Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
50 Broadway, 34th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10004

Tel: (212) 425-6606
Fax: (212) 425-6602
Email: office@mfjc.org

Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News July 2008

July 8, 2008

Professor Ismar Schorsch Elected President of the Memorial Foundation

At the meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Memorial Foundation in Jerusalem on July 1st, Professor Ismar Schorsch, former chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary and leader of the Conservative movement was elected President of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. Prof. Schorsch has been involved as a reader, member of the Foundation's Board of Trustees and officer for more than three decades.

Prof. Anita Shapira, professor of Jewish history at Tel-Aviv University and the recipient of the Israel Prize this year, has completed three terms of two years each as President - the maximum allowed by the Foundation's constitution. The Foundation, together with the Shazar Center for Jewish History organized an academic convocation, Zionism as the Liberation Movement of the Jewish People, in her honor (see attached program). The audience overflowed the facilities at the Shazar Center.

The six years of Prof. Shapira's tenure have been one of the most fruitful periods in the Foundation's history. One of her most important achievements during her presidency was the reformulation of the Foundation's mandate, bringing the Foundation's stated goals into harmony with the Foundation's initiatives and activities over the last several decades. The revised mandate emphasizes the Foundation's support for the creation of the social capital of the Jewish people, that is, the development of a new generation of cultural and communal leaders for the Jewish people and the promotion of Jewish connectedness around the world.

Kudos to Profs. Anita Shapira, Ismar Schorsch, and the other leaders of the Foundation for this important change which has both focused and maximized the impact of the Foundation's work and greatly expanded the Memorial Foundation's range and scope, transforming it into a truly global enterprise serving Jewish communities around the world.

The recipients of the Foundation's scholarship and fellowship programs today are the movers and shakers of Jewish cultural life around the globe, making a real difference in Jewish life in the 21st century, as initiators of actions, or purveyors of ideas that are re-shaping the character of Jewish institutions and communities.

 

Ephaim Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program

I should like to focus in this report on one of our most effective programs, which has been extraordinarily successful this year and amply demonstrated we are indeed creating the future cultural and intellectual leadership of the Jewish people.

Future reports will deal with the success of our other scholarship and fellowship programs and the Hebrew in America program, whose success triggered an animated discussion about its future at our meeting.

The Ephraim Urbach post-doctoral fellowship program, as you know, was established to assist the most promising young Jewish men and women from around the world, recent recipients of Ph.D.s in the field of Jewish culture, to enable them to launch their scholarly careers by publishing their first book, and or continuing their research in their area of specialization. Only those young scholars who have completed their doctoral dissertations with distinction during the last three years and show promise of distinguished academic careers are eligible to apply. The World Union of Jewish Studies works closely with the Foundation in the recruitment of applicants and the selection of grantees for this program.

This is the eleventh year we are operating this program, during which time 49 Ephraim Urbach post-doctoral fellowships were awarded.

I should like here to acquaint you with this year's recipients by presenting their thumb-nail profiles, providing ample testimony again of the crucial role the Foundation is playing in nurturing Jewish creativity around the world and helping train and support the creme de la creme of Jewish researchers, academics and scholars of the future:

Dr. Shifra Asulin received the Ephraim Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship for the preparation of a book project, "Mystical Exegesis of the Song of Songs in the Zohar and Related Literature," an expanded version of her Doctoral thesis completed at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shifra was awarded the Ph.D. summa cum laude in Jewish Thought in 2007. Shifra was among the founders of the pluralistic Beit Midrash "Elul" in Jerusalem where she has taught for over ten years.

Dr. Asulin has already published several important monographs in Jewish Thought and mysticism. Her mentor, Prof. Liebes, who holds the Gershom Scholem Chair in Kabbalah at the Hebrew University, considers her one of the leading figures in Kabbalah scholarship today.

Dr. Vladimir Levin, originally from Russia, now an Israeli citizen, began his studies in Jewish history at the Jewish University of Leningrad. He completed his M.A. in Eastern European Jewish History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he received his Ph.D., summa cum laude, in 2007. He was awarded two Memorial Foundation doctoral scholarships for his work on his dissertation, "Jewish Politics in the Russian Empire during the Period of Reaction, 1907-1914."

This year, he has been granted the Urbach post-doctoral fellowship for a new research project on "The Place and Function of the Synagogue in the East European Jewish Society in the Late 18th — Early 20th Centuries." His research will explore, from an interdisciplinary perspective, the place and function of the synagogue and its various forms in Eastern European Jewish communities thereby contributing to a better understanding of the process of modernization among Eastern European Jews and the role that the synagogue played in their religious, social, political and cultural life.

Since 1993, Dr. Levin has been director of historical research for the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University, and coordinator of its Architectural Section, an institution whose work the Foundation has supported over many years. Dr. Levin has traveled extensively in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Center to search for "lost" synagogues and other buildings of Jewish significance. His travels have provided him with an intimate knowledge of the geography of East European Jewry.

Both Drs. Asulin and Levin reported on their projects at the Board of Trustees meeting.

Dr. Avinoam Ravitsky, currently a lecturer in Jewish Thought at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, was awarded his Ph.D., summa cum laude in 2006 from Hebrew University. His dissertation, "The Influence of Aristotelian Logic on the Understanding of Talmudic Hermeneutics in the 14th and 15th Centuries," is the first systematic study of the subject, the use made by medieval rabbis of Aristotelian logic to clarify Talmudic logic. The dissertation won the Schlomiuk Prize for the best dissertation in the Faculty of the Humanities. His current work for which he was awarded the Urbach post-doctoral fellowship, is on Mezuqqaq Shiv'ataim, a book by Rabbi Joseph ben Saul Kimhi, written in Avignon (Provence) in 1380, which is both a comprehensive encyclopedia of Rabbinic and philosophical sources, and a commentary on Maimonides' Mishne Torah.

Dr. Rachel Greenblatt, currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, received her B.A. in history from Cornell University, her M.A. with distinction, and her Ph.D., summa cum laude, in Jewish History from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She was also awarded two doctoral scholarships from the Memorial Foundation for work on her dissertation.

Dr. Greenblatt received the Urbach post-doctoral fellowship for the editing and publication of her book, "A Community's Memory: Jewish Views of Past and Present in Early Modern Prague," based on her doctoral dissertation, which examined the relationship between the members of Prague's Jewish community (1580 to 1730) and their own local past. Previous scholarship suggests that pre-Enlightenment Jewish communities sought to identify themselves with overarching themes of exile and redemption to the exclusion of concern with their own individual places in history. Dr. Greenblatt's study, to the contrary, demonstrates the formation of a historically-based local consciousness among Prague's early modern Jews. It mattered to the Jews of early modern Prague that they were from Prague, defined through a shared local history that found expression in a myriad of ways.

Dr. Ronnie Goldstein who received his B.A. and M.A. degrees summa cum laude in Bible at the Hebrew University, was awarded the Urbach post-doctoral fellowship for his project, "The Traditions about Jeremiah and the Formation of the Book of Jeremiah." His dissertation, "Life of a Prophet — the Traditions About Jeremiah," dealt with the chapters of Jeremiah, which constitute his biographical narrative to reconstruct the development and evolution of the traditions surrounding the life, thought and character of the prophet Jeremiah.

His new project, based on his doctoral dissertation completed at the Hebrew University in 2006, will deal with the relationship between the prose narratives about the prophet and the poetry attributed to him. He has been rated by his professors in the Bible department as one of the three best Israeli students in the field of Biblical studies.

Dr. Amos Geula received the Urbach post-doctoral fellowship for his project, "Jewish Literary Work in Southern Italy between the Eighth and Tenth Centuries." His work on his dissertation "Lost Aggadic Works Known only from Ashkenaz," received two doctoral scholarships from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. His current project, a continuation of the research he did for his doctorate, is uncovering literary works by a Jewish workshop active in southern Italy between the 8th and 10th centuries which adapted classical midrashic compositions. Dr. Geula hopes to identify the compositions which emerged from this workshop and to develop a comprehensive description of its literary creations, and their unique characteristics, language and literary tools.

The six Urbach fellows that we have awarded grants this year will each be receiving $10,000. In addition to the Urbach Fellowships, forty-four other individuals received regular Fellowships, seven were awarded special Doctoral scholarships in the amount of $10,000, and thirty-nine received regular scholarships.

 

International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Israel

There is another very successful track of the Foundation's work in developing leadership in the Jewish community, in this instance, communal and cultural leadership for Jewish communities around the world. As you know, the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship is intended for young men and women from around the world between the ages of 25-40 who show serious interest in Jewish culture and demonstrate a potential for individual growth and communal leadership.

At the meeting of our Board of Trustees in Jerusalem, the Foundation approved the organization of the 21st Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program in Israel. The Fellowship will take place at the Ohalo Manor at the Yam Kinneret on February 16-24, 2009.

We have recruited what is probably the most outstanding faculty we have ever assembled for any previous fellowship, including: Prof. Robert Aumann, Prof. of Economics, Hebrew University, Nobel Laureate in Economics; Prof. Saul Berman, Adjunct Professor, Columbia University School of Law; Dr. Steven Bayme, Director, Dept. of Contemporary Jewish Life, American Jewish Committee; Prof. Yechezkel Dror, Founding President, The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute; Prof. Benjamin Ish-Shalom, Rector, Beit Morasha; Prof. Aliza Lavie, Bar Ilan University; Prof. Shalom Rosenberg, Prof. of Jewish Philosophy, Hebrew University; Prof. I. Schorsch, former Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary; Prof. J.J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought, Yeshiva University; Prof. Ruth Gavison, Haim H. Cohn Professor of Human Rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Prof. Uriel Simon, Prof. of Bible, Bar Ilan University.

In addition to the lectures, there will also be, as in the past, workshops on Jewish texts, Jewish identity, community organization as well as an encounter with Jewish regional and global leaders with whom the fellows will discuss their experience and vision for building Jewish communities around the world.

Should you know anyone who is interested, they can obtain applications and copies of the program by contacting the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture: phone: (212) 425-6606; fax: (212)425-6602; email: office@mfjc.org; or by mail: 50 Broadway, 34th floor, New York, NY 10004, USA.

Best wishes for a pleasant summer.
Warm regards,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President