New York University today announced a gift of $50,000 from Steven Speilberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation to help support the creation of a digital archive documenting Yiddish theater in New York City from the late 19th century through contemporary times. The project, Second Avenue Online, is being developed under the auspices of NYU’s Center for Advanced Technology in Digital Multimedia (CAT). It will apply state-of-the-art digital technology to the creation of a web site with access to oral histories, music, photos, posters, manuscripts, scores and letters. It will also provide a calendar of events, a bulletin board, and a variety of interactive areas, including 3D “walkthroughs” of Second Avenue—the Yiddish Broadway during its heyday in the 1920s and 30s.

“One important goal of The Righteous Persons Foundation is to use the arts and media to engage a broad audience in exploring the many components of Jewish life,” said Margery Tabankin, Executive Director of the Foundation. “Second Avenue Online will make an invaluable resource easily accessible to people who share cultural and scholarly interests in the seminal role Yiddish theater played in America’s entertainment industry.”

The Righteous Persons Foundation was established by Steven Spielberg with the profits from his film, Schindler’s List, to help support a flourishing and vibrant future for the Jewish community.

According to NYU President L. Jay Oliva, “Second Avenue Online project promises to become an outstanding example of how cutting-edge technologies pioneered at the NYU Center for Advanced Technology can be utilized to enhance the cultural and intellectual life of our times. The project is also especially appropriate for NYU because of the wealth of Yiddish and Jewish resources associated with the University, including the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, and unique archival holdings in Jewish culture, labor history and “Downtown New York” housed in our study collections.”

Yiddish theater in New York had a significant impact on the American entertainment industry. Its formative and ongoing influence can be traced in the comic tradition of the Catskills, early television, Broadway shows like Fiddler on the Roof, and the work of well-known performers as diverse as Molly Picon, Paul Muni and Leonard Nimoy. The Second Avenue Online project will apply innovative digital technologies and production techniques for database management, archival processing, and computer animation to preserve this invaluable historic resource and to make it available to the widest possible audience.

Second Avenue Online was initially funded by the estate of Ann Ronell, who was considered Hollywood’s first successful female composer and lyricist. Ronell composed “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf;” one of the most famous children’s film songs ever, and the ballad “Willow Weep for Me.” She also wrote the scores for the films “One Touch of Venus,” “Main Street to Broadway,” “Love Happy” and “Linda”.

For additional information, contact Project Director Cynthia Allen, 998-3478.

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