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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News February 2008

February 27, 2008

The Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

The Swiss Colony in Uruguay, one of the most scenic areas in South America, was the site of the fourth Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, the most important one organized there by the Memorial Foundation for reasons I will explain below.

The contingent of fellows we recruited in the Latin American Fellowship was the largest we have ever assembled. Forty eight fellows from nineteen countries participated, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Israel, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Republic Dominicana, Serbia, South Africa, U.K., U.S.A., Uruguay and Venezuela.

One of the key components of the success of the Latin American program, in addition to the excellent faculty and program, was the quality of the fellows we selected. The bios of those who participated, attached for your perusal, reveal their ideological diversity, the quality of their potential leadership and their commitment to Jewish life.

 

Building Jewish Communities

There were two distinguishing characteristics of this Latin American Fellowship which deserve special attention. The first reflects the Memorial Foundation’s growing emphasis within the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship on building Jewish communities.

In the early Nahum Goldmann fellowships, our stress was on the individual redefinition and growth of the fellows. The Foundation perceived serious Jewish learning as the most effective catalyst in motivating the fellows toward cultural and communal leadership in the Jewish community. We did indeed achieve a high level of success in raising the cultural and intellectual level of the fellows, spurring them thereby towards deeper involvement in their community.

At the Latin American fellowship we continued a movement that we had initiated at two earlier seminars in Australia and South Africa, from individual re-definition of the fellows to collective action and responsibility. At the Latin American Fellowship, like the two earlier ones in South Africa and Australia, there were contingents of fellows from specific communities. They were not there participating only in an individual capacity. The potential impact of these cohorts of fellows upon their return to their communities changes substantially with the increased size of their delegations, with whom they could possibly cooperate in joint endeavors. At the Latin American fellowship we focused more heavily then ever before on the collective responsibility of the fellows towards building their communities.

The theme of building Jewish communities was centered in three major discussion groups at the fellowship in which all the fellows participated.

The first discussion group dealt with how effective the communities that the fellows represented have been in fostering Jewish continuity and distinctiveness. The intent was for the fellows to describe, analyze and understand the role of their leadership in these areas.

The second workshop was aimed at stimulating the fellows to develop their own vision for building Jewish life in their communities. If they could start with a clean slate, what would their goals and priorities be in the field of Jewish education, propagating Jewish consciousness and disseminating Jewish values and ideas in their communities and in the wider society in which they reside? The objective in these sessions was to help them develop a conceptual paradigm of how they could re-shape their communities and work with their peers to intensify and deepen Jewish cultural life there.

Communal leaders from Latin America, who were invited to join the fellowship for several days to meet and mingle with the fellows, joined with the fellows at the third workshop. These leaders included Mr. Dani Cohn, leader of the Yavneh Community in Montevideo; Mrs. June Jacobs, chairperson of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship; Dr. Jose Kestelman, a long-time lay leader of AMIA in Argentina; Lic. Alfredo E. Neuberger, the political advisor to the Board of DAIA in Argentina; Dr. Angel Schindel, a current Vice-President of DAIA; Lic. Anita E. Weinstein, one of the leading executives of AMIA; and Mrs. Sarah Winkowski, a former President of the International Council of Jewish Women, from Montevideo.

In their encounter, these established leaders and the fellows evaluated together the effectiveness of their communities in propagating Jewish consciousness, education and distinctiveness. The fellows spoke of their vision and goals. They discussed together how the community and its established leadership can and should work with the young leadership. Numerous communal models, religious and secular, centralized and independent, local or globally focused, were discussed. In the Spanish speaking workshops for the Latin American communities, they reviewed in depth the models of community their grandparents initiated in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, reflecting their origins in Eastern and Central Europe.

The discussion between the fellows and established leadership was respectful and intense and in the judgment of both the fellows and communal leaders, very beneficial towards mutual understanding and possible collaboration in the future. But many of the fellows felt that the models of their parents and grandparents generation, operative in their South American communities in recent decades, lacked both the vision and passion to which they could relate.

 

Leadership and Change: A Tale of Two Communities

The most important session of the fellowship took place prior to the encounter with the communal leadership which I just described and, paradoxically, anticipated and projected possible directions for future action. Two fellows reported about models of changes that were introduced in Montevideo and Sao Paulo. Those models of change, although collective endeavors, could also be linked directly to the individual reporters, who were both deeply influenced by their experience at previous Nahum Goldmann fellowships.

Marcello Ellenberg, a leader in the Yavneh community in Montevideo and an alumnus of several Nahum Goldmann fellowships, who served as the on-site coordinator for this and earlier Latin American fellowships, presented the first model. A small group of young activists, who felt that the established community organizations were not responsive sufficiently to the needs of the younger generation in Montevideo, took it upon themselves to revive and revitalize a declining Jewish day school and rebuild it into what is now a vibrant and flourishing Jewish community.

In the 1950’s, 60’s and early 70’s, Uruguay’s Jews were part of a vibrant culture that included more than fifteen synagogues, a Jewish theatre, newspapers, Zionist programs and an almost non-existent rate of assimilation. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, that “golden” era began to disintegrate because of a variety of economic, political and social changes in Uruguay. The abundance of Jewish cultural activities shrank to almost a bare minimum.

Marcelo Cynovich and Jorge Kaplan, Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni, and their colleague, Dani Cohen as lay leaders, and Marcelo Ellenberg, in a professional capacity, together spearheaded an effort to re-invigorate Jewish cultural life in their community. They started with the Yavneh School, a once vibrant Zionist educational institution, from which most of the students and their families had immigrated to Israel. Nearly bankrupt, they reclaimed it, and in several years transformed it into a hub of Jewish activity in the community, including a kindergarten, elementary and high school, Montevideo’s only Judaica store, and a center for adult education. They also added an ever-expanding synagogue and center.

Even as impressive is the Hillel they established in Montevideo several years ago, the first in South America. Prior to Hillel’s existence, young Jews after the age of 18 had no place to meet in Uruguay. Unlike Hillel in the U.S., the program serves the entire community, not only the campus. Its model is aimed at the maximum involvement of students in all aspects of Jewish life, seeking to help them achieve a meaningful Jewish life, not a minimalist, common-denominator program.

New programs have been added to the Yavneh agenda, including Morasha, a Jewish studies program for young students who do not attend day school; adult education programs, including a beit midrash for women; and a yeshiva and kolel. Although the Yavneh School, synagogue and other facilities follow a modern orthodox style, more than 95 percent of the people who participate in its programs are non-Orthodox.

Alberto Milkewitz, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Sao Paulo, the umbrella organization in that community, is an alumnus of the eighth International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Glamsta, Sweden, in 1999 and the Latin American fellowship in Uruguay in 2004. Inspired by his experience at those seminars, he subsequently pursued a Master’s in Jewish education and is currently studying for his doctorate in that field. Alberto presented a second and variant model for re-invigorating his community.

In his paper, Reinventing the Jewish Community in San Pablo, he reported that the board of the Sao Paulo Jewish Federation, the roof organization of his community founded in 1946, was composed of 184 members, only half elected by the community, the other half appointed by communal organizations. The Board’s unwieldy and non-democratic character greatly impeded its effective functioning. The Board could hardly deal with, or shift its priorities, to engage the new challenges and concerns faced by the community. A new model, developed under Alberto’s leadership in close consultation and cooperation with the community’s major donors and an incipient new leadership, was introduced in 2007. The board was reduced to eleven of the most important organizations in the community. Its presidents, democratically elected, would henceforth serve as the board of the Sao Paulo federation. One delegate was chosen by the youth organizations in the community. The executive board was also reduced from eighteen to four directors.

The new model of organization, democratically constituted, created a new synergy and connection between the community’s planners, decision makers, and those who provide the resources and funding in the Sao Paulo Jewish community. The new communal model almost instantly produced other seismic shifts within the community. The average age of the executive board of the federation was reduced to forty-three years old. The major priority in the community became Jewish education and literacy. The new president and vice president were either graduates themselves or were communally active in Jewish schools, and their children were attending Jewish schools, a marked change from the past leadership.

According to Alberto, the member organizations have now fully adopted the programs of the federation. Next September the board will meet for the first time in Israel. The Sao Paulo community is now engaged in strategic planning for a stronger and more effective national confederation in Brazil.

There is no better example of the impact of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship than the tale of these two communities and the transformation these two fellows, together with their colleagues, wrought in their communities. The “reinvention” of the Sao Paulo communal structure was achieved and inspired by the community’s professional leader, working in tandem with the established leadership of the community. In Montevideo, the young leadership in a challenge to the established community introduced new programs and structural changes within the community, a process that is still in progress. Both are harbingers of hope for South American Jewry, and indeed, for all of us.

 

The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Advisory Committee

The other distinguishing facet of the Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was the Memorial Foundation’s determination to enlarge the role of the fellows at the Latin American Nahum Goldmann fellowship so that the fellows feel they are being empowered to possess the program. This was abundantly clear in the role the fellows played in the organization and administration of this fellowship. In Uruguay, fellows from a variety of ideological backgrounds and geographic areas, from communities all around the Jewish globe – Australia, India, South America, Europe, South Africa, United States and Israel, played active leadership roles in chairing and moderating the program in a manner that differed significantly from past seminars. The Foundation is committed to the acceleration and expansion of this process in the future.

The major expression of this change was the establishment by the Foundation of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Advisory Committee. Under the co-chairmanship of Rabbi Jeni Friedman from New York and Barak Ben Eliezer from Israel, the committee composed of Marcelo Ellenberg, Dalya Lichtenstein from Capetown, South Africa, Yair Miller from Sydney, Australia and Myer Moses from Mumbai, India, met during the fellowship and reviewed every facet of the work of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, including planning, thematic emphases of the seminar, recruitment and selection of fellows and faculty, the programmatic format, evaluation of future programs and follow-up programs and activities.

The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Advisory Committee will be presenting its full report to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees at the next biennial meeting of the Foundation in Jerusalem in July.

 

Next Steps

The next International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship will take place in Israel in February, 2009. A successful preliminary meeting was held in Jerusalem with a planning committee of Israeli alumni to continue the enlargement of the directions reported in this Board Briefing. We will be providing you with further details about the International Israeli Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in the near future.

The Foundation’s executive committee at its last meeting approved the expansion of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship website and its program of on-line courses. We are pleased to announce that the first course in the next series of lectures will be led by Prof. Rachel Elior of Hebrew University. The topic will be “Jewish Mysticism: The Infinite Expression of Freedom”. The course is scheduled to begin on March 24th.

Two other courses are planned later this Spring – “The Historical and Contemporary Relevance of Hassidut” by Prof. Ada Rappoport of University College, London and “The American Jewish Community” by Prof. Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University. Please check for details about all these programs on the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship website.

Best wishes for a joyous Purim,
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President