Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News October 2003

October 28, 2003


As many of you know, the Foundation suffered a significant loss in its corpus during the last several years. The leadership of the Foundation has now appointed a new Investment Committee, led by Mr. Ezra Merkin, who also serves as chairman of the New York UJA investment committee, one of the largest Jewish endowment funds in North America. We hope that in the future the new Investment Committee will help us restore some of our losses.

During this period of financial difficulty, the Foundation was forced to curtail some of its programs and activities. Nonetheless, the Foundation’s leadership maintained the maximum support possible for the Foundation’s Scholarship and Fellowship Program, one of the most valuable aspects of the Foundation’s work. This program continues to go forward at the highest level of quality.

The Foundation’s mandate for the reconstruction of Jewish cultural life after the Holocaust has largely and most effectively been expressed through this program by raising up a new generation of scholars, writers, academics, rabbis, researchers, intellectuals and artists that replaced the cultural elite of the Jewish people that were destroyed in the Holocaust. The men and women supported by the Foundation’s Scholarship and Fellowship Program represent a mosaic of Jewish cultural and religious leadership around the world today.

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 and Eastern Europe, Africa and Australia to serve there.

One of the vital foci in this program has been support for the future cultural leaders of Jewish communities around the world. Most impressive among the list of Foundation recipients who received such support are the thirty-three recipients of the Israel Prize, the most distinguished award in Israel.

Thus, the Foundation’s Scholarship and Fellowship Program has not only played a major role in the dynamic recovery and growth of the Jewish people in the post-World War II period, it has simultaneously fostered remarkable cultural creativity within the Jewish community, helping assure the continuity of Jewish civilization in the 21st Century.


Cultural Leadership in the CIS

The Foundation’s support to institutions is no doubt valuable. But where we are successful in identifying promising individuals early in their careers and supporting them, these individuals often create or shape institutions to address needs and challenges in their communities in innovative ways. Let me cite two such individuals as examples, demonstrating the wisdom and impact of the Foundation’s unique focus on support to individuals.

Ilya Altman of Moscow is today the leader in the development and dissemination of Holocaust educational materials in the former Soviet Union, where almost nothing existed before Glasnost. I met Ilya Altman right after Glasnost when I visited the Russian State University for the Humanities, in connection with a project to create a catalogue of Jewish archival materials in state institutions in the former Soviet Union. He had at that time almost no connection with Jewish life.

With four Memorial Foundation scholarships grants in the early 90s, he commenced a new career, first identifying and collecting archives and documentation pertaining to the Holocaust in the former Soviet Union. This, in turn, led to his becoming the Director of the Russian Holocaust Foundation, established in Moscow in 1991, as well as its Center for Holocaust Research and Education, organized in 1992, the first Jewish organization of this type registered in Russia.

Prior to Glasnost, the Soviets had blanketed the Holocaust with silence; other times distorting or falsifying Holocaust facts. The obliteration of the memory of the Holocaust was undoubtedly initiated in the Kremlin. No mention of the word “Jew” was allowed on the monuments to war casualties in the former Soviet Union, even those erected in Jewish cemeteries.

Ilya Altman and his colleagues at the Holocaust Center have played a major role in addressing this problem. He is largely responsible for introducing Holocaust curricula in Russian schools, both Jewish and non-Jewish, with the endorsement of the Russian government. He and his center also published Russian language teaching aids on the Holocaust, a volume for teachers, “History of the Holocaust in the USSR 1941-1945,” and a book for pupils, “History of the Holocaust, 1933-1945.”

Ilya initiated a Library of the Holocaust in Russia, which consists of catalogues, exhibitions, memoirs and documents designed for use in the classroom. He also published “The Holocaust and Jewish Resistance in the Occupied Territories of the USSR,” the first textbook for university level courses based on previously inaccessible Russian archives.

Ilya Altman early recognized the importance of training teachers for Holocaust educational programs and established a pedagogic unit for this purpose within his center. He participated actively in the seminars sponsored by the Association of Jewish Schools and Principals in the CIS, which the Memorial Foundation created after Glasnost, for its more than 40 constituent members. He also organized tens of educational seminars in the CIS with other bodies, working and receiving support from Yad Vashem, the Jewish Agency, the American Joint Distribution Committee and other groups. His foundation was also instrumental in creating a Holocaust museum in Moscow.

Ilya also engaged in scholarly work, editing “The Unknown Black Book,” published in 1999, the first major review of research and archival materials on the Holocaust in the republics comprising the former Soviet Union, and wrote “Victims of Hate: The Holocaust in the USSR, 1941-1945.”

No outside agency or representative of an external body could accomplish Ilya’s pioneering work in the introduction and adaptation of Holocaust educational materials eminently suited for use in, and compatible with, the cultural climate of Jewish and non-Jewish educational institutions in the CIS.

This example has other ramifications for the field of Holocaust Studies. Almost all funding in this area is currently given to institutions. The Memorial Foundation’s view is that support for individuals in this area is no less important than that given to institutions. Individuals often play a critical role in the creation and dissemination of materials, raising Holocaust consciousness in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities around the world. Ilya Altman is the best proof of the effectiveness of this approach.

The second example is Grigori (Grisha) Lipman, a professional Russian educator, who became a principal in one of the first Jewish schools established in Moscow after Glasnost. I met Grisha at the first meeting of the Association of Jewish Schools that the Foundation organized in the CIS after Glasnost, where he subsequently rose to become President of that organization.

Grisha, and many of the other principals in the Association, received Community Service grants from the Foundation for their participation in training seminars, including those organized by the Foundation in cooperation with the Association of Jewish schools in the CIS. One of the first seminars in the early 90s was held in the U.S, so that these budding Jewish educators could visit Jewish schools there and be exposed to the rich fabric of Jewish education in the most vibrant Jewish community in the Diaspora.

What impressed Grisha was the range of educational options that existed in Jewish schools in the U.S. When he returned to Moscow, he began to contemplate both the adoption and adaptation of those options and the creation of others that would be compatible with his conception of what a Russian Jewish school could constitute. This ultimately included programs in Jewish family education, social services, a museum and other cultural programs. In essence, what he conceived and created was a model communal Jewish school. In addition to socialization of children, it serves as a cultural institution for the community, disseminating Jewish values there. It is both a pro-active and provocative body, enriching both the school’s students, their families, and the surrounding Jewish environment. This he accomplished in less than a decade.

Some of you may recollect that when the Foundation met in Moscow in July 2001, we spent an evening visiting this school. All who attended were deeply impressed with the teachers who guided us, the emotional impact of the students’ performance that evening, and the visit to the marvelous museum in the basement of the school.

Even more impressive is Grisha’s leadership in recent years in shaping the Association as a vehicle for professional support and training for the senior Jewish educators in the CIS, and identifying and filling needs not being adequately addressed by outside educational groups. Two examples suffice to show the quality of his leadership. Grisha launched and completed a project, together with Hana Rotman – another Jewish educator we supported from St. Petersburg – that developed curricula material for the teaching of Hebrew, Jewish tradition, and Jewish history that was compatible with the needs and goals of the principals in the Association of Jewish Schools. He also organized an in-service training program for teachers in the Association’s schools, who received formal certification for their attendance from the Russian educational establishment.

While Grisha has been successful in obtaining support for his ideas and programs from a variety of external agencies and other sources, he has always maintained his vision of what he believed Jewish schools in the CIS should be and become. This is reflected in the program of a pedagogic center he helped develop in Moscow.

Grisha’s success is not only the result of his many talents and deep commitment to his school and Jewish education. He has demonstrated the critical importance of indigenous leadership in shaping the philosophies, purposes and programs of Jewish education in the CIS.

Were there no Grisha Lipman, we would have to create or clone someone like him to help achieve the miraculous evolution of Jewish education in Russia.

Other scholars, intellectuals, religious and communal leaders that the Foundation has supported that play(ed) important roles in the cultural leadership of CIS Jewry include Professors Mikhail Krutikov, Vladimir Shapiro, Arkady Kovelman, Alexander Militarev, Ilya Dvorkin, Mark Kupovetsky, and Valery Engel; writer David Markish; and Rabbi Adolf Shayevich, Rabbi Beryl Lazar, Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, and Zinovy Kogan.


Second and Third Generation Leadership

These two leaders that I have described, whose training and activities were supported by the Foundation, are part of the second generation of Russian leaders that are shaping both the content and parameters of Russian Jewish life in the future. These individuals currently bridge the connection between external and local agencies, where they intersect programmatically and politically

In the decade since Glasnost and the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, enormous change and progress has taken place in the Jewish communities in the CIS. Immediately after Glasnost and until several years ago, external Jewish bodies were providing the bulk of financial support and the programmatic resources for the Jewish community there.

There is abundant evidence today that an accelerating change in the balance between the role and activities of the external Jewish bodies operating in the CIS and the local Jewish agencies is occurring. The “locals” have now begun to articulate their own long-range cultural agenda, and are simultaneously increasing their political and financial clout in relationship to the external bodies.

Indeed, the Jewish community in the CIS is becoming more like its counterpart Jewish communities in Western Europe, a more normal Jewish society.

Yet the unique configuration of organization and personalities in the CIS is still very much in flux, with its ultimate cultural contours still unknown to us. Russian Jewry is truly a work in progress. The growing strength, power and influence of the local bodies will undoubtedly, at the end of the day, be responsible for the ultimate configuration of the Russian Jewish community, one compatible with their needs, ideologies and sensitivities. Much will depend on the quality of the Jewish leadership that emerges there. We, and others, concerned about CIS Jewry, must take these new developments into account.

As part of our regular Scholarship and Fellowship Program, close to 2,000 grants were awarded to individuals in the former Soviet Union and Soviet Bloc countries, and now in the CIS. With the earliest grants, we helped train the first leaders for the Russian Jewish community globally. Among them are former prisoners of Zion and dissidents Yosef Mendelevich, Yosef Begun, Yuli Edelstein, Eliyahu Essas, Shimon Grilious, Zeev Dashevsky, and Benjamin Fain; and communal leaders Iossif Zissels, Gregory Krupnikov, and Mikhail Chlenov.

These individuals, the first generation of Russian Jewish leadership, helped build the “movement” of Jewish Renaissance in the former Soviet Union. Today the critical step is to help Russian Jewry expand and develop a second and third generation of indigenous leadership, like Ilya and Grisha, to bring the community building process they launched to fruition.

Thus, the Memorial Foundation’s Scholarship and Fellowship Program has a special, ongoing role to play in the CIS in the development of its incipient professional, communal, religious, and cultural leadership. It is an assignment that the Memorial Foundation and world Jewry needs to address with the same enthusiasm that characterized our earlier efforts to reconnect CIS Jewry to Jewish life and culture.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President