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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News January 2009

January 7, 2009

The Ascent Of Women Scholars In Jewish Studies

The most recent appointment in the Department of History at Columbia University reflects the gradual ascent of women scholars to prominent positions in Jewish Studies. Professor Elisheva Carlebach was appointed the Salo Baron Professor of Jewish History, Culture and Society. She formerly served as the Director of the Center for Jewish Studies and Professor of History at Queens College. Professor Carlebach was the recipient of three doctoral scholarship grants from the Memorial Foundation in 1977-78, 1978-79 and 1979-80 and a fellowship grant in 1990-91. We congratulate Professor Carlebach on her appointment to one of the most distinguished chairs in Jewish studies in the United States.

Elisheva Carlebach specializes in the cultural, intellectual, and religious history of the Jews in Early Modern Europe. Her areas of particular interest include the intersection of Jewish and Christian culture and its effect on the notions of tolerance, religious dissent, conversion, messianism and communal governance.

Her books include The Pursuit of Heresy: Rabbi Moses Hagiz and the Sabbatian Controversies which was published by the Columbia University Press: New York, 1990 and which was awarded the National Jewish Book Award in 1991.

Her second volume, Divided Souls: Jewish Converts to Christianity in Early Modern German Lands, 1550-1750 was published by Yale University Press in 2001. This pioneering book reevaluates the place of converts from Judaism in the narrative of Jewish history. Focusing on German Jews who converted to Christianity in the sixteenth through mid-eighteenth centuries, Elisheva Carlebach explores an extensive and previously unexamined trove of their memoirs and other writings. These fascinating original sources illuminate the Jewish communities that the converts left, the Christian society they entered, and the unabating tensions between the two worlds in early modern German history.

She has co-edited three other volumes on Jewish History and authored numerous articles on various aspects of Jewish History. She also has been the recipient of many other awards including two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was appointed a fellow at the New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers. Long recognized by her students as an outstanding teacher, she was the recipient of the first Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching at Queens College. She has also served for many years on the Doctoral panel that reviews and evaluates all applicants for doctoral scholarships from the Memorial Foundation.

The Foundation has been monitoring the growing role of Jewish women scholars in advanced scholarly research in Jewish studies. When I came to the Foundation several decades ago, few women were recipients of Memorial Foundation grants. Today about half the grantees in our doctoral and special doctoral fellowship programs are women.

An important correlate of this new phenomenon of Jewish women pursuing careers in Jewish scholarship is the number of women from traditional Jewish backgrounds represented in this trend, especially in the United States. More and more women graduates of Jewish day schools are enrolling in graduate programs of Jewish studies and planning for academic careers in the field. It is not unlikely that in the decades ahead Jewish women, including many from traditional backgrounds, like Prof. Carlebach, a descendant of a distinguished rabbinic family from Germany, will occupy a growing number of positions in the field of Jewish Studies in the United States.

Professor Carlebach's appointment to one of the most prestigious academic positions in the United States is a glowing example and model of this phenomenon of the prominence Jewish women scholars are achieving in this country. We salute Professor Carlebach on her achievements and extend best wishes to her for success in her new position.

Other distinguished and promising women scholars who have achieved prominence in the field of Jewish Studies, many also holding distinguished chairs in Jewish studies, received doctoral scholarships and fellowships early in their careers. They include: Prof. Elisheva Baumgarten, Bar Ilan University; Prof. Adina Berkowitz, Bar Ilan University; Prof. Rachel Elior, Hebrew University; Prof. Paula Hyman, Yale University; Prof. Sara Japhet, current president of the World Union of Jewish Studies, Hebrew University; Prof. Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett , New York, University; Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, Emory University; Prof. Ziva Amishai-Maisels , Hebrew University, a recipient of the Israel Prize in Art History; Dr. Vivian Mann, Jewish Theological Seminary; Prof. Vered Noam, Tel Aviv University; Prof. Dalia Ofer, Hebrew University; Prof. Dina Porat, Tel Aviv University; Prof. Galit Hasan-Rokem, Hebrew University; Prof. Tamar Ross, Bar Ilan University; Prof. Anita Shapira, the most recent recipient of the Israel Prize in Jewish History, Tel Aviv University; Prof. Chava Turniansky, Hebrew University; and Prof. Ruth Wisse, Harvard University. The above list is a truly Who's Who of women Jewish Scholars around the world.

We applaud this trend and hope to continue to support it in the future in the Foundation.


Women's Involvement In Jewish Life: Another Dimension

The Jewish Community in the Dominican Republic is far removed geographically and culturally from the main centers of Jewish life in North America, most certainly Columbia University. With a very unique and interesting role in the history of the Jewish people, it is now experiencing a cultural revival led by a former Nahum Goldmann fellow, Michele Lalo.

In 1939, the Dominican Republic was the only one of 32 countries that participated in the Evian Conference who accepted the immediate settlement of Jews expelled from Germany and Austria prior to the Holocaust. Eventually around 700 arrived and settled in the northern city of Sosua. Most of them immigrated to the US after the war, but a small community remains until today.

In the city of Santo Domingo, the community was sustained by the tenacity of a few members who were intent on maintaining Judaism there. The community varied in size through the years, but there were never more than 60 or 70 families at any given time.

Michele Lalo, who was born in Santo Domingo, left the Dominican Republic after she graduated from high school. After college and marriage, she and her husband with their small children returned to Santo Domingo to join the family business. While Michele was growing up, there were never more than 2 or 3 children her own age in the community. There was no rabbi nor any educational activities offered either for children or adults. In her heart, she always hoped that she could help intensify Jewish life in her community. In 1996, she learned of, and enrolled in, the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship which the Foundation was organizing in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with the aim of developing Jewish leadership in Latin American Jewish communities — large and small.

Her experience at the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship radically changed the way she perceived her community. She learned from other Fellows that their communities were experiencing the same problems and issues that Santo Domingo was confronting. She greatly benefitted from the sessions at which the fellows and faculty together weighed the options they needed to undertake for dealing with those challenges. Equally important, she felt that the workshops and discussion groups in which she participated with the other fellows helped her grow personally, deepen her deep feelings about Judaism and ultimately helped her to redefine herself Jewishly and strengthen her motivation and conviction to become super-active in her community.

After her return to the Dominican Republic, as a result of her participation in the Latin American Fellowship, Michele enrolled in a distance learning program at Spertus College in Chicago, earning a Masters of Science Degree in Jewish Education.

Since that time, she has been involved in all aspects of the Jewish community in Santo Domingo. She teaches afternoon Hebrew School for a group of children ages 4 to 12, which varies in size from 10 to 15 children, and leads a monthly discussion group with teenagers.

Michele recently began teaching classes to adults as well — a once a month art course called The Torah in Art, where they discuss how famous artists have interpreted the stories of the Jewish Bible. Once a month she organizes a movie night — where movies are shown with Jewish topics.

In the community, they are now also working on a new project — making a short movie about the history of the community — to be called TOLDOTEINU. She also helps produce a community newspaper that appears every three months. In the community all Jewish Holidays are now celebrated— with parties, picnics, Shabbat dinners, etc. They recently participated in the worldwide project Walk the Land, demonstrating in her country's support for Israel on its 60th Anniversary.

In February 2008, she again participated in the Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Colonia Suiza, Uruguay where she claims she "recharged" her Jewish batteries and returned to her small community with new enthusiasm, in her words "to feel once again pride and love for our heritage and our destiny and share it with others."

Michele Lalo is part of a larger contingent of women, either Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni and/or recipients of Foundation Community Service scholarships who are, as lay leaders or professionals, intensifying and disseminating Jewish culture in dispersed communities around the world. They include: Irina Belskaia, an innovative professional in the revival of Jewish life in Minsk; Wendy Kahn, the executive of the South African Board of Jewish Deputies in Johannesburg; Lena Posner Korosi, president of the Stockholm Jewish community and one of the leaders of Scandanavian Jewry; Monika Krawczyk, the CEO of the Foundation for the Restitution of Jewish Properties in Poland; Corina Lang, a pioneer in developing special education programs for Jewish students in Buenos Aires; Anna Lebl, who was the professional mainstay for many decades in Split, Croatia; Beata Leichtova, a leading educator in Slovakia; Agnes Peresztegi, an attorney in Budapest who established the Pesti Yeshiva and community and most recently organized Limmud in Hungary; Berit Reisel, a courageous advocate of Jewish causes in Oslo; Nellie Shulman, the first Russian woman ordained as a rabbi in the nascent Reform movement in Russia; Dunja Sprajc who was the central educational personality in maintaining cultural life in Zagreb during the Communist era; Dr. Lilian Starobinas, an educator in Sao Paulo; and Andrea Uzan, an energetic organizer of educational and cultural activities for the young people in Copenhagen.

Both Professor Elisheva Carlebach and Michele Lalo are outstanding examples, operating in totally different universes, of what women can accomplish in intensifying Jewish life culturally. We salute their achievements. May they and their peers go from strength to strength.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President