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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News December 2004

December 1, 2004

Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

The Memorial Foundation organized the fourteenth Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, followed by a reunion of the South American alumni of all our previous fellowships, in Uruguay on November 8 - 21, 2004. Seventy-one Fellows from twenty-three countries, including Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, France, Hungary, Iran, Israel, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Spain, United Kingdom, U.S.A., Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela, participated in both programs. It was the largest, most diverse fellowship that we ever mounted.

Appendix A: brief profiles of some of the Fellows.
Appendix B & Appendix C: copies of the NGF program/schedule for the Internt'l NGF (Nov 8-18) and the Latin American Alumni Reunion (Nov. 18-21).


The site of the seminar, the Swiss Colony, where the Hotel Nirvana in which we met is located, is one of the most beautiful areas in Uruguay. The tranquility of the landscape and the ambiance of the fellowship are indeed captured in the name of the hotel.

As in the recent past, the fellowship was almost wholly “fellow-driven,” enabling the Fellows to feel, as almost all did, that they possessed the program. A substantial part of the program was held with the exclusive participation of the Fellows. Three former Fellows, Lynda Dave from Australia, Marcelo Ellenberg from Uruguay and Jeni Friedman from Canada helped coordinate the program.

Aside from their excellent, and sometimes soaring lectures, the faculty were equally and deeply involved in the fellowship ambiance, engaging the Fellows warmly and enthusiastically in the informal facets of the program – the dining room, coffee breaks, walks and other recreational activities.


The Integration of the Latino and Non-Latino Fellows

The most crucial and successful component of the Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was the full and harmonious integration of the Latino and non-Latino Fellows. The integration of the non-Latinos, of an exceptionally high standard, transformed the social and intellectual character of the meeting.

The first two Latin American Fellowships, held in Sao Paulo in 1996 and 2001, were regional meetings in which only Latin Americans participated. We were reasonably confident that we could enrich the experience of the Latin American Fellows by introducing them to their counterparts, other young Jewish leaders from around the world, who they admire, but do not frequently meet in Jewish settings.

At the regional Latin American fellowships we were deeply impressed by “la pasion”, the passion of the Latinos for the things they cherish in Jewish life. We also hoped that some of that passion might be transferred, or at least shared, with their counterparts from around the world.

The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship formula worked marvelously in both directions. It reached its fullest expression on the Sabbath, traditionally the high point of the seminar. A beautiful “Carlebach” Kabbalat Shabbat was held outdoors facing the twilight-enveloped fields, accompanied by an unplanned chorus of birds, unfamiliar to all but the Uruguayan Fellows.

After a sumptuous Shabbat meal, the Latinos broke out into a round of soul-stomping Shabbat, Israeli, Yiddish and Ladino songs in one corner of the dining room, quickly and enthusiastically joined by the non-Latinos. The songfest continued long after midnight, followed by a kumzitz that ran into the wee hours of the morning. However limited the Latino’s fluency with English, they were able to successfully envelope their non-Latino counterparts with the language of their hearts.


The Iranian Connection

There was one other singular, very unique cultural partnership that occurred at the fellowship. We were successful for a second time to recruit three Fellows from Iran. They were warmly embraced and deeply embedded in all aspects of the program. At the pre-Shabbat program late Friday afternoon, an Argentinean Ashkenazi, Gabriel Romarowski, was joined by Naghmeh Aghel on her Iranian drum in a moving rendition of the Yiddish folk song about the Sabbath “Oib Ich Volt Gehat Koyach”.

At the closing banquet, which was an extraordinary happening reflecting the complete fusion of all the diverse cultural strands present at the fellowship, Naghmeh, the Iranian drummer led Ruth Ouazana from France, Gabriel from Argentina and Dalya Laifer from England in an Iranian song, and a dance in which, Patricia Lin, a Chinese convert to Judaism, and others joined.

The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship has emerged as a small, and presently the only bridge, between young Iranian Jews and the larger global Jewish community.

Appendix D: a report, with photos, from Ofegh Bina (Teheran, Iran) describing the NGF XII, in Glamsta, Sweden, Aug. 2003, the first time representative young leadership of the Jewish community in Iran attended a Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program. The report first appeared in the Cultural, Social and News Magazine of the Tehran Jewish Committee, explains that this was


Moving Forward

One final observation about the fourteenth Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. Much of what has been remarkable and innovative about this project from its initiation, as well as the changes we have introduced in recent years, have now been fully assimilated into the program as part of its regular operation.

What continues to characterize the program, even in the absence of some of the more dramatic and explosive happenings of the past, is an ever-increasing, high level of serious Jewish learning; very wide ranging discussion and debate on a variety of issues at the lectures and informally, between faculty and Fellows, and among the Fellows themselves, often far into the night; intense bonding between the Fellows; and the “fun” they experience together, which facilitates the absorption of the academic, intellectual and emotional facets of the program.

Most significant of all is the transformative character of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship experience, expressed by the Fellows time and again. In the past, we have successfully triggered within them a reflective, internal dialogue which in the months and years after the fellowship helps them re-define themselves as Jews in a manner congruent with their individual goals and aspirations, and motivates them to greater involvement in Jewish study and leadership in their communities.

It appears that this has again occurred in Uruguay on an even more intense level. I would, as I did at the closing banquet, venture the judgment that this has been the most effective Nahum Goldmann Fellowship that we have ever organized.


The Tale of Two Marcelos

The reunion, the first ever for South American alumni of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was, of course, in Spanish. The intensive program consisted of both academic sessions and community reports and exchanges, as most of the alumni were deeply involved in their communities.

This second component of our Latin American Nahum Goldmann program deserves special attention because there was a powerful demonstration at the reunion of the impact that Nahum Goldmann Fellows can have on their communities. It is best described as the Tale of Two Marcelos.

Marcelo Cynovich, a businessman in Montevideo, participated in the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in 1999 and 2001. You may recollect that he addressed our Board of Trustees meeting in Turkey in July 2000. Marcelo Ellenberg, the on-site coordinator of the Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship and a lecturer in accounting at the University of Montevideo, attended the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in 2001 and 2002.

They reported at the reunion on the cultural and educational programs they and a number of their colleagues launched in Montevideo in recent years. In the 1950’s, 60’s and early 70’s, Uruguay’s Jews were part of a vibrant culture that included more than fifteen synagogues, a Jewish theatre, newspapers, Zionist programs and an almost non-existent rate of assimilation. In the 1980s and early 1990s, that “golden” era began to disintegrate because of a variety of economic, political and social changes in Uruguay. The abundance of Jewish cultural activities shrank to almost a bare minimum.

Marcelo Cynovich and a colleague Dani Cohen, as lay leaders, and Marcelo Ellenberg, in a professional capacity, together spearheaded an effort to re-invigorate Jewish cultural life in their community. They started with the Yavneh School, a once vibrant Zionist educational institution, from which most of the students and their families had immigrated to Israel.

Nearly bankrupt, they reclaimed it, and in several years transformed it into a hub of Jewish activity in the community, including a gan, elementary and high school, Montevideo’s only Judaica store, and a center for adult education. They also added an ever-expanding synagogue and center, which I visited during my planning trip to Uruguay.

I was shown the marks on the walls and floor of the three expansions of the synagogue in recent years. When I was there, several hundred people attended the beautiful Friday night service, including many non-observant families.

Even more impressive is the Hillel they established in Montevideo several years ago, the first in South America. Prior to Hillel’s existence, young Jews after the age of 18 had no place to meet in Uruguay. Unlike Hillel in the U.S., the program serves the entire community, not only the University.

Its model is aimed at the maximum involvement of students in all aspects of Jewish life, seeking to help them achieve a meaningful Jewish life, not a minimalist, common-denominator program. Even more impressive, Marcelo Cynovich has been active in stimulating the development of Hillel in Brazil and Argentina. He now serves on the International Board of Hillel.

There is no better example of the impact of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship than the tale of the two Marcelos and the revolution they, together with their colleagues, have wrought in the Montevideo community. It is a harbinger of hope for South American Jewry, and indeed, for all of us.

Best wishes for a joyous Chanukah.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President