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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News September 2003

September 10, 2003

NAHUM GOLDMANN FELLOWSHIP XII

The twelfth Nahum Goldmann Fellowship took place in Glamsta, Sweden on August 19-28, 2003. The group, one of the most diverse we ever assembled, consisted of thirty-three fellows from nineteen countries on six continents. The five Fellows from Muslim countries, three from Iran and one each from Turkey and Morocco, added a special flavor to our deliberations.

This Fellowship was unique in a number of respects, most conspicuously in the results achieved. The theme of the Fellowship was "Building K'lal Yisroel", and the idea and ideal of K'lal Yisroel animated the discussion and the activities of the Fellows throughout the seminar.

The seminar provided the Fellows with a real intellectual feast, serious Jewish learning at the highest level, from which it was hoped they would draw their own conclusions (see attached program). The faculty, consisting of Prof. Jonathan Sarna, Prof. Uriel Simon, Prof. Shalom Rosenberg, Prof. Zvi Y. Gitelman, Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, Prof. Ada Rapoport-Albert, Dr. Steven Bayme, Prof. Benjamin Ish-Shalom, Mrs. Rina Rosenberg and Mrs. Yocheved Schacter, did more than give academic lectures. More integrated into the fellowship than in the past, the faculty was more open in the expression of their views, making for a richer and more fruitful inter-change with the Fellows. Mrs. June Jacobs, Chairperson of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program, also participated in the seminar.

 

THE FELLOWS AND K'LAL YISRAEL

The Fellows were more knowledgeable about Jewish culture, more community based and more committed to serve than in the past. They were also younger, more flexible ideologically and more open to new ideas. The wide diversity of their backgrounds is reflected in the brief bios of a sample of the participants listed below:

Mirjana Kranjac
A telecommunications engineer, Mirjana is a vice president of the Jewish community of Novi Sad, Serbia and head of its cultural section. She represents her community as a member of the Board of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the former Yugoslavia and helps organize Jewish educational and cultural programs for young people.

Paul Turner
Paul, largely self-taught in Jewish education, holds a medical degree from Oxford and a Ph.D. in immuno-pharmacology. He currently serves as a leader of Limmud which organizes trans-denominational programs in informal adult Jewish education in the United Kingdom.

Barak Ben-Eliezer
Barak, formerly an officer in the Israeli Air Force, commanded Talpiot, a prestigious military program that trains officers in Israel's armed forces, where he initiated programs in Jewish education for Talpiot officers.

Arash Abaie
Trained as an engineer for meteorological and water resource projects, Arash is now the Cultural Affairs Counselor of the Tehran Jewish Committee and editor-in-chief of the leading Jewish magazine in Iran. He is also editor and publisher of Jewish text books for Iranian Jewish students, and serves as a teacher of religious subjects in the Jewish high school and chazzan at his synagogue.

Oleg (Sasha) Mayster
Oleg, soon to receive his doctorate in philosophy and religion, lives in Rivne, Ukraine, where he currently teaches philosophy at the local university. He is deeply involved in educational work in the Rivne Jewish community, where he teaches Hebrew and Jewish studies, serves as director of the Jewish youth clubs and is a member of the Community Council of the Rivne Judaic Religious Community.

Sergio Widder
Sergio serves as the executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Latin America, where he directs programs promoting human rights and works with non-Jewish groups to counter anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination in Argentina and other Latin American countries.

Judith Wahnich
Judith, educated at the Sorbonne, works at the Andre Neher Institute in Paris, the leading center for the training of Jewish educators in France. Its Director, Jo Toledano, is an alumnus of the second (1989) Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program.

Irena Leshinsky
Irena, a Russian with degrees in engineering, business administration and social work, immigrated to Israel where she designs and organizes leadership development programs for Russian Jews in Israel, the United States, Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The bonding among the Fellows, one of the major goals of the Fellowship, was more rapid and intense than previous Fellowships. In my judgment, this was the result of the decision to draw more and more on the resources of the Fellows themselves in the programming for leadership and inspiration at the seminar rather than on "outsiders".

The most dramatic example of this was the deeply moving Shabbat experience, one of the emotional highlights at the seminar, which was conceived, planned and executed by the Fellows, under the leadership of Jeni S. Friedman, a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. It began with a pre-Shabbat program featuring Anya and Katya Kazyanskaya, twin sisters from Yaroslavl, Russia, who lead the communal singing of Yiddish folk songs connected with Shabbat. This was followed by Hadlakat Nerot, in which all the women Fellows from diverse religious and secular backgrounds joined together to light the Shabbat candles.

The communal singing at the Kabbalat Shabbat service, lead by one of the Iranian Fellows, was as lusty and heartfelt as any in the group ever experienced. The communal singing at the Shabbat meal, liturgical, Yiddish and Zionist, reflected the cultural mosaic of the Fellows' repertoire and backgrounds. So did the Divrei Torah, most offered for the first time by the Fellows, like the short, very convincing talk by Barak Ben-Eliezer.

From the strands of all the variegated tribes that characterize contemporary Jewish life that the Fellows represent, they wove over the nine days of the seminar a beautiful communal tapestry, embodying the spirit of K'lal Yisroel

In the moral community which they shaped, a microcosm of the Jewish people today, they deliberated, discussed and debated many vital Jewish issues, including their differences, often passionately, but always civilly and respectfully. Despite those differences, they succeeded in living together harmoniously for the entire duration of the fellowship, no small accomplishment that in a Jewish world increasingly polarized, with growing divisiveness and dissension.

 

SELECTING A HEBREW NAME

The most moving event at the seminar, which expressed the spirit of the fellowship in a most cogent and visceral manner, took place the last Monday of the meeting. In one of the workshops on Jewish identity the previous Sunday afternoon, it was learned that four of the Fellows from the former Soviet Union did not have Hebrew names. A special ceremony was organized for the Monday morning service, based on an old Sephardic tradition, to which all the Fellows were invited. The four Fellows, three women and one man were called to the Torah after it was read. Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, one of the faculty, Dean of the Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik Institute in Boston, read out the proclamation in which the names they chose were announced - David and Ruth, and Chanala and Rochela (the latter two for the twin sisters who lead the Friday night singing). The ceremony was punctuated by hugs, kisses, songs, dancing, followed by a joyous collation with hearty L'chaims. There was not a dry eye in the house.

The four Fellows from the CIS could now return to their communities, together with the other Fellows, not only with a treasure trove of knowledge from the finest teachers in Jewish life, but also with a re-invigorated Jewish identity, fortified in the case of the four Russians by the Hebrew names they had selected for themselves at the seminar.

This ceremony was a marvelous metaphor of what the whole Nahum Goldmann Fellowship enterprise is all about, stimulating and motivating the Fellows to re-define themselves as Jews. This has been the major goal and result of the fellowship.

 

ACQUIRING HOPE

And one more thing. In one of the workshops in which I participated, a Russian Fellow spoke of the difficulties of her work in her community of two thousand souls, the despair and frustration she often felt, not knowing whether her work would ever bear fruit. She said that coming to the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship and meeting the Fellows, other Jews from around the world, like herself, working to revive and intensify Jewish life in their communities, transformed her despair into hope. Others, especially the Fellows from small dispersed communities, and faculty, too, expressed similar sentiments.

This acquisition of hope was the most significant result of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship XII. On the threshold of a new year, we pray that it can serve as a harbinger for the Jewish people in the future.

Best wishes for a New Year of peace and good health.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President