IMPACTING ON SMALL JEWISH COMMUNITIES:
THE TALE OF THREE NAHUM GOLDMANN FELLOWSHIP ALUMN
The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship has been successful over the last two decades in helping more than 700 alumni of the program to redefine themselves as Jews and potential Jewish leaders. In the last decade, we have also become increasingly effective in cultivating their sense of responsibility, upon their return home, to serve their respective communities.
This report describes the impact three Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni have had on small, dispersed Diaspora communities.
Monika Krawczyk, who participated in the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Sweden in 2001 and in Israel in 2007, was at that time working for an international law firm in Warsaw. She was also assisting the Jewish community in Warsaw in matters dealing with restitution, and representing the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland on the governmental commission dealing with those issues.
According to Monika, the impact of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship "inspired me in a large measure to get involved full time in Jewish communal activities." She subsequently became the chief executive officer of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Jewish Heritage in Poland, established in 2002 by the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland. The mandate of the organization is to protect, commemorate and maintain Jewish heritage sites in Poland, including the 1,200 Jewish cemeteries and the 200 synagogues which survived the war. Those sites are important places for Jewish memory and vital keys in understanding the once glorious history of Polish Jewry.
One of the important activities in which the Foundation is engaged is the renovation of Jewish sites in Poland, reaching places where no signs of Jewish presence is visible today, even though they were vibrant centers of Jewish life before the war. One of the projects recently initiated by the Foundation is "Tikun — Repair," in cooperation with the Israeli and Polish prison services. This involves the engagement of Polish inmates in the physical renovation of the Jewish cemeteries as part of their rehabilitation. This is the first program of its type in Europe and possibly in the world.
Because the magnitude of the work required in Poland cannot be handled exclusively by the Foundation and the nine Jewish communities associated with the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, Monika promotes the issue of Jewish heritage sites as part of the responsibility of the broader Polish society, in cooperation with local authorities, non-governmental organizations and Polish high schools.
Monika has also developed a program which brings together schools from across Poland to become aware of the significant role that Jews and Judaism have played in Polish life. These teens also work on the rehabilitation of synagogues. Monika would like to see world Jewry take a greater interest in these undertakings.
Krawczyk has also organized the Chasidic Route — a tourist route which runs through the picturesque area of Southeastern Poland - for both the Jewish and general communities to become acquainted with the important historical and heritage sites there. According to Krawczyk, these sites "symbolize 1,000 years of Judaism. Although our people were murdered in Poland, Jewish thought and spirituality never left here."
Perhaps the alumni of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship around the world will one day assist Monika in assuring that the Jewish groups visiting Poland not only visit the death camps, but take part in those activities sponsored by the Foundation, led so ably by Monika, and to which she is very deeply committed.
Jacquy Sebag is an alumnus of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowships in Sweden in 2001 and 2003. He was invited to participate in the International Day of Commemoration for Victims of the Holocaust at a special event dealing with Moroccan Jewry. This took place at the UN Headquarters in New York City in January 2010. The invitation was extended by the King of Morocco. The delegation reported on the history of Jews in Morocco during the Holocaust. They related how Morocco resisted French colonial policies decreed by the Vichy regime in German-occupied France in World War II.
The invitation to Jacquy Sebag reflects his leadership in the educational and religious life of the remnant of Jewish community that currently exists in Morocco. Jacquy, who lives in Casablanca with his wife and five children, combines two careers in Morocco, serving as a private consultant in marine sciences and shipping insurance, and leadership in the Jewish community. Jacquy, who received a BA in Hebrew Literature, and a Doctorate in Nautical Sciences from the Sorbonne in France, is currently the Director of the Neve Shalom School in Casablanca, the Rabbi of the Maimonides Synagogue and the General Secretary to the Chief Rabbi of Morocco. He also has become certified as a Dayan on the Beit Din of his community.
When he was in New York for the meeting at the UN, he shared with me the importance of his experience at the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, which helped him develop new ways of thinking and teaching Judaism, with mutual respect and tolerance for other views. His daughter Margalit, a Jewish educator, who was a Fellow at the Israel Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in 2009, is also committed to remain in Morocco, and works with her father in serving Jewish life there. We salute the dedication of this father and daughter duo in maintaining Jewish life in Morocco.
Peter Gyori, a Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumnus who participated in Fellowships in Israel and Croatia in 2009 and 2010, is currently the executive director of Bejt Praha, the Jewish community's civic organization in Prague.
Bejt Paha was founded in 1994 by American Jewish immigrants and some native Czech Jews who were unhappy with some of the restrictive policies of the established Jewish community in Prague. As it lacked professional leadership, Bejt Praha continually confronted serious problems in dealing with the representatives of the official Jewish community.
Born in Prague during the Communist era, Peter studied at the WUJS Institute in Israel, received a Master's in Jewish communal service at the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, and worked for a short time at the Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. When he was appointed as the professional director of Beit Praha, he was successful in overcoming all of the above hurdles. Under his leadership, Bejt Praha now organizes joint projects with other sectors of the community, receives financial support from the Prague Jewish community, and with the support of the Chief Rabbinate, holds non-Orthodox services at the very beautiful Spanish synagogue in Prague. As a result of his successful leadership in the community, he was elected vice president of the Federation of all the Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic.
Last year on behalf of the entire Jewish community, Peter organized a conference dedicated to the life and work of Rabbi Judah Loew, the Maharal of Prague, on the 400th anniversary of his death. Scholars, rabbis and philosophers from all over the world participated in this successful conference.
As a fine musician, Peter has also organized a unique concert, Light and Understanding, an eclectic program of music in the Spanish Synagogue in cooperation with the Roman Catholic community in Prague. The program attracts 1,000 people annually and is now a permanent part of the Prague cultural scene. Peter is hoping to export this inter-religious effort to other countries around the world with the assistance of Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni whom he has met at the fellowship.
In Peter's words, the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship has "refreshed his admiration and love for all aspects of Judaism," in addition to the valuable contacts and friendships he has developed at the fellowships.
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We salute these three Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni who are making a difference in the very difficult circumstances of their small and somewhat isolated Jewish communities, far from the major centers of Jewish life in the world today: Monika in Warsaw, in commemorating the glorious history of Polish Jewry and generating resources for its revival; Jacquy in helping maintain the remains of the Jewish community in Morocco; and Peter in enlarging the inclusiveness of the Prague community.
With warm regards.
Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President