Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News September 2005

September 26, 2005


Thirty-four fellows, representing eighteen countries, including Argentina, Australia, Colombia, France, Germany, Hungary, Iran, Israel, Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, U.S.A., Ukraine, England and Uruguay, participated in the sixteenth International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship which took place in Glamsta, Sweden on August 22-31, 2005. Shahram Shahrad, from Iran, was the seventh representative from his community to attend the fellowship and was fully integrated into the program, as were his predecessors. Three Indians, two from the Bnei Yisroel community in Mumbai, and one from the Bnei Menashe community in Manipur, were also invited to the fellowship, but were not granted visas by the Swedish government and therefore could not participate.

Although based on a model the Foundation has developed and expanded since its inception in 1987, each fellowship is different, based on the geographic area in which it is held and the unique mix of fellows and faculty that comprise the group. This was equally true of this program. There are, of course, on-going continuities in this important endeavor, as well as new challenges and opportunities that we need to address.

The academic component of the program was at the highest level, possibly the best we ever had. Prof. Uri Simon of Bar Ilan University gave a brilliant analysis of the spiritual odyssey and transformation of the reluctant prophet, Jonah, and the seizing of a major historical moment by Naomi and Ruth in the Book of Ruth.

A new theme, Jewish Ethical Imperatives, was added to the program at the request of the the fellows and was addressed by Prof. Saul Berman of the Columbia University School of Law. He outlined the required, desired and heroic categories of the Jewish ethical tradition, and illuminated this tradition and its relevance to contemporary Jewish life with specific examples from classic Jewish texts. Prof. Shalom Rosenberg of Hebrew University provided the fellows with an intellectual map of Jewish philosophical responses in the last two centuries to the challenge of Confronting Modernity, which was the major theme of the Fellowship.

There were also some innovations in the program, mostly requested by the fellows. These included a workshop on the Sociology of Jewish Family Life, including intermarriage, by Prof. Sylvia Barak Fishman of Brandeis University; a session on professional skills led by Milton Gralla, a retired journalist and developer of magazines on the use of newsletters and the media to reach and educate the community; and a lecture by a former fellow, Dr. Ingrid Lomfors, on the Holocaust and Swedish Jewry. Prof. Lomfors, who was the first Nahum Goldmann Fellow, reported on her most recent book which debunked the Swedish national narrative about the "White Buses" sent by Sweden to the concentration camps toward the end of the war that neither saved Jews nor Scandinavian citizens.


Fostering the Concept of K'lal Yisroel

One of the major goals that the Foundation espouses in all its programs, and especially seeks to foster at the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, is the concept of K'lal Yisrael. We deeply believe this is a critical component in the training and development of the future global leadership of the Jewish people.

An unplanned spark of that spirit occurred during the academic part of the program. The opening two lectures at the seminar dealt with Jewish religious responses to modernity, team-taught by Prof. J. J. Schacter, University Prof. of Jewish History of Yeshiva University and Prof. David Ellenson, President of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Both gave related lectures - Prof. J. J. Schacter on the beginnings of modernity and the challenges it presented in Jewish life, and Prof. Ellenson on the religious responses to modernity, including the Reform, Orthodox and Conservative movements.

Both lectures were on the highest academic level, in my recollection the best opening session of the sixteen fellowships that I attended. At the conclusion of the lectures, after their responses to each other's presentation, and answering the numerous questions, challenges and queries posed by the fellows, Profs. Schacter and Ellenson embraced spontaneously. What a moment! It was a most powerful visual expression of Klal Yisrael, a truly endangered value in many of the communities the fellows represent.


Empowering the Fellows

What made this fellowship especially unique was the convergence of two trends - the successful institutionalization of a process that we have fostered and nurtured over the last decade, and the emergence, as I have indicated above, of some not wholly unexpected newer elements and challenges. Let me explain.

Over the last decade, we have increasingly involved the fellows in the planning and administration of the fellowship, with the aim of empowering them. In our judgment, this is a crucial component in preparing them for leadership in their communities. For every regional Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, we consult with the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni from that region about the program and co-opt a number of them for leadership roles in the program. Evaluation of all the programs by the fellows is an ongoing process, the results of which are implemented at future seminars. Our ultimate aim is for the fellows to both shape and possess the program.

This was marvelously expressed at the sixteenth Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. There was almost unanimous consent that the Shabbat was the major highlight of the program. This included the pre-Shabbat program, consisting of a Ladino song, led by Ester Asa of Turkey, a story about candle lighting on the Sabbath in a Siberian Jewish community by Rabbi Nelly Shulman of Moscow, a poem by Bialik, “My Mother's Tears”, recited by Rena Rosenberg and a D'var Torah by Prof. Saul Berman; the deeply moving ceremony in which all the women lit the candles together; the splendid Carlebach Friday evening service; the ambiance, singing and divrei Torah at the festive meals by Odelia Barkin from Tel Aviv, Judith Montag from Sydney and Sybil Kessler from New York; the workshop on Shabbat morning at which Shahram Shahrad from Iran described a Sabbath in Tehran today, and finally the closing Havdala service on a dock overlooking the Baltic Sea, at which all of the fellows swayed and sang together.

The incredible collective bonding resulting from the Sabbath experience was palpably felt by all of us, standing in the darkness on the shores of the Baltic Sea illuminated only by a Havdala candle flickering in the soft wind blowing in from the sea.

The Shabbat program was wholly planned and implemented by a committee of fellows, chaired by Debbie Durlacher, a secular Jew and a Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumnus from Montevideo, and co-chaired by Ilan Bloch a Jewish educator from Australia, now studying in Israel. Only the fellows themselves could achieve the creation of such an uplifting spiritual and social ambiance from such an extremely diverse collection of Jews, including a Reform Rabbi from Moscow, a Conservative rabbi from Bogota, a considerable number of secular and/or cultural Jews, and a smattering of fellows with very variegated religious beliefs and ideologies. It could be most appropriately described as Klal Yisrael at its best. No outside professional, however talented, could match the level of "fellowship" that the group itself achieved.

That peer-shaping of the program was not only true of the Shabbat. It also characterized the discussion groups, a central component in the educational program, the informal aspects of the seminar, and increasingly the totality of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program itself.


The Challenge of Cohorts

The sixteenth International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship also marked the emergence of new challenges to the Foundation in our future programming. In the almost two decades of the existence of the program, the focus of our seminar was the individual fellow, to expose him to impeccable Jewish learning of the highest quality, and to peers from all around the globe, encouraging him to redefine himself as a Jew, and simultaneously to motivate him to move towards cultural, communal and professional leadership in the Jewish community.

Our early model could be described as "broken souls". The earliest fellows were very bright and cultured individuals, lacking Jewish learning and a coherent Jewish identity. With the growing success of the program, the Fellowship began to attract young men and women who were more community-oriented, some even community activists. They were mostly from dispersed Jewish communities, those distant from the critical cultural and social mass of Diaspora Jewry. As the reputation of the program grew, we began to also attract fellows from major Diaspora Jewish communities, outside of the U.S.A., some even referred by their central communal bodies. Some Israelis and Americans applied, but we did not aggressively recruit them.

At our most recent fellowship in Sweden, there were significant contingents of Fellows from specific communities, (e.g. six Australians, four Americans, three from Uruguay), all chosen on the basis of merit without political or geographic consideration. The potential impact of fellows upon return to their community changes substantially if there are three or four members in their delegation, especially if we also take into account that we have already many alumni in these communities with whom they can possibly cooperate in joint endeavors. The best example is Uruguay, where, as I have reported in a past Board Briefing, a small number of fellows, working together, have transformed their community.

But there is also a concomitant subtle change in the internal dynamics of a fellowship peopled with significant geographic cohorts. This is especially true for the contingent from America, and may be true for the Israelis as well. There was some sensitivity about the American presence at the fellowship, perhaps natural, given the anti-American feelings that are so prevalent in the world today, which spills over into Jewish life as well.

The intense bonding that characterized all the previous fellowships was certainly present at our sixteenth fellowship at Glamsta. But we need to be cognizant of, and address, the presence of the possible covert influences of these cohorts, and their impact on the dynamics of the fellowship. We especially need to accentuate and nurture the powerful potential of the collective impact that a group of fellows can have upon return to their communities.

If we are truly interested in preparing the next generation of global Jewish leadership, we will need the added presence and participation of Americans and Israelis in the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. The program also needs to be continually inspired and animated by the concept of Klal Yisroel, which the Foundation espouses and cherishes. To successfully do so, we must therefore continue to refine and calibrate our model in the future, as we have effectively done in the past.

Warm wishes for a New Year of peace, contentment and good health.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President