“A Serious Honor.” How a New Fellowship for Jewish Arts and Culture is Playing Out

Rand in front of the 613.

Rand in front of the 613.

Painter Archie Rand is in shock days after learning that he has been named the second recipient of the Farash Fellowship. The fellowship comes with a purse of $100,000 and a residency in Rochester, where the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation is based. But perhaps the best part for Rand is that his work—The 613—will be shown in its massive entirety in the art gallery connected with the University of Rochester.

“The main shock is not the money. To me the joy is the recognition. The money is good, I need to pay the nurses,” said Rand of caring for his wife, Maria, at their home in Brooklyn. She is in the end stage of Alzheimer’s disease. “But having somebody actually understand what I’ve been doing for the last 45 years is very heartwarming. Somebody lifted up a rock and found me under that,” Rand said with typical self-deprecation.

Rand, 70, has been working since he was in his teens and is known for cartoon-like paintings and murals, including several inside Brooklyn Orthodox synagogue B’nai Yosef. While he counts leading contemporary artists like Julian Schnabel and David Salle as friends, Rand’s work has not garnered the six- and sometimes seven-figure prices their art can command.

His paintings are frequently explicitly Jewish, as in The 613, a series of 613 paintings devoted to each of the commandments attributed to the Torah. In a review of the book published of those paintings, memoirist Shalom Auslander wrote in the New York Times that they “feel like Marc Chagall on a bender.”

As Rand said in an interview, in language too profane for direct quotation here, there’s no real market for explicitly Jewish art.

“I never expected in either my lifetime or afterward to have the work recognized,” he told Inside Philanthropy. Said Rand, who is the Presidential Professor of Art at Brooklyn College, “I was doing it because I had a moral obligation to my life.”

He follows the late Israeli author Amos Oz as a recipient of the Farash Fellowship, which was established by the Farash Foundation in 2018 “to promote Jewish arts, culture and humanity, which has diminished over the past number of years in terms of attention and funding,” said Isobel Goldman, Farash’s director of grants and programs. “It is to celebrate one person in any one discipline.”

As part of the 2018 fellowship Oz spent time writing in Rochester in March and April of that year, she said. He died at the end of December.

The Farash Foundation was formally established after Max Farash died in 2010 at the age of 95, following several years of decline from Alzheimer’s disease.

He was an immigrant from Monastir, Turkey. Farash and his wife Marian, who died in 2007, had one child: Lynn Farash, who lives in the Rochester area but is no longer involved with the foundation, Goldman said, for reasons she preferred not to discuss.

Max Farash was an extremely successful Rochester-area real estate developer and left $260 million to the foundation.

In 2016, the most recent year for which tax filings are available, the foundation distributed just over $11 million: half to Rochester causes and institutions, and half to Jewish organizations and projects locally and around the world. It had $237 million in assets.

Locally focused programs include the Farash Prize, honoring a local social entrepreneur, and First in Family scholarships, given to nine area colleges each year for one student who is the first in their family to attend college. Each recipient gets full funding.

In total, the Farash Foundation gives about $5 million to Jewish causes annually, “which is a lot of money for the number of Jews we have in Rochester,” said Goldman.

In 2016, Farash gave the Rochester Jewish Community Center $1,036,000. Jewish Senior Life, which offers assisted living and full nursing home care, received $1,000,000. They were the beneficiaries of Farash’s largest donations that year.

Now, the foundation is funding a Rochester Jewish Community study, about to launch through the local Jewish federation. The last one was conducted 10 years ago and identified roughly 18,000 Jews in two area counties. But “it is definitely less, now,” Goldman said.

Still, Farash is investing in the education of Jews who remain in Rochester. It is funding a first cohort of 20 local participants in the Wexner Heritage Program Fellowship. Those selected will devote two years to in-depth study of Jewish texts, values and issues, meeting locally for four hours every other week, and at multiple annual program-wide convenings at conference resorts in Utah and Colorado, and a summer, in Israel.

Each of the dozen local synagogues and Jewish schools, supplementary or one of the four Jewish day schools, plus area Jewish camps, receives Farash funding. So do Rochester-area native teens and young adults who go to Israel. Each one gets $360. Those who go on longer-term Israel programs can receive Farash-provided need-based financial aid.

Back in Brooklyn, Rand can hardly believe his good fortune. “If I’m following Amos Oz it’s kind of like a Jewish MacArthur Fellowship (also known as ‘the genius prize,’” he told Inside Philanthropy. “This is really putting their money where their mouth is.

“Being recognized with this amount of cash is a serious honor. Their commitment to support the idea of the work is really very thrilling.”