executive Director Jason Moss said. “People are finding their way into the Jewish community in different ways. People are feeling connected in ways that never existed 20 to 30 years ago.”

The new program started as a collaboration between Moss, Cantor Judy Sofer, who is now the Cultural Arts Program coordinator, and Stuart Miller, chairman of the Federation’s Cultural Arts Committee. They then sought more input through a larger community discussion.

Among the handful of activities already in the works for the Cultural Arts Program are plays, a youth choir, a youth string orchestra, a challah-baking club and a series of coffeehouses to highlight local musicians and artists.

The program’s public kickoff will be the Oct. 15 debut performance of “Working: The Musical” at the Federation’s headquarters in Arcadia. The musical, based on Studs Terkel’s book “Working,” explores the American workday and features music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked,” “Godspell”).

Sofer said one reason she chose “Working” was because it could have a large cast. The musical already has more than 30 participants, with more interest still brimming, she said.

“There are so many talented people out there, and now we’re able to bring them together,” Sofer said.

Although “Working” does not have a Jewish theme, Schwartz’s music gives it the tie-in the program needs.

“I wanted the show to be in a Jewish theme or that somebody who wrote it or did the music is Jewish,” Moss said, adding that he didn’t want to do the standard performance of “Fiddler on the Roof.” “I wanted to expand out beyond traditional Jewish theater.”

Community donors are supplying the funding for the Cultural Arts Program, which is overseen by the Federation’s Cultural Arts Committee. While program organizers say they have received significant contributions, they hope to find long-term sponsors.

“Finances are a concern,” Miller said. “Once we can show some concrete examples of what we’re doing and be successful there, we hope that … monetary interest will develop.”

Moss hopes the cultural arts programming will reach Jews in the area and provide a new entry point into the organized Jewish community.

“Ultimately, my hope for the programs we run is to raise awareness of this Jewish community,” Moss said, “so people are no longer asking the question, ‘There are Jews here?’ but reframing that question to be, ‘Did you hear what the Jews in the San Gabriel and Pomona valleys are doing?’ ”

“Working: The Musical” will run Oct. 15 and 22 at 8 p.m.; and Oct. 16 and 23, at 2 p.m. at The Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel & Pomona Valleys, 550 S. Second Ave., Arcadia. To purchase tickets or learn about other cultural arts events, call (626) 445-0810 or visit