Stephen Kantrowitz
Stephen Kantrowitz

Besides getting to know the Michigan Jewish community, Stephen Kantrowitz is looking forward to getting to know the state.

From helping to launch a theater reboot of the Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival to beginning a new job as senior director of Cultural Arts at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in West Bloomfield, Stephen Kantrowitz is keeping busy. 

Although Kantrowitz did not have a voice in choosing what will be offered as part of the 24th annual cinema showcase, he is mapping out logistics for the event and getting acquainted with longtime festival committee members. 

“I’m very excited to be at the West Bloomfield JCC, and I have great plans for the Cultural Arts Department,” said Kantrowitz, who was a violin performer before transitioning into 25 years of producing and presenting programs to bring more than 1,000 shows to Jewish and nonsectarian venues around the country. 

“I look forward to working with Metro Detroit’s Jewish community to make the existing initiatives grow and create new and exciting initiatives that will engage a wider audience at the JCC and connect them with our community.”

Kantrowitz’s entertainment interests started at age 9, when the New Jersey school he attended offered instrumental training and free instruments. He chose the violin in keeping with the direction then preferred by an older brother and sister, who moved on to other fields.

Attendance in the pre-college curriculum at the Manhattan School of Music led to appearances at celebrated venues including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York. He has worked with well-known Jewish musicians, such as pianists Vladimir Feltsman and Ethan Bortnick. 

“I decided I wasn’t going to focus on music at Montclair State University because I wanted to explore other things as well, like writing and theater,” said Kantrowitz, who majored in English. “I continued to play the violin for a number of years while becoming co-founder and co-director of the National Jewish Theatre to produce and tour works by Jewish artists.”

That initiative continued through the organization’s transitioning to Broadway Ala Carte and his acceptance of other positions, most recently as director of cultural affairs for the city of Miramar, Florida, where he produced, programmed and administered about 300 presentations annually.

He has been at the helm of shows that have reached from the Broadway musical Show Boat to concerts featuring finalists on the TV hit America’s Got Talent. 

Kantrowitz, who began working remotely for the West Bloomfield JCC in March, has turned over management responsibilities for Broadway Ala Carte to his wife, actress Jodi Chekofsky.  Currently getting her attention is the tour titled The Phantoms … Unmasked! spotlighting Phantom of the Opera stars.

“I’ve done collaborations and brought programming to venues for many different Jewish organizations — Hadassah, B’nai B’rith, ORT,” said Kantrowitz, who also oversaw cultural arts at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey (JCC). “We’ve done shows beyond only those with Jewish themes. We did an original salute to the late comedian Fanny Brice (Second Hand Rose) that my wife created before taking on the role.”

Besides getting to know the Michigan Jewish community, Kantrowitz is looking forward to getting to know the state. This will be his first experience in Michigan. 

“The crux of many of my programs has been to bring guest artists to communities and to find ways to connect them with students who are budding artists and budding performers,” Kantrowitz said.  

“I would be very interested in exploring those types of partnerships with local colleges and schools, and inviting guest artists who are masters in the trade from all over the country. They can share their experiences and help the next generation get ready for their own careers.”

At home, Kantrowitz enjoys fusion cooking, mixing traditional Jewish recipes with recipes from other cultures.

“I’m a lifelong fan of professional wrestling,” he said. “I like the theatricality. I know it’s fake and not a sport, but it’s very entertaining to me. My father got my brother and me hooked on it.”  

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Suzanne Chessler’s writing-editing career has spanned many years, and her articles have been featured in secular and religious publications across the state and around the country. There was a period of time when she maintained three regular columns in three different publications – one appearing weekly to spotlight metro volunteers, another appearing weekly to profile stage enthusiasts in community theater and a third appearing bimonthly to showcase upcoming arts programs. Besides doing general reporting, she has had continuing assignments involving health, monetary subjects and crime. Her award-winning work builds on majors in English-speech and journalism earned at Wayne State University, where instructors also were writers-editors on Detroit’s daily newspapers.