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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News March 2009

March 5, 2009

The Twenty-First Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

The twenty-first Nahum Goldmann Fellowship took place at the Kinneret in Israel on February 16-24, 2009. Forty-two fellows from 24 countries attended — including representatives from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Latvia, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela. The group was the largest and most diverse that we ever assembled (see attached Appendix A).

There were numerous factors responsible for the extraordinary success we achieved at this Fellowship, including the outstanding faculty and the beautiful site of the seminar on the edge of the Kinneret against the backdrop of the stunning Golan Heights. The two major ones in my judgment were the very diverse geographic, ideological, and cultural composition of the group, and the very high quality of the Fellows. Secondly and equally important, were the components of the program, a blend of features and goals of past Fellowships with a number of recent innovations and objectives, which together generated a powerful synergy which strongly impacted on the Fellows in a manner that was visible to all present from the very start of the Fellowship (see Appendix B). I will elaborate on these programmatic components in greater detail later in my report.

 

Bonding With K'lal Yisrael

Everyone in attendance — fellows, faculty, and staff — will testify that what made this Fellowship especially unique was the incredible bonding that was created among the fellows. The connection between the Fellows has always been one of the most powerful outcomes of past Fellowships. The very first evening, after our orientation session, the fellows were already schmoozing late into the night in our improvised coffee shop. That bonding accelerated with every passing day. Most of the intense conversation dealt with their personal and communal concerns as Jews and potential leaders of their communities. However serious their discussions, the fellows also appeared to enjoy each other's company immensely. There was undoubtedly a huge "fun" component for the participants at this Fellowship.

Not surprising, during the formal sessions of the Fellowship, there was passionate and very intense discussion about the future of their communities, the State of Israel, Jewish culture, and Judaism, with real differences, politically, ideologically, religiously, passionately -- very passionately argued -- by the fellows. Most remarkably, these intense discussions never impeded the growing solidarity of the group.

This most extraordinary outcome of the seminar found its greatest expression on the Shabbat, which, as in the past, was the peak experience for the fellows. Friday night services were held on the rooftop terrace of the dining room facing the Kinneret and the majestic range of mountains that constitute the Golan Heights. In the twilight, we were totally enveloped spiritually by the beautiful melodies and dancing of a Carlebachian Kabbalat Shabbat, lead by Ronny Schnapp, a fellow from Camberra, Australia. In the encroaching darkness, flocks of geese and other unfamiliar birds seemed to add their songs to ours. Again at the Sabbath meal that followed, there was an abundance of religious and national Jewish melodies, interspersed with songs from the various countries represented in the Fellowship, in which all the fellows participated enthusiastically. In a prolonged Oneg Shabbat Kumsitz that followed, the conversation, now collective, not individual, continued into the wee hours of the morning.

The Sabbath ended with a moving Havdalah service, with a closed circle of fellows, faculty and staff, swaying together in unison to traditional post-Sabbath melodies. Four days earlier, the vast majority of the fellows had met for the first time. By the conclusion of the Shabbat, the bonding that emerged among the fellows had taken on a transcendental value, no less important than the values and ideologies to which they were deeply committed. One could approvingly define the bonding of the fellows at the Fellowship as a micro-macrocosm of K'lal Yisrael, no small achievement in our era of a polarized and divisive Jewish community.

 

 

The Academic Banquet An Emerging Consensus

On the formal academic side, the fellows were provided with an intellectual feast from the finest minds and teachers in Jewish life. The faculty included: Professors Robert John Aumann, Steven Bayme, Saul Berman, Yehezkel Dror, Ruth Gavison, Gidi Grinstein, Benjamin Ish-Shalom, Aliza Lavie, Shalom Rosenberg, Rina Rosenberg, Jacob J. Schacter, Shana Schacter, Ismar Schorsch, and Uriel Simon (see Appendix C).

In the wide ranging formal academic portion of the fellowship and the discussion groups, in which the fellows played leading roles in stimulating and guiding the discussion, there emerged a consensus on a number of issues relevant to the programmatic goals and objectives of the fellowship:

1) There was an overwhelming consensus among both faculty and fellows of the wide gap, indeed, sometimes chasm, between the current established leadership of the community and the fellows (and their peers in their communities) on a wide range of current communal issues.

2) The absence of the traditional notion of "community" in contemporary Jewish communal life. Prof. J.J. Schachter pointed out the essential difference between pre-modern and modern Jewish communities. In the former, the community possessed the power of a court on all communal matters. In contemporary Jewish life, the individual, not the community, is sovereign. Prof. Schorsch argued persuasively that the Emancipation uprooted Jewish communal autonomy and authority. The absence of the traditional "Kehila Kedosha", Prof. Schorsch strongly argued, is a void that sorely needs to be filled in our time in more effective ways.

3) Despite the current condition of Jewish communal life described above, paradoxically even because of it, change is possible, even by the young generation of leadership. According to Prof. Gavison, that possibility of change includes increasing both the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel.

4) It was also widely agreed what is sorely needed today in both Israel and Diaspora were a "Jewishly knowledgeable leadership" and "learning communities". Prof. Yechezkel Dror added another important imperative - creativity in Jewish culture, religion and values. Dr. Steven Bayme argued strongly that Jewish culture was increasingly the most important basis for the connection between Israel and the Diaspora.

Not surprising, these goals and perspectives inhere genetically in the programs of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and especially in the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship.

 

The Continuing Evolution Of The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

The continuing evolution of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, which has wrestled with these concerns, has achieved more than modest success in recent years. The initial objective of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship at its inception was the individual re-definition and growth of the fellows, which the Foundation felt was best achieved by serious Jewish learning which can nourish the Jewish quest of the fellows — personally and communally, spurring them towards deeper personal and communal involvement in Jewish life. In the past, the Foundation has indeed successfully raised the cultural and intellectual level of the fellows, and has served as an effective catalyst for many of them to engage them in Jewish life.

In the past decade, as increasingly large cohorts of fellows from individual communities have participated in our program, we fused another component into the fellowship — collective responsibility of those fellows for reshaping their community. We began to focus more and more on the potential impact of those cohorts when they return to their community and their collective responsibility to rebuild their community, in coalition with their peers and the community's established leadership.

We coupled this new addition to our program by enlarging the programmatic means for the fellows to find their "voice", to effectively reflect, contemplate and articulate their own vision for their communities in anticipation of their assumption of leadership roles. The outcomes of course, were various for different geographic regions. Overall, it became abundantly clear to us that the fellows had a different vision and level of passion than the generation of their parents and grandparents, different goals and priorities for the field of Jewish education and the propagation of Jewish consciousness.

A very marked difference between the generations existed especially regarding the dissemination of Jewish values and ideals in their wider community and society. We became aware of this significant concern of the fellows during a South African fellowship several years ago during an intense discussion about apartheid and the reaction to it from the established Jewish community. Since that Fellowship, we have increasingly programmed the responsibility for dissemination of Jewish values into the larger community into our fellowship programs.

Prof. Saul Berman, in a most effective presentation at the fellowship, developed a classification in Judaism of three layers of values- required, desired and heroic. All value systems can be similarly classified. The required values in Judaism are intended to enhance human perfection and noble qualities in man and help to establish a just society.

The Jewish covenant binds Jews together to our required and desired set of values. But Jews, according to Prof. Berman, have a correlative obligation as well to enhance the humanity of non-Jews and for the perfection of the wider society as well. Those values, contained in the Noahide code, regulate a whole constellation of values regarding life, property and emotion in non-Jewish society. The dissemination of those values grows out of our commitment to our Jewish value system, not solely from a general liberal political agenda.

This concept was enthusiastically endorsed by most of the fellows as part of their vision for the reconstruction of their communities, differing sharply, as did the South African fellows, with the established leadership of their communities.

 

Collective Wisdom

In the evolution of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship from individual redefinition and growth to collective responsibility and action, with the correlative objective to help the fellows articulate their own vision for Jewish life, it became apparent that there was an entirely new dimension of vital significance in the Fellowship.

At the fellowship the individual fellows were engaged, as I already pointed out, not only in interacting with faculty, which was our major focus in earlier years, but most importantly, with their peers. They abundantly shared insights about the challenges they face and provided mutual support on the individual level.

It is important that we deal in the fellowship enterprise not only with perceptions of the individual fellows about the realities and challenges they face in Jewish life in their countries. There also inheres in the body of the fellowship the collective wisdom of the next generation of leaders in Jewish life regarding both their relationship to the Jewish community and the larger society, a wisdom not always congruent or compatible with the experience or vision of their elders. As an example, I cited above the strong emphasis among the fellows for the dissemination of Jewish values in the wider society.

We need to understand and relate to this collective wisdom more deeply and effectively if we are to be successful in building a future for Jewish life around the world in which the future generation of Jewish leadership will be comfortable and effective.

In the next phase of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, it is therefore not sufficient only to help the fellows plan to reshape Jewish life in their individual communities, important as that responsibility is. We need also to tap and distill the collective wisdom that inheres in the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, both among the fellows that we assembled in the Kinneret as well as the alumni of the NGF and future fellows. We need also to strive to make that collective wisdom available through the Foundation and the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship to the fellows and their peers around the world and to Jewish life generally. It hopefully can be done in a manner that the fellows, individually and collectively, can evaluate the best way that wisdom can serve their dreams and aspirations as Jews, as well as restructuring Jewish life in their communities.

This next step in the evolution of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship is one that we embrace enthusiastically.

Best wishes for a joyous Purim.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President