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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News April 2010

April 19, 2010

European Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

I thought you would be interested in seeing the reaction of Prof. Jack Wertheimer to the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship and the fellows to our recently concluded Nahum Goldmann Fellowship about which I reported to you on March 23rd.

Prof. Wertheimer's story appeared on Jewish Ideas Daily.com on April 12th. The reactions of the fellow is contained in a sampling of the numerous e-mails received from them after their participation in the Fellowship in Croatia.

The materials speak for themselves. No commentary is required.

With warm regards.

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President

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Jewish Ideas Daily
April 12, 2010
UNITING THE JEWISH PEOPLE
By Jack Wertheimer

Fifth in a series on people and places fostering commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people.

"I've heard the term 'Jewish peoplehood' very often but never understood what it meant," says Zhanna Beyl, an immigrant from Moscow now living in New York, where she works with Jewish teens from the former Soviet Union. "But I got a feeling for it when a small group of us from Latin America, Poland, India, and the States spontaneously sang the same Jewish musical tunes and talked." The setting of their encounter was the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program, a unique experiment in global Jewish conversation.

Founded over twenty ago by the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, the seminars meet twice a year on average and attract around fifty participants in their twenties and thirties. According to Dr. Jerry Hochbaum, the foundation's director and the guiding force behind the seminars, the original intention was to help European Jewish communities rejuvenate their leadership cadre at a time when "there were no young people in the pipeline." Two decades later, applicants from every continent but Antarctica vie for a place in the program.

My own first-hand encounter with a seminar occurred five years ago in Uruguay, where I was invited to lecture. This particular group was drawn mainly from across Latin America, some from tiny Jewish enclaves in Montevideo and La Paz, others from much larger centers in Buenos Aires and Mexico City. Added to the mix were a sprinkling of North Americans, Western Europeans, and two Jews from Tehran. Other seminars have been conducted in South Africa, Australia, Sweden, India, and Israel, each affording an opportunity to mix participants from communities of various sizes around the world.

The seven- to ten-day seminars have a two-fold purpose: spurring participants to reflect upon the nature of their own Jewish identity and encouraging them to develop a vision for their particular community. Mornings are devoted to formal learning with professors and public intellectuals, drawn mainly from institutions in the U.S and Israel, who explore classical Jewish texts in the light of Jewish thought and contemporary issues. Afternoons consist of small-group workshops. Evening sessions feature peer-moderated conversations open only to fellows for the private exchange of information about their experience in their respective home communities. Here and over meals and during free time, relationships are forged across regional boundaries and ideological perspectives.

"Not only are all the denominations represented," notes Jeni Friedman, a Conservative rabbi who helps to staff the seminars, "we also mix Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, those on the Zionist right wing with those on the extreme Diasporist left. They talk things out." What makes this possible is the lack of an overt agenda other than deepening Jewish knowledge and self-understanding. In essence, the program creates a safe setting for candor in which, as Hochbaum says, "The Zionists develop a respect for Diaspora Jews, Reform rabbis discover that Orthodox Jews are also OK."

Though the large majority of invitees have a prior track record of activism in their communities, Goldmann fellows are not pressured to assume leadership roles upon their return home. Yet the program has in fact nurtured just such long-term commitments. A sure testament to its success is that Jewish communities and organizations in places like South Africa and Australia have begun to sponsor their own local mini-fellowship programs in an effort to replicate what the Goldmann seminars have achieved on a wider scale.

Another testament to success is the degree to which fellows maintain ongoing relationships. Two years after her seminar, Zhanna Beyl reports, she is in regular contact with thirty members of her cohort. Alumni participate in online courses offered by the Memorial Foundation and cheer each other on as they organize Limmud study programs, found Jewish day schools, launch new cultural initiatives, and take on positions of communal responsibility.

To all these accomplishments of the fellowship program, one might add the partial repair of a great historical wrong. Founded with German restitution money meant to compensate for the wanton destruction of Jewish institutions in Europe, the Memorial Foundation has created in this program an extraordinary means of strengthening the bonds uniting Jews and their communities across the globe.

You can find this online at: http://www.jewishideasdaily.com/content/detail/continue-reading-uniting-the-jewish-people



SAMPLINGS FROM E-MAILS RECEIVED FROM FELLOWS PARTICIPATING IN NAHUM GOLDMANN FELLOWSHIP XXII IN CROATIA

Thank you very much for your letter and for your hard work to make this amazing experience happen. It was truly a great honor to be a part of such a multi-talented group of young Jewish leaders from all over the world, to learn from the top-notch Jewish philosophers and speakers, and to share my personal and professional Jewish experience with my colleagues.

My Bar Mitzva was one of my personal — and I would also like to believe, collective — highlights of the Fellowship. Ironically, it took me 20 years living in Israel to finally read from Torah in Croatia. However, my Minyan was Klal Yisroel. This experience, along with the intensive learning, sharing and making so many new friends around the globe, had immensely strengthened my Jewish identity, my belief in Jewish continuity and my life choice of working for Jewish causes and continuing my academic studies in this field.

I would like to personally thank the Fellowship and its dedicated staff for providing a safe ground for an in-depth debate on controversial matters of Jewish life, while respecting and honoring each and every opinion. Thank you for supporting, believing, encouraging and making it happen. Toda Raba!

Israel

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Thank you so much for an incredible experience on the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Croatia. It was an eye-opening, inspiring and extremely meaningful experience. As a Jewish non-profit professional, I find that over time I start to burn out. I forget the larger picture and why I work so hard to encourage Jews to engage in authentic service and volunteer work and connect their work to their Jewish identity. Coming on this Fellowship has reinvigorated me and given me a greater understanding of why be Jewish, how to be Jewish, the diversity and similarity among Jews from around the world and most importantly Klal Israel.

In Va'Yakhel Pekudei, we learn about the details and preciseness in which the Mishkan should be built. Similarly, the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship is not built by chance or randomness. You have an incredible ability to bring together the right mix of people and professors to the right place.

USA

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I wish to thank you and your team once again for one of the most memorable, enriching and inspiring experiences of my 'communal career'. The Fellowship conference was a resounding success in no small part to your vision and tireless efforts to make it so.

I must confess that it took me a week or so to come back down to earth and, if it makes any sense, I was "home sick" for the conference.

South Africa

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Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to be a part of this fellowship. It has made a huge difference in my life and I'm so excited to start brainstorming on goals that I have for myself (reading and learning and participating more in Jewish communities, in a way that I feel comfortable) as well as plans that could really help people like me who grew up in isolated Jewish communities. I'm not sure where my path will lead, but I look forward to the adventure!

USA

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I am slowly taking the whole experience in. Thank you for the privilege of being able to attend the 22nd NGF. I return to South Africa, once again inspired by what I heard, saw and experienced. You and your team at the Memorial Foundation deserve all the credit for creating a program that truly refreshes and reinvigorates Jewish leaders the world round. I certainly feel as though my coffers of hope have been refilled and I look forward to working with you in advancing the goals of the Fellowship.

South Africa

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We thank you very much for the opportunity to take part in NGF in Croatia. It was a special time for us to study, to share the community building experience, to think about the future of the Jewish world. It was so pleasant to meet "old" friends and to find new ones. We believe that NGF is an excellent contribution to a better future for Jewish communities.

Belarus

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My time on Pag was out of this world. The Fellowship was invigorating and I am still on a high.
Thanks so much for honoring me with the Fellowship and allowing me to benefit from it.

Canada

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It has been wonderful to reflect on the program and what it has given to me — it has really helped me define my views and involvement in my community and deep connection for Israel.

Australia

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I feel the best parts of my Jewish identity, bursting every time I am in the Fellowship. There is intellectual discussion, but above all, there is a ruach that is unique. Young people full of passion for learning and receiving, with the altruistic goal of delivering and making the Jewish Community a better one. All united in song and heart.

Argentina

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I want to thank you once again for providing me with this opportunity to be a part of this unforgettable event. I feel refreshed and renewed in a way, and I think at this point in my life this was exactly what I needed. I keep on remembering you telling me: "This is just a beginning" and it really makes me feel good.

Croatia

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I find it hard to find words to thank you for giving me the opportunity to acquire new friends, new experiences, new insights. For me it was very new, and in the beginning I was probably a bit shaken up, but I was there to listen and learn. To get the new so-talented friends is really a plus. The level of the lectures was fantastic and the hotel was wonderful.

Sweden

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I'd like to take this opportunity to also thank you so much for selecting me to participate in the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Programme this year. I really enjoyed being a part of the seminar; both in terms of the extremely rich content and the inspirational atmosphere created by the other participants. I return to Switzerland re-energized for my work to help the Jewish people.

Switzerland

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Please allow me to reiterate to you how much I enjoyed the Goldmann Fellowship this past March. I have attended several conferences before, but none of them were as well thought-out and designed as the Fellowship. I'm sure it is a testament to your vision, dedication, skills, and abilities.

Israel

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This was the first time I had the opportunity to meet with young people around the world who share the same passion and commitment for the Jewish community. It was really touching to know colleagues around the world and feel that today we are not only colleagues, we are a family working for the same objectives, working for new projects and turning our dreams into reality.

I shared with my colleagues some ideas that we can start working from here. I hope I write you soon and tell you that we have begun working on new initiatives, that's my challenge and commitments!

Argentina

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Thank you for supporting us and for the opportunity to take part in the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. It is a time of great inspiration, study and absorbing new knowledge, making connection with wider World for us.

Belarus