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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News June 2007

June 27, 2007

THE ISRAELI NAHUM GOLDMANN FELLOWSHIP

Nahum Goldmann Fellowship XIX, held on the shores of the Kinneret from June 4-12, was a first for the Foundation on several accounts: the first fellowship to be held in Israel, the first international reunion of alumni of the fellowship, and the first time the leadership of the Foundation met face to face with fellows from Jewish communities on six continents. The program was a resounding success on all of the above scores.

Alumni from 25 countries participated, including representatives from Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Poland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Slovak Republic, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay (see Appendix A).

The first international reunion in the two decade history of the Fellowship meeting was planned as more than a chance to meet and greet old friends. It was intended to select fellows from among the more than 600 alumni of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship who have amply demonstrated deep commitment to the intensification of Jewish culture in their communities and provide them with an opportunity to both upgrade their skills, contacts and motivation, and contemplate achieving a higher level of cultural and communal leadership in their community.

In the rich program we organized (see Appendix B), there were many highlights and special moments. The academic lectures were of the highest level from the most distinguished faculty we have ever assembled.

One of the emotional highlights was the presence at the fellowship of two Bnei Menashe,Yigal Hangshing and Jeremiah Hnamte from Manipur and Mizoram, India, leaders of one of the lost tribes of Israel, isolated for centuries from Jewish life and now recognized as Jews by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. Their surprising but secure assimilation into the fellowship was highlighted by their recitation at the pre-Sabbath program of the Shehechianu blessing, rendered at special events, expressing thanks for their arrival in Israel for the first time and for the inauguration of the first Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Israel.

In my report, I shall dwell only on three features of the Israeli program that were substantial advances over past seminars - The Israel connection, the Fellowship's programmatic profile, and the spirit of Klal Yisrael with which it was infused.

 

The Israel Connection

What was most unique about the Fellowship is that it is the first time that we have organized a Fellowship in Israel. All the 18 past seminars were held in the Diaspora, aimed primarily at building leadership in Diaspora Jewish communities.

The most compelling reason for organizing the meeting in Israel was ideological. Although most of the Fellows in the past had positive feelings and/or experiences in Israel and were committed in some degree to Zionism, it was absolutely clear to us over the last decade that most of them did not possess a real, meaningful comprehension of the connection between the Jewish people and the land and State of Israel philosophically, historically and culturally. In our judgment, it is impossible for anyone to be a leader in the Diaspora today without fully understanding that connection. This connection was one of the central themes in the Kinneret seminar.

The lectures chosen for this theme, Eretz Yisrael and the State of Israel: The Historical Encounter, Eretz Yisrael and the State of Israel: The Philosophic Encounter and The Future of Zionism presented by Professors Eliezer Schweid and Anita Shapira and Gen. Moshe Yaalon respectively were all superb. Some of the fellows also heard a presentation by Justice Elyakim Rubinstein of the Supreme Court in a post-seminar program during a visit to the Supreme Court of Israel, on “The Challenge of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State”?.

In addition to the lectures, the Israeli fellows, selected from the elite sector of Israeli society, and who were completely integrated into the fellowship from its outset, provided authentic examples and effective interpretation of that connection. The Israeli fellows were an enormous asset in the success of this aspect of the program, even taking into account the intense discussion and debate about the “style of life”? and ideational differences between Israel and the Diaspora.

Most difficult to articulate, but impossible to discount, was the beautiful site of our meeting on the southern tip of the Kinneret, with the Golan Heights ranged on the opposite side of the sea, providing us with a stunning landscape for the fellowship. Together with our tours to Tsfat and Jerusalem, the land itself undoubtedly impacted on the consciousness of the fellows.

If our past experience at previous seminars can serve as a guide, the full impact of the Israel connection, as well as other facets of this fellowship, will be absorbed only after the fellows return home and have the opportunity to assimilate their intense experience at the Israeli fellowship. The rousing rendition of the Hatikva at the concluding session of the seminar, at the fellows' initiative, was already evidence of their incipient bonding with Israel.

 

The Programmatic Profile: Past, Present and Future

In addition to the serious learning that was such a prominent and successful part of the Israel Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, more attention than in past seminars was devoted in the Israel seminar to the enlargement of programmatic initiatives and innovations.

The first of these deals with the past - a review of the outcomes for the fellows from their participation in past programs.

It was abundantly clear that the major impact of the Fellowship was and is the individual re-definition by the fellows of themselves as Jews and leaders. The character of that re-definition is, naturally, exceedingly individual in nature. It was most effectively articulated by Yulina Dadova of Bulgaria in her remarks to the fellows before she left the seminar. She spoke of the intense loneliness she feels as a young Jew working in her community, Sofia. Meeting other young men and women from all around the world, like her, at the Fellowship, inspired and strengthened her resolve to carry on in her own community with a greater sense of commitment and responsibility.

This sense of empowerment appears to be the dominant outcome - highly individual but not always highly visible; impacting more on their “essence”? than in “outward manifestation”?, but which in time becomes translated into individual initiatives undertaken by the fellows in their community.

At a special session at the conclusion of the fellowship devoted to the presentation of exemplary models for the fellows to review and consider for themselves, Monika Krawczyk from Warsaw reported on the important professional role she assumed in her community after her participation in the fellowship in Sweden as the executive director of the foundation responsible for overseeing the restitution of Jewish properties and the preservation of Jewish cemeteries and historic synagogues in Poland, a critical responsibility for the Jewish community in Poland that survived the Holocaust in re-building Jewish life there.

A second report was given by Irina Belskaia and Michael Kemerov, a married couple from Minsk, leaders in the Reform community's efforts in Belarus to erect a network of educational institutions, including kindergartens, Sunday schools, programs for Bar and Bat Mitzvah and family education, in what was once, and continues to be, the most backward province in the former Soviet Union.

A second outcome of even more potent potential is related to the growing number of Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni residing in the same community or country, who join in a cooperative effort to introduce or induce change in their community. Two reports of successful examples of this type of activity were presented to the fellows as possible models for implementation in their community.

Debby Durlacher, who served as the on-site coordinator of the Israeli Fellowship, reported on the initiatives of three Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni from Montevideo - Marcelo Cynovich, a communal leader, and Marcelo Ellenberg and herself, both professionals. They initiated a successful effort to revive the religious, educational and cultural life of the Jewish community in Montevideo, once deeply Zionist, that declined in the 70's and 80's from the loss of their most attractive young people who went on Aliyah. The two Marcelos spearheaded an effort to revive Yavneh, a dormant school and re-build it into what is now a thriving Jewish community, including a dynamic synagogue, adult education programs, and the provision of Kosher food. Most recently, they and Debby organized the first Hillel in South America in Montevideo, in which she now serves as its first director, and which has become the model for inspiring other Hillels subsequently organized in Brazil and Argentina. The whole undertaking was achieved, they claim, with at best, only lukewarm support from their community.

An even more dramatic example of collective action was a mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship organized by Yair Miller and Lynda Dave, two former Australian alumni, in Melbourne last December about which Yair Miller reported.

The Australian Nahum Goldmann Mini-Fellowship was unique in that it was planned and administered entirely by the Australian fellows themselves and was organized prior to the annual meeting of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and in conjunction with that body, the roof organization of the Australian Jewish community. This was the first time in the two-decade history of the Fellowship that a regional program was organized in cooperation with the national leadership of the country in which it was held.

After the mini Nahum Goldmann Fellowship organized by the fellows for the fellows, a special session, “Making Australian Jewry More Inclusive”?, was added to the annual meeting of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, so that the leadership of Australian Jewry and the fellows could mix together in small working groups, providing the fellows with the opportunity to engage and become acquainted with the senior leadership of Australian Jewry, while simultaneously sharing their views and visions of the future of Australian Jewry.

A second programmatic innovation, which we labeled the “new voices”?, intended to enable the fellows to more effectively express and refine their views regarding Jewish life, in anticipation of their assumption of leadership in the future in discussions among themselves and with senior Jewish leaders, regionally and internationally, was also incorporated into the Israeli program with impressive results.

The discussion groups in Israel were devoted, not to political or welfare issues, but to achieving Jewish cultural distinctiveness, a concern that we believe needs to be at the core of leadership efforts in the revitalization and intensification of Jewish culture in their communities. The results of the discussion groups, both for the fellows and their encounter with members of the Executive Committee, organized and undertaken under the total aegis of the Fellows' leadership, were certainly one of the major highlights of the Israeli Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. I shall provide a fuller and more detailed description of the “new voices”? sector of the fellowship program in my next report dealing with the meeting of the Foundation's Executive Committee that followed the fellowship.

Our discussion with the fellows at the closing of the fellowship also persuaded us that a pilot program of on-line courses on the internet that we have successfully introduced, demonstrates that the Memorial Foundation and the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship now possess the capacity to develop on-line courses on the internet of a quality comparable to the regular Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, in which Fellows from all over the world, during the course of the entire year, can participate in a global conversation, capable of reproducing the quasi-family and community analogous to the mini - Klal Yisrael that we have achieved at the regular Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, about which I will now report.

 

The Spirit of Klal Yisrael

Everyone who was present at the 19th Nahum Goldmann Fellowship - faculty, Foundation staff, Executive Committee members and the fellows themselves would readily testify that the most outstanding feature of the Israeli program was the intense bonding that occurred among the Fellows. It cut across all geographic, ideological, religious and age lines. More remarkable yet is that it took only one to two days for the connections to be established.

Some would classify that phenomenon as a quasi-family or community. I believe it more appropriately defined as a “Klal Yisrael”? moment, because that spirit of solidarity and fellowship grew out of a unique recognition achieved and acknowledged by the fellows. Despite the deeply held beliefs and ideologies they represented to which they were firmly committed and which were very intensely discussed and debated at the Fellowship, albeit respectfully and civilly, they also came to recognize and accept that the bonds that united them personally had no less transcendental value than the different beliefs and values they held so strongly. These bonds were heavily fortified in the cascade of talk among the Fellows - after the lectures and workshops, during meals, coffee breaks, and the “schmoozing”? very late into the night on the beach, campus, and in their rooms. It was also substantially strengthened by the “fun”? they were experiencing together, a powerful bonding component at the fellowship, during the swimming in the Kinneret, the bonfires at night, and just being together and enjoying the company and companionship of the other fellows.

Our Sabbath experience together - a tapestry of happenings woven by the Fellows - consolidated the multitude of contemporary tribes of the Jewish people that were represented at the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, from Minsk to Mumbai. It transformed the fellowship into an authentic community and living microcosm of the Jewish people that captured and expressed the essence and spirit of Klal Yisrael totally.

The Sabbath began with a lovely candle lighting ceremony in which all the women participated, swaying together, softly humming a lovely Chassidic melody, led by an Israeli fellow, Lishai Mishali, from a secular background who had never before lit Sabbath candles, and Jeni Friedman, a conservative Rabbi from the United States. The Friday night service followed on the rooftop terrace of the dining room, with an unobstructed view of the Kinneret from all sides. Watching the sun descend behind the pink-shrouded Golan Heights, all of us were enveloped in a rare spiritual tranquility. Although attendance at prayers was optional, everyone was present that night at the Carlebachian service, led by an Australian fellow, Ronny Schnapp from Canberra, the capital city of Australia with only several hundred Jews. The “Lecha Dodi”? greeting of the Sabbath Queen and a moving communal dance in which all joined, were truly magical moments, held about thirty miles from Tsfat which we had visited earlier that Friday and where the welcoming of the Sabbath Queen was introduced into the Jewish liturgy. Five centuries later, representatives of entirely different Jewish civilizations from all around the world experienced together the scent of that historic moment. That spirit infused the rest of the Sabbath day and its meals, until the beautiful Havdallah service on the beach of the Kinneret that night.

It was not only the bonding of the fellows that constituted the spirit of Klal Yisrael at the fellowship. It was also the blending of the diverse legacies of our people.

Indeed, the Kinneret could serve as a metaphor of what we sought to accomplish at the 19th Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. The Kinneret region includes two important eras and places in Jewish history - Tiberias, which represents the great legacy of Jewish learning and scholarship, especially in the Talmudic era; and the surrounding areas, the sites of the first Jewish settlements in Palestine, where the earliest articulation of Zionist ideology and the beginnings of the expressions of modern Hebrew poetry by Racquel and others took place.

If it is not possible to fully integrate these two distinct phases in Jewish history, we were successful at the Israeli Nahum Goldmann Fellowship of, at least, striving to bring them into closer harmony with one another.

In this sense, the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship may be a harbinger of hope for a divided and sometimes divisive Jewish community in the Diaspora and Israel.

For eight days at the Kinneret, The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship proved that Jewish solidarity and the spirit of Klal Yisrael are not beyond our reach.

Best wishes for a pleasant summer.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President