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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News February 2010

February 8, 2010

Selected Publications Supported by the Memorial Foundation

Attached is a select list of publications supported by the Foundation that resulted from our doctoral, fellowship and institutional programs received at the Foundation during the academic year 2008-09. These publications provide ample testimony to the key role the Foundation plays in nurturing Jewish scholarship and creativity around the world. The Foundation has since its inception assisted in the publication of approximately 4,000 volumes covering all aspects of Jewish culture, broadly defined.


Nahum Goldmann — A Critical Evaluation

As we approach the 45th anniversary of the Memorial Foundation this summer, I thought it timely that I highlight in this report the volume, Nahum Goldmann, Statesman Without A State, which appears on the attached list. Edited by Prof. Mark Raider, the work is in essence a comprehensive evaluation of the legacy of Dr. Nahum Goldmann, who established the Memorial Foundation in 1965. The book is based on the international conference held at Tel Aviv University in January 2003, chaired by Prof. Anita Shapira, at that time president of the Foundation, who played a major role in organizing the meeting.

There has never been a first-rate scholarly biography of Goldmann. This volume fills that gap in providing a new and critical perspective on Goldmann's impact as a major Jewish and Zionist leader in the 20th century. The volume covers the wide range of his activities as a statesman, thinker, and political maverick; his leadership of the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency, the World Jewish Congress, the Claims Conference, and other important Jewish bodies; and his political activities both within these establishment organizations and his own initiatives.

The consensus both at the conference which I attended in 2003 and in this volume is that Goldmann has largely faded from public memory. This is, in part, due to his personal proclivities and an unusual confluence of historic circumstances that drove a wedge between him and the dominant Zionist leadership with whom he worked during the course of his lifetime. That divide was exacerbated by Goldmann's habit of opposing mainstream positions and often acting independently of the Jewish, Zionist and Israeli establishments. However one assesses Nahum Goldmann's political accomplishments, there appeared to be considerable agreement both at the conference, articulated by Shlomo Shafir, one of the speakers, and by Dina Porat in her chapter in this volume dealing with Goldmann's leadership in the establishment of the Memorial Foundation and Beth Hatefutsoth, that Goldmann's cultural contributions to the Jewish people may prove to be his most enduring legacy.


Reparations — A Vehicle for Reconstruction of Jewish Life After the Shoa

There is unanimous agreement also that Goldmann's role and contribution to the reparations, restitution and indemnification treaties with West Germany and his establishment of the Claims Conference were of overwhelming importance in modern Jewish history. Indeed, his success as leader of the Claims Conference laid the foundation for his prominence in Jewish public affairs in the years that followed.

According to Prof. Ronald Zweig in his excellent article in this volume, Goldmann's perception of the reparations agreement was that it represented a historic opportunity for far more than the relief of the immediate needs of the survivors. He perceived reparations as the ultimate tool for reconstruction — to restore that which had been destroyed by the Nazis. If the enormous population loss caused by the murder of six million Jews could not be restored, reparations, he believed, if used wisely, could be utilized for the renewal of Jewish culture and communal life that the Nazis had also decimated in Europe.

Prof. Zweig lists the three basic areas of need that Goldmann identified for which the reparations could be a tool for reconstruction — welfare, communal renewal and cultural life. Goldmann, according to Ronald Zweig, adopted the courageous but politically risky position at that time that the reparations should serve the broader needs of Jewish life. The path of least resistance was to disperse the funds for the immediate welfare needs of the survivors. Goldmann's leadership in that debate within the Claims Conference proved decisive. He was successful in establishing the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, whose mandate was the reconstruction of Jewish cultural life around the world after the Shoah. Zweig quotes Goldmann telling the conference, "if I had all the hundreds of thousands of intellectuals buried in Auschwitz, I would rebuild the Jewish people. But if you go on and spend it on relief, then everything will become meaningless. I want to forbid it to ourselves, to tie our hands, because it wouldn't change very much."


Goldmann's Cultural Legacy

At its founding, the Memorial Foundation envisioned that its mandate could be most effectively achieved by developing a new cultural elite in the post-Holocaust era to replace the generation of Jewish scholars and intellectuals decimated in the Shoah.

The more than 12,000 men and women who have received Foundation grants during the last forty five years are today part of the fabulous mosaic of the generation of scholars, writers, academics, rabbis, researchers, intellectuals and artists that have filled the vacuum created by the decimation of the Jewish cultural leadership in Europe during the Holocaust.

Many of these individuals are today the intellectual movers and shakers, or should I say shapers, of Jewish culture, the cultural elite of our people. They include, for example, 42 winners of the Israel Prize, the presidents of the 5 major Jewish universities in the world (Hebrew, Brandeis and Yeshiva Universities, Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College), and the hundreds of leaders — cultural, educational, and religious — and the more than six hundred books on Jewish culture in Russian and other East European languages published with Foundation support — that have helped create the renaissance of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union.

No less important are the hundreds of young men and women from the Diaspora who, with Foundation support, studied to prepare for professional careers in Jewish educational and communal work, and returned to Latin America, Western Europe, Africa and Australia, to serve there.

The prophetic vision of the Memorial Foundation about the role of culture in the reconstruction of Jewish communal life is no less true today than it was in the post-Holocaust era, but from an entirely different perspective. With the growing cultural normalization of the Jewish people in the West, the heavy emphasis in those communities has been on Jewish integration into the larger society, with an increasingly declining emphasis on the preservation and intensification of our cultural distinctiveness.

In the evolution of the Foundation's programs in recent decades, we tried to shape the Jewish world that was emerging from the ashes of Auschwitz, in a radically different Diaspora from pre-Holocaust Europe, in a manner that could intensify and celebrate Jewish distinctiveness in the new contemporary setting where Jews found themselves. The Foundation has taken this new sociological reality into account in its re-formulation of the Foundation's mandate. In recent years, our emphasis has therefore been less and less on replacing the generation of cultural elite that was decimated in the Shoah, and increasingly in creating the "social capital" of the Jewish people, raising up a new generation of leadership that can deal with the current challenges we are facing in the Diaspora and generating Jewish connectedness globally.

The crown jewel of our effort in the rejuvenation of Jewish communities and culture around the world has been the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, aimed at the development of a deeply committed communal and cultural leadership for world Jewry. We have since 1987 sponsored twenty-one Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Seminars in Western and Eastern Europe, South America, Australia, Southeast Asia, South Africa and Israel, in which more than 700 young men and women have participated. These fellows are now serving the 21st century cultural and communal needs of Jewish communities on six continents. This program has transformed the Memorial Foundation into a truly international body, whose service spans the Jewish globe — from Melbourne to Moscow.

There can be no greater testimony to the genius of Nahum Goldmann than the preservation and re-fashioning of his vision for the cultural renaissance of the Jewish people after the Shoah than this fellowship, created by the Memorial Foundation for that very purpose, which carries his name, now largely forgotten in Jewish life.

Best wishes for a joyous Purim.

With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President