Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News February 2013

February 12, 2013

Assembling The Sparks

The Mini-Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship that was organized in Sao Paulo, Brazil on January 27-29, 2013 was a significant accomplishment for the Foundation because it achieved an important objective - accelerating the evolution of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, with special focus on the mini-program, which has achieved considerable success in impacting on local communities. In the program in Sao Paulo we pushed the envelope in a way that we believe substantially increases the role that the Fellows can play in helping re-define the cultural and communal character of their communities.

The program of the Latin American Mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was conceived by the Memorial Foundation in cooperation with the two major Jewish communal organizations in Brazil — CONIB, the roof organization of Brazilian Jewry, and the Jewish Federation of Sao Paulo, the largest Jewish community in Brazil. 36 Fellows from all over South America, including Argentina, Uruguay and Cuba participated in the program, with the largest number coming from Brazil, including representatives from its smallest communities — Recife, Petropolis, Fortaleza, and Porto Alegre.

The overall theme of the Fellowship was Configuring Jewish Identity, Community and Jewish Peoplehood in Latin America. Prof. Daniel Fainstein, Dean and Professor of Jewish Studies and Education at the Hebrew University in Mexico and Prof. Saul Berman of the Columbia University School of Law and Yeshiva University gave the major lectures.

Prof. Fainstein in brilliant fashion documented the evolution of the Jewish communities in Latin America, following which he articulated the principals — not conceptual but strategic — on which changes must be based. Three of those — meaning, structure and diversity — converge remarkably with those that underline the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship enterprise that I articulated in the opening session as the objectives of the Fellowship. The first is for the Fellows to redefine themselves as Jews and hopefully future leaders, subsequently to help redefine the institutions of their community, and finally to develop the vision and skills to reshape their communities in the spirit of Klal Yisrael.

One of the most noteworthy findings of Fainstein's presentation was the increased importance of religion in the Jewish communities in Latin America. It was most starkly evident in the increase in the number of rabbis serving in Latin America. In the 60's there were only 35 serving the Jewish communities; today there are 350.

Igniting the Sparks

It should be noted that in the last 40 years the Memorial Foundation helped train over 152 Conservative, Chabad and Sephardic rabbis for service in South America, in addition to 317 individuals who served as educators, communal and youth workers and religious functionaries in the secular and other religious communities.

After we launched the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Europe in the early 1980's, we also moved to organize three International and one Mini-Fellowship program in Latin America. What kept us coming back to South America was not only the success we achieved in those programs, but our sense that the South American Fellows, like the Fellows in other Diaspora communities with whom we were also working in the early years of the Fellowship, were in search for some Jewish meaning in their lives. This was most notably evident by our work with the Uruguanian alumni of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship who revived a dormant school, Yavneh in Montevideo, and reconstructed a whole constellation of communal and religious institutions around it, about which I will report later.

It has long been my contention that within the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship there exists today among the Fellows the collective wisdom of the existential reality of Jewish life, more so than among the leadership of the official establishment bodies. Those participants in the earlier Fellowships were in a sense representatives of, or at least sensitive to, the stirrings that were taking place under the surface of the established Jewish communal life. At a time when that process was an undercurrent in Jewish life, subsequently to surface as Fainstein has demonstrated, the work of the Foundation in Latin America from 1972-2012 was igniting and spreading sparks that in turn ignited a growing, not fully visible change, in the communal life of Latin American Jewry. This was especially true of the Conservative, Chabad, and Sephardic movements, which have become major forces in the renaissance of Jewish religious and cultural life in Latin America. The same is true of our work with the young potential leaders of South American Jewish communities, many of whom were located outside the formal established communal structures of their community.

Evolution of the Mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

In the Mini Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Sao Paulo, we began to assemble those sparks. Let me explain.

There are 3 stages in the evolution of the Mini-Fellowships we have been organizing in the last two decades. In the first, we worked with the Fellows outside of the community because several decades ago many of those communities did not have, or could not, identify young leaders that they could co-opt to join their ranks. The most noteworthy example is our work in Montevideo that I alluded to earlier.

In the second stage, we began to attract young men and women either interested or already active in some fashion within the communities in which they resided. The objective of the program was to inspire and motivate them to get more involved in their communities and help re-define and intensify Jewish culture in those communities. An excellent example and model of this program is what we have accomplished in South Africa.

In Sao Paulo we have taken a major step forward in that we are not working there outside or adjacent, but inside the community itself, with the involvement of its major communal bodies — the CONIB and the Jewish Federation of Sao Paulo and their established leadership. The fact that this is occurring with the support and cooperation of these established communal bodies is a major achievement. Our hope is, not only to enable the Fellows in Sao Paulo redefine themselves and their communities, but hopefully to extend this effort in other Jewish communities in South America as well.

Penetrating the Community

We have been successful in the organization of the Fellowship in Sao Paulo because of another category of individual, not communal, sparks we ignited there. Those individuals who played a major role, not solely in organizing the program, but obtaining the cooperation and involvement of top leadership of the Brazilian community, Claudio Lottenberg, President of CONIB and Mario Fleck, President of the Sao Paulo Federation, include Fernando Lottenberg, current Secretary General of the CONIB, a Nahum Goldmann alumnus who participated in our Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Russia in 1991; Alberto Milkiewitz, the executive of the Sao Paulo Federation, an alumnus of Fellowships in 1991 (Sweden), 2004 and 2008 (Uruguay), and 2010 (Croatia); and Lillian Starobinas, an alumnus of four Fellowships who has coordinated our programs in South America and Israel. Prof. Fainstein, one of the leading religious and communal personalities in Latin America who served on the faculty also received three Community Service scholarships for his rabbinical training from the Foundation in 1978, 1979, and 1980.

The Closing Session

Finally, at the last session of the Mini, the Brazilian Fellows met with Claudio Lottenberg, and Mario Fleck and talked together about their impressions of the Nahum Goldmannn Fellowship, the current and future needs of the Brazilian Jewish community and finally the importance of enlarging the opportunity for the young people to talk among themselves in an open and comfortable and safe setting about all the issues impinging on Jewish life in Brazil. It was agreed that the Mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship would be the vehicle for that endeavor under the auspices of the community.

The sparks we ignited formerly outside of the community, which have now been assembled inside of it, will hopefully help ignite a new and most promising enterprise in South America, the Mini Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, that may in time serve as an example for Jewish life globally.

Building a Global Jewish Society

The twenty-fifth Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, Building a Global Jewish Society, will be held in Israel on June 11-17, 2013, prior to the meeting of the Foundation's Executive Committee. The faculty will include Prof. Ismar Schorsch, Professor of Jewish History and former Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary of America; Prof. Ilan Troen, Professor of Israel Studies, Brandeis University; Prof. Saul Berman, Adjunct Professor, Columbia University School of Law; Dr. Ruth Calderon, Member of Knesset, Chairperson of ALMA - The Home for Hebrew Culture; Dr. Steven Bayme, Director, Contemporary Jewish Life, American Jewish Committee; and Prof. Micha Goodman, Prof. of Jewish Philosophy and Thought, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Besides the regular workshops and discussion groups which are the core of the program, lectures will be given on Jewish Identity and Peoplehood: Then and Now; Community and State: Convergences and Incompatibilities; Towards a Global Jewish Society; and The Lessons of Jewish History -The Role of Leadership.

Should you wish to recommend individuals to participate in the program, applications can be obtained on the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship website ( A copy of the tentative program is attached for your information.

Warm regards and best wishes for a joyous Purim.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President