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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News july 2010

July 12, 2010


The reports at the biennial meeting of the Memorial Foundation's Board of Trustees which took place in Jerusalem on June 14-15 provided ample evidence that the last two years have been among the most productive ones in the Foundation's history. I will focus in this Board Briefing on two major areas of ouThe Nahum Goldmann Fellowshipr work, where we have made very significant advances, despite the reduction in the funds available to us because of economic conditions in the U.S.

THE NAHUM GOLDMANN FELLOWSHIP

Mrs. June Jacobs, chairperson of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, reported on the two programs organized in 2010, the international one in Israel and the mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in South Africa. Mr. Arkady Hasidovich, a participant in the European fellowship held in Croatia in 2010 gave us a very moving report on his experience there.

We have successfully created an authentic microcosm of Klal Yisrael at the two international fellowships. It comprises four main components. The first, geographic, consists of fellows from Jewish communities, large and small, from six continents. Secondly, we have gradually expanded the composition of the fellowship to include members of all the religious denominations — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — in all their variegated hues and shades, including, too, the secular Jewish community, both from Israel and the Diaspora. The Fellowship also includes a mix of the lay and professional leaders of those communities. At the last several fellowships, we have also introduced into our mini-Klal Yisrael fellows from the political right and left, probably the most explosive sectors of Jewish life today. The participants, almost without exception, successfully bonded to one another in a most intense way in both Nahum Goldmann Fellowship programs. Miracle of miracles, our mini-Klal Yisrael really works.

There are two major ingredients in our success, aside from the superior quality of the faculty and fellows and the excellent organization and planning of the program. The most crucial is that the Memorial Foundation and the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship have no overt agenda — political, Zionist, religious or ideological — for the fellowship. Unlike seminars sponsored by the Zionist movement, the religious denominations, and other international Jewish organizations, who are seeking members, funds, influence or access to individuals or institutions, our objective at the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship is very transparent from the outset of the program.

Our central objective is firstly to expose the fellows to the highest level of serious Jewish learning from the most distinguished Jewish scholars and intellectuals as well as to their peers from all around the world. Secondly, by creating a safe and comfortable ambiance at the fellowships that stimulates intense interaction between them and the faculty and their peers, we enable them to re-define themselves as Jews, and hopefully as potential leaders in the Jewish community. As mature adults, they are given the opportunity to decide for themselves the path and the vision they wish to pursue when they return to their communities, a path and vision that is congruent with their personal aspirations and ambitions as individuals and as potential Jewish leaders. And it works.

In 2010 in South Africa, we pioneered a second model, a mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. There is a fundamental difference between the international Nahum Goldmann Fellowship and the mini programs. From its earliest beginnings, the international Nahum Goldmann Fellowship emphasized the individual redefinition and growth of the Fellows. The mini-Fellowship in South Africa fuses a new, more dynamic component into the program, focusing beyond the re-definition and growth of the individual fellows. It is aimed at helping the fellows re-define their community. The fellows at the local mini-Nahum Goldmann fellowship, unlike those participating in the international fellowship, are operating within the actual context and framework of their communities, not the Jewish community in abstract. Those fellows are intimately familiar with their community's history, its strengths and weaknesses, its special needs and challenges. The mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Cape Town, organized independently from the formal community structure, thereby enabled the fellows to begin to formulate and articulate their visions and aspirations about how they can re-shape their community.

The South African mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship thus marks a giant step forward for the Foundation and the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. Indeed, there was a very strong sentiment among the fellows to replicate this program in different regions of the world where we had previously organized international fellowships, including South America, Europe, the U.S. and Israel.


The Committee on Strategic Planning

The second major report was that of the Committee on Strategic Planning, established and chaired by the Foundation's President, Prof. Ismar Schorsch. The Committee's recommendations were aimed at guiding us in planning the future activities and programs of the Foundation in light of the current decline in the Foundation's endowment.

The first recommendation, unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees, was to fully implement the Board of Trustees' earlier reformulation of the mandate of the Foundation. The Board in 2006 decided that the Foundation should focus on the development of the "social capital" of the Jewish people, that is, emphasizing our support of the next generation of the cultural, intellectual, educational, and communal leadership of the Jewish people. This shift was reflected in the budget adopted by the Board of Trustees at the meeting in Jerusalem.

To prepare for the deliberations of the Committee on Strategic Planning, staff prepared an analysis of our Scholarships and Fellowship Programs. The results of that study, exceedingly impressive, demonstrated that the grades of the recipients of grants in the Doctoral, Fellowship and Post-Rabbinic programs have consistently ascended during the last five years.

The percentage of doctoral scholarship recipients receiving P, priority evaluations, by the Foundation's panel of experts increased from 34% in 2006 to 90% in 2009, the remainder receiving grades of A+. In the fellowship program, the percentage for that period rose from 73% to 88%, the remainder also receiving grades of A+. In the rabbinic scholarship program, where the applicants are awarded numerical scores, the mean grade of recipients was 92 for the period 2006-2009. The committee therefore concluded that these programs should continue to be supported, albeit on a reduced basis, in accordance with our current financial condition.

Remarkably, this pattern was even accelerated this year. The recipients of the doctoral, fellowship and post-rabbinic scholarship grants all fell into the priority category.

Because of the spectacular success of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program, the Board voted to increase its budget by accordingly reducing the budget for the community service scholarship program because of the decline in the number of applications in that program during the last several years.

As a result of this action by the Foundation's Board of Trustees, the Memorial Foundation will continue to serve the global Jewish community as one of the last and most important resources for providing doctoral scholarships to the next generation of future scholars engaged in Judaica and Jewish studies; supporting those who have completed their doctorates and are involved in post-doctoral research, to assist them to completing their initial publications; supporting senior scholars in preparing and publishing their work; advancing Torah scholarship, that was almost entirely decimated in Europe by the Nazis; and finally, helping to raise up the next generation of professionals and lay leaders for Jewish communities around the world, partially through our community service scholarship and in a major way now through the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program.

The recipients of scholarships and fellowships this year, about whom a more detailed report will be provided in my next Board Briefing, will join the august community of more than 13,000 past recipients of Foundation scholarships and fellowships. These fellows, have, and will continue to make, a real difference in Jewish life, as initiators of actions and purveyors of ideas that can transform the character of Jewish communities and institutions around the world.

The collective impact of the Foundation's scholarship and fellowship programs and Nahum Goldmann fellowship programs over the last 45 years is exceedingly impressive. Let me highlight some aspects of that collective impact. Five presidents of the major Jewish universities around the globe — Hebrew University, Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University, Hebrew Union College and Brandeis University — were supported by the Foundation early in their careers, enabling them to obtain their doctoral degrees and undertake and publish their early work.

Forty three recipients of the Israel Prize, the most prestigious honor in Jewish life today, were also assisted early in their careers to help launch the projects for which they became famous, people like Aharon Appelfeld, Adin Steinsaltz and Menachem Elon, as examples.

At the last World Union of Jewish Studies Congress in Jerusalem last year — the most prestigious scholarly assembly in Jewish life — there were 1400 papers presented. 32% of the individuals making those presentations were supported early in their careers in completing their doctorate or commencing the important research for which they became famous. Quite a record.


The History of Russian Jewry

The final action of the Committee on Strategic Planning, initially approved by the Foundation's Board in 2006 and unanimously reconfirmed at our most recent meeting in Jerusalem, was for the Foundation to commission its own projects. The Foundation in the future would select vital projects currently not being undertaken and believed to be important contributions to Jewish scholarship and culture. This program would replace our grants to institutions.

A marvelous example of such an initiative is the three-volume History of Russian Jewry, which the Foundation commissioned from the Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History (see attached).

Prof. Israel Bartal, the Avraham Harman Professor of Jewish History and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the Hebrew University, the general editor of this project, reported at the Jerusalem meeting about the first volume in this series, copies of which were distributed to members of the Board. According to Prof. Bartal, this project will fill a vacuum in Jewish historiography. The last important comprehensive work on Russian Jewish history was published by the eminent Jewish Historian Simon Dubnow in 1916 (The History of the Jews in Russia and Poland), almost a century ago before the revolutionary changes that have taken place in our time.

This newest commissioned project by the Foundation is the latest in a number of other similar projects initiated by the Foundation, including a comprehensive two volume History of Polish Jewry done with the Shazar Center for Jewish History also co-edited by Prof. Bartal; The Sephardic Legacy, edited by the late Prof. Haim Beinart, published in three languages — Spanish, Hebrew, and English in 1992, which dealt with the Sephardic contribution to Jewish and world history; and numerous volumes in the Russian language, including a Jewish family library, books for children, the Hertz Chumash which has been reproduced in tens of thousands of copies for distribution in Russia, and important classical texts including the Mishnayot, Talmud and the Codes of Law. We hope to provide a fuller report about this aspect of our work in future reports.

Best wishes for a pleasant summer.


With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President