Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Email: office@mfjc.org

Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News March 2001

March 28, 2001

ISRAEL PRIZE WINNER IN 2001 - Prof Aviezer Ravitzky

Prof Aviezer Ravitzky, who will receive this year's Israel Prize — the most prestigious international award in the field of Jewish culture, has been supported by the Memorial Foundation during his entire academic career, beginning with his doctoral studies. Prof. Ravitzky, who will receive the Israel Prize for his contributions to Jewish philosophy and thought, was granted three doctoral scholarships in the 1970's and three fellowships in the 80's. We also supported a number of his books and publications through grants to Hebrew University. The award will be made on April 26, Israel Independence Day, in Jerusalem.

Dr. Ravitzky, born in Jerusalem in 1945, completed his dissertation, with distinction, on Early Commentaries on the Philosophy of Maimonides at the Hebrew University in 1979. He did post-doctoral research at Harvard in 1970-80. He began teaching at Hebrew University in 1980 and was chosen as the head of the Institute for Jewish Studies in 1989, and chairman of the department of Jewish Philosophy in 1994. In the 1970's and 80's he was one of the founders of the religious peace movements, Oz Veshalom and Netivot Shalom.

His areas of specialization are Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages and Jewish Thought in the 20th Century, about which he has published seven books, edited four others, and written more than 100 articles.

We are very proud of his achievements and his close association with the Foundation.

During the last year alone, Prof. Ravitzky has addressed the symposium at our Biennial Meeting in Istanbul on the Jewish and Theological Responses to the Shoah, participated in the invitational conference on the same subject that the Foundation organized in Ashkelon, Israel, and lectured at our academic convocation, The Jewish People in the 20th Century, on Perspectives on Judaism. He also will serve as a member of the faculty at the 10th Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Glamsta, Sweden, this summer.

Prof. Ravitzky will be the 30th recipient of Foundation support who subsequently received the Israel Prize.

Some of the earlier winners of the Israel Prize who received Foundation support are Profs. Menachem Elon, Gershon Shaked, Haim Beinart, Chaim Dimitrovsky, Eliezer Schweid, Moshe Bar-Asher, Joseph Dan, Yehuda Bauer, Shelomo Morag, Moshe Goshen-Gottstein, Chuna Shmeruk, Menachem Stern and Joshua Prawer; authors Aharon Apelfeld and Shin Shalom; and Rabbis Adin Steinsaltz, Yoseph Kapach and Menachem Mendel Kasher.

 

REKINDLING JEWISH LIFE IN THE BALKANS

Since its formation, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture has been dedicated to revitalizing Jewish life in communities, large and small, that had been decimated by the ravages of the Holocaust and decades of Communist repression.

Today, this challenge is again being met in the tinderbox of the Balkans — Croatia — where, despite raging ethnic hatreds, Jewish life is flourishing, thanks to the efforts of two devoted communal leaders, Dunja Sprajc and Rabbi Kotel Dadon, both of whom have been aided in their studies by the Foundation.

Kotel Dadon, a multi-talented 33-year-old native of Israel, has compiled a remarkable record of firsts while rebuilding Jewish life in Zagreb as the first rabbi to serve the Jewish community in Croatia since World War II.

Raised in Netivot, a small town in the Northern Negev, he attended Yeshivat Ha-Kotel, a hesder yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, while serving a tank commander in the Israel Defense Forces, with the rank of lieutenant. In 1995, Kotel earned a Bachelor of Laws degree at Bar-Ilan University, and was ordained at the Shehebar Institute for Jewish Studies.

In 1993, Kotel began his connection with the Zagreb Jewish community when, in the midst of the civil war between Croatia and Serbia he answered the call to officiate at High Holiday services and to conduct a series of classes and seminars. A year later, while the war was still raging, Rabbi Dadon again returned to Zagreb for Rosh Ha-Shana and Yom Kippur.

In 1995 he taught Talmud and Jewish Law at the Jewish school in Hungary and earned a Ph.D. degree in Law at the University of Budapest.

For two years he practiced law, returning to Zagreb to officiate at services on Pesach, Rosh Ha-Shana and Yom Kippur. Each time he visited Zagreb, the community leaders urged him to become their full-time rabbi. Finally, in 1998, encouraged by his wife, he acceded to their request.

In his two years as Croatia's only rabbi, Rabbi Dadon has revitalized the community through energetic outreach and multi-faceted educational and cultural activities. His synagogue, which could barely muster a minyan on Shabbat before his arrival, now holds daily services as well. He has dramatically enhanced the level of Jewish education by giving daily classes in Jewish philosophy and rituals, organizing a flourishing Jewish kindergarten and lecturing regularly to Jews in Croatia's outlying communities. To further advance this educational program, he has sent four young women to study in Jerusalem, who, on completing their studies, will serve as teachers in the day school Rabbi Dadon proposes to build for this mainly secular community, which has lacked any formal Jewish education since the Holocaust.

Accompanied by his wife and three young sons, Rabbi Dadon conducts Shabbat services and communal meals, not only in Zagreb, but also in the smaller Jewish communities of Dubrovnik, Rijeka, Osjek and Split.

When his youngest son was born earlier this year, the b'rit was the first ritual circumcision performed in Zagreb in more than half a century.

Rabbi Dadon, who received two Community Services Scholarships from the Foundation, has published four volumes to enhance the community's educational level: a phonetically translated mahzor for Rosh Ha-Shana; A siddur for Kabalat Shabbat; one for daily prayers and a booklet of Songs for the Sabbath. In a short while, with the assistance of the Memorial Foundation, Rabbi Dadon will publish a book on "The Philosophy and Practice of Judaism" — the first such book to be published in the Croatian language.

Also involved in the battle to keep Jewish life alive in Croatia is Dunja Sprajc, who was appointed as Secretary General of the Zagreb community in 1994, and who has worked as a community organizer, both in Zagreb as well as in the smaller outlying communities throughout the country.

Two years ago, Ms. Sprajc voluntarily retired from professional life and its administrative demands so she could have more time to devote herself to her favorite activities — working with people — particularly reaching out to those who were under-affiliated. In her current capacity as a lay leader, she is chair of the Cultural Board, organizing programs and lectures and coordinating activities of a cultural nature. Among her manifold volunteer activities for the 1,400-member Jewish community of Zagreb, she organizes women's support groups, serves as a facilitator of student groups studying traditional Jewish texts, and travels to outlying Croatian communities to organize Jewish holiday celebrations. Most recently, she translated a Hebrew primer for kindergartners into Croatian.

A participant in the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship II at Carmel College, England in 1989 and Fellowship VII in Glamsta, Sweden in 1997, Ms. Sprajc also received a grant from the Foundation for a study program in Jerusalem in 1999.

We are proud of our role in assisting these two dedicated leaders who are keeping the flame of Jewish education burning brightly in Croatia.

Warm wishes to you and your family for a joyous Passover.
Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President