Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News August 2009

August 12, 2009

Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, Recipient of Memorial Foundation Grants,
Elected President of Hebrew University

Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, Prof. of Jewish History at the Hebrew University, was recently elected President of that institution. Early in his career, about a quarter century ago, Prof. Ben-Sasson was awarded doctoral, fellowship and institutional grants to enable him to receive his doctorate, initiate and complete aspects of his early research, and subsequently publish one of his most important works.

Prof. Ben-Sasson, who earned his undergraduate and Ph.D. degrees at The Hebrew University, received a scholarship from the Memorial Foundation in 1980 for his dissertation, Inter-Communal Relations and Regional Organization in North African Jewish Communities from the 10th to the 14th Century. He subsequently was awarded a fellowship grant in 1987 for his project, The Maimonidean Clan in the Leadership of the Jewish Communities in the East, 12th-14th Centuries. His major publications include: The Jews in Sicily, for which he was awarded institutional grants in 1984 and 1988; Jews in the Era of Transition — the Traditional World; and The Rise of the Local Jewish Community in Muslim Lands.

His principal research interest over the years has been the social and intellectual history of Medieval Jewry in Muslim lands from the 7th to the 14th centuries, with special emphasis on the unique characteristics distinguishing this society from other Jewish societies. He has also worked extensively on collecting and deciphering fragments of manuscripts found in Cairo at the end of the 19th century (the Cairo Genizah) and now scattered in libraries the world over.

Aside from his many publications, he has achieved numerous distinguished appointments and honors. He spent a post-doctoral year as a Rothschild Fellow at the Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University, was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem, the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and at the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. In 1997, Prof. Ben-Sasson was awarded the Feher Prize for Jewish History, and the Ben-Zvi Prize for the Study of Jewish Heritage.

In the leadership roles he assumed in academic and research bodies in Israel, our paths crossed frequently. When he was Rector of Hebrew University from 1997-2001, I frequently met with him to deal with the applications from Hebrew University to the Foundation. Later, as chairman of the Ben-Zvi Institute for Research of Oriental Jewish Communities, I also consulted with him about projects from that institution, with which we have also had a productive relationship. As a member of the World Union of Jewish Studies, where he subsequently served a term as President, we also dealt jointly with projects from that institution. Representing that latter institution on the Memorial Foundation Board of Trustees, he was elected to the Foundation's Executive Committee. He subsequently served as a Vice President of the Foundation and chairman of its Strategic Development Committee.

When he was elected to the Knesset in 2005 (and later appointed chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee), he was required by law to withdraw from his membership on the Foundation's Board.

Quite a career! Understandably, a great source of nachas to the Foundation as an excellent example of the great potential of our work.

 

Other Jewish University Presidents Who Received Foundation Support

Prof. Ben-Sasson joins a distinguished group of presidents of the four major Jewish universities in the United States — the three denominational institutions — the Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University, and Brandeis University — who received support for their scholarly work early in their careers through the Foundation's doctoral scholarship and fellowship programs. Prof. David Ellenson, President of HUC-JIR received doctoral scholarships in 1976 and 1977; Prof. Jehuda Reinharz, President of Brandeis University was awarded doctoral scholarships in 1970 and 1971, and fellowships in 1979 and 1994; Prof. Ismar Schorsch of JTS won a doctoral scholarship in 1967 and fellowships in 1984 and 1985; and Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, of Yeshiva University was awarded a fellowship in 1973.

We applaud Prof. Ben-Sasson's past achievements and wish him success in his new responsibilities at Hebrew University. Beyond his official role there, we believe that Prof. Ben-Sasson will in the future also play a major leadership role in the Jewish community globally as have Professors Ellenson, Schorsch, Reinharz and Rabbi Dr. Lamm.

Can there be any greater validation of the importance and impact of the Foundation's work, very visible now in these cases many decades after our support was awarded to them as students and young, promising scholars. It is reasonable to assume that many of the other recipients of our scholarships and fellowships, 13,000 grants awarded since the Foundation's inception in 1965, are also making, and will continue to make, a real difference in Jewish life in the 21st century in transforming Jewish cultural life around the globe.

 

SPAIN, POLAND AND RUSSIA: THE COMPARATIVE HISTORY OF THREE GREAT JEWISH CIVILIZATIONS

This summer the Foundation celebrated the publication of the first of the three-volume series in Hebrew and Russian on the History of Russian Jewry. This project, commissioned by the Memorial Foundation was organized and published by the Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History in Jerusalem. The general editor of the series is Prof. Israel Bartal, Professor of Jewish History and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Hebrew University.

The last comprehensive history of the Jews of Russia was Simon Dubnov's three-volume History of the Jews of Russia and Poland. Ninety years have passed since its publication, with enormous lacunae now being covered by the newer history initiated by the Foundation, which will include the history of Soviet rule from 1918 to 1991, the 20-year period after the collapse of the communist regime, and the immigration since that time of a large part of Russian Jewry to the United States and Israel.

In celebration of the publication of the first volume in Hebrew, the Foundation organized an academic convocation at the meeting of the Executive Committee in Jerusalem on June 22, Spain, Poland and Russia: A Comparative History of Three Great Jewish Civilizations. The convocation dealt with the comparative historiography of Russian, Polish and Spanish Jewry, centered on the volume on Russian Jewish History and two earlier histories of Spanish and Polish Jewry, also commissioned by the Foundation — The Broken Chain: Polish Jewry Through the Ages, (two volumes in Hebrew), edited by Prof. Israel Bartal and Prof. Israel Gutman, also published by the Zalman Shazar Center; and The Sephardi Legacy, (one volume in Spanish, Hebrew and English), edited by Prof. Haim Beinart, published by the Magnes Press of Hebrew University.

At the convocation, Professors Israel Bartal and Yom Tov Assis of Hebrew University and Gershon Bacon of Bar-Ilan University described the importance of these communities in Jewish historiography. Prof. Yom Tov Assis pointed out that the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry, which flourished under Moslem rule, continued under Christian rule and, even after the expulsion from Spain, was sustained among Turkish Jewry. Prof. Bacon noted that the newer Polish Jewry historiography deals not only with the inner life of Polish Jewry, but Jews as part and parcel of a broader Poland, emphasizing the importance of the Polish context in which Jews lived and Jewish culture developed. Prof. Bartal argued that the history of Russian Jewry in the 21st century must deal not only with those Jews remaining in Russia but also include the mass waves of Jewish immigration to the West and Israel in the last two decades. That mass movement to the West has, and will, significantly impact on Russian-Jewish historiography in the future.

 

European Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

The Memorial Foundation is organizing the 22nd Nahum Goldmann Fellowship at the Hotel Luna on the island of Pag in Croatia on March 8-16, 2010. It is a very conducive setting for the Fellowship, a tranquil and beautiful place overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The theme for the Fellowship is Trauma and Transformation: Reconstructing Jewish Culture and Communities in the Diaspora in the 21st Century.

We would be grateful if you could assist us in disseminating information about the program in your communities to help identify and recruit young men and women between the ages of 25-40 to apply to the Fellowship. Attached is a copy of the tentative program and application which you can share with them. Those interested in applying can also obtain an application at the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship website www.ngfp.org.

ann Fellowship is the crown jewel of our work around the world. Close to 700 alumni are now serving in communal and cultural leadership roles in Jewish communities, small and large, all around the world. At a later date we will be sharing with you additional details about the program.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President