Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News March 2010

March 23, 2010


The twenty-second Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was held in Croatia from March 8-16, 2010. In the judgment of the alumni and faculty there who participated in past Fellowships, it was one of our most successful, if not the best, Fellowship we ever organized.

In our experience, there are three major components necessary for a successful Nahum Goldmann Fellowship — the place, the people, and the program. We believe we scored close to ten on all three. The Fellowship took place at the Hotel Luna on the Island of Pag in Croatia, a tranquil site on the Adriatic Sea. The cozy and intimate ambiance of the hotel, its isolation and the vast expanse of the sea bordering the hotel created a most conducive environment for the intense bonding that occurred among the Fellows during the Seminar.

Forty-seven Fellows participated, representing 25 Jewish communities from six continents. The Fellows included representatives of small Diaspora Jewish communities from both the East and West, ranging in population in the low hundreds and thousands to the major centers of Jewish life in North America, Israel, and Europe. This Fellowship also continued to expand the political spectrum with which the Fellows identified, from J Street in Washington to the Hesder Yeshivot in Israel, in an effort to create a microcosm of the Jewish people as they exist today as close as is organizationally possible.

While it might have been easier to hold this meeting in one of the larger Jewish communities in Western Europe, the Foundation decided to organize it in Croatia, thereby making an important statement to the global Jewish community that no Jewish community, however small, should be left behind. It was amply evident from the very first session of the Fellowship that the fellows, especially those from Eastern Europe, enthusiastically supported our action.

The Program

There were four major highlights of the program in Croatia — the academic program, the reports of the fellows, the Sabbath, and an unexpected visit to a Holocaust site on Pag. The first were important lectures dealing respectively with the Global Jewish Community, Israel, and Configuring our Covenantal Community with Contemporary Jewish Society. They were presented by Professors David Myers (UCLA), Moshe Halbertal (Hebrew University), and Saul Berman (Yeshiva University). Prof. Ismar Schorsch (JTS) gave an excellent lecture on "Theology Through the Lens of Liturgy". Stimulating workshops on Jewish Texts, the Jewish Community, and Jewish Identity were lead by Prof. Shalom Rosenberg (Hebrew University), Dr. Steven Bayme (The American Jewish Committee), Prof. B. Ish Shalom (Beit Morasha) and Mrs. Rena Rosenberg.

The second was the session devoted to the programmatic initiatives undertaken by Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni in their communities. In the evolution of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, three major objectives emerged that we have now fused together. The first is the growth and re-definition of the Fellows as Jews and as potential leaders in their community.

The second component, introduced and more heavily emphasized in recent years, has been to help the Fellows develop the vision and motivation to energize and intensify, and re-shape wherever possible and desirable, the cultural and communal life in their communities. Alberto Milkewitz, the executive of the Sao Paulo Jewish Federation, presented an updated report of what he accomplished, with the cooperation of his lay leadership in Sao Paulo. They virtually re-invented their Federation, democratizing the structure of its Board of Trustees and Executive Committee, reducing the mean age of the community leadership, raising the level of the leaders' Jewish education and literacy, and sharply re-focusing their priorities with greater emphasis than heretofore on Jewish education. In his words, they moved from an elephant to a tiger.

The Mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

The third component was inspiring the alumni contingents from the same communities of their collective responsibility to intensify and enlarge the effectiveness of the cultural programs in their respective communities. David Jacobson, the executive of the Cape Town Jewish Board of Deputies and an alumnus of Nahum Goldmann Fellowship XXI, presented an excellent report of the mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship that was organized in South Africa explicitly directed toward achieving that objective.

The South African mini-Fellowship moved beyond the re-definition and growth of the individual fellows to help the fellows re-define their community. The fellows at the South African mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, unlike those participating in the international fellowship, were operating within the actual context and framework of their community, not the Jewish community in abstract. The South African fellows were 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 in a safe and secure format for the fellows, independent from the formal community structure, enabled the fellows to begin to formulate and articulate those perceptions and share them the next day with the current leadership of the Cape Town Board of Jewish Deputies at their annual meeting.

We believe that the mini-South African Nahum Goldmann Fellowship marks a giant step forward for the Foundation and the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. It points to a potentially very promising new direction that can serve and expand the future work of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship around the world.

There were many private discussions following David Jacobson's presentation among the contingents of Fellows from several continents, including North and South America and Israel, about developing similar programs in their communities. What was especially welcome was the response of small communities in Eastern Europe represented at the Fellowship. They warmly embraced the possibility of a mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Eastern Europe in the future. This, of course, will require time and much serious planning in the future.

An Inspiring Shabbat

The third highlight, as in all past seminars, was our Sabbath program. The Shabbat started with a very moving candle-lighting ceremony in which all the women participated. At the exact moment the sun dipped behind the clouds on the horizon, Samuel Green from Switzerland led a rousing Carlebachian Kabbalat Shabbat in the hotel lounge fronting the Adriatic, now transformed into a synagogue. This was followed by spirited singing at both Sabbath meals, accompanied by Divrei Torah from Natasha Illieva from Macedonia and Rochelle Rickoff from South Carolina, the USA, both of whom had never given a D'var Torah before. This practice, a Fellowship tradition, impacted strongly both on the speakers, as it has in the past, and the fellows.

Arkady Hasidovich, who immigrated to Israel from Russia at the age of 14 and never celebrated his bar mitzvah, requested that he be called to the Torah on Shabbat morning. We organized a hasty course for him in reading from the Torah by taping several verses from his aliyah before Shabbat. Arkady approached the bimah Sabbath morning nervously, but he performed perfectly. At the conclusion of his recital from the Torah, the fellows spontaneously danced him around the bimah, raised him on a chair and bombarded him with sweets and song.

This was followed later in the service by a name-giving ceremony for two women fellows, Anna Bromberg Sehlberg from Sweden and Rochelle Rickoff, who had never received Hebrew names at birth. A special prayer for that occasion was composed by Rabbi Saul Berman, which was again followed by lusty singing and dancing, this time with the women.

For Arkady, Anna, and Rochelle, the Fellowship Shabbat was an emotional, life-transforming event, accompanied as they were, with a deluge of support and love from all the fellows.

The Concentration Camp on Pag

Especially moving and impressive was an unexpected event that took place at the end of the fellowship that was not originally planned by us. We learned from one of the few Jews who live year round on the island of Pag and who had joined us for the Sabbath service, that in a village about a half hour from our hotel there was a concentration camp during World War II where the Croatian Jews were rounded up and killed. We altered the program the last day so that we could visit those sites at the conclusion of our formal sessions. Prof. Ivo Goldstein, President of the synagogue in Zagreb and a professor of Jewish history at the University in Zagreb, gave us a short lecture about the history of Jews in Croatia during the Holocaust. Eighty percent of the 25,000 Jews who lived there before the war were murdered, 1500 in those two camps.

Earlier at the seminar we had invited Rabbi Kotel Dadon, the Chief Rabbi of Croatia, who received considerable support from the Foundation for his rabbinical studies, to talk to us about the religious life of the Jewish community in Zagreb. Rabbi Dadon, who was the first rabbi to serve in Zagreb after the Holocaust, related the strenuous efforts in which his community was engaged to restore the synagogue, kashruth, milah, and building a kindergarten and elementary school with 50 children. His report was truly inspiring.

We drove to the village and left our buses there to climb the steep hill from which we could view the site of the camp. None of the buildings remained after the war, destroyed by the Ustasha, the fascist government which ruled Croatia during the Holocaust. The site of the camp, alongside a bay off the Adriatic, was an isolated, inhospitable, rock-strewn field, without a trace of anything — history, life, vegetation, not even the graves of the murdered Jews.

On the hill above the site of this forlorn place, two fellows read out the Kel Moleh Rachamim prayer. This was followed by the whole group collectively reciting the Kaddish. Prof. Rosenberg of the faculty started singing the Hatikvah and was spontaneously joined by all assembled there. We remained fixed in our places for a long time in silent contemplation. It was clearly the most powerful moment of our fellowship.

The searing experience on the hilltop at Metajna, where no other Jewish group has ever visited before, connected us in a most powerful and unexpected way with the post-Holocaust trauma of the small Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, and to those who remained there, committed to rebuild and revive their communities.

This experience in Croatia, unplanned as it was, abundantly justified our decision to organize the European Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Croatia, with all its attendant difficulties, as a declaration to the global Jewish community not to abandon our brothers in sisters in their Herculean efforts to maintain Jewish life there.

It inspired us to expand and intensify our ongoing efforts to connect with, and support in every way possible, the Nahum Goldmann fellows from those communities: Leah Siljak, Sacha Sreckovic, Vatroslav Ivanusa and Maria Nicole Barbic from Croatia; Magda Koralewska from Poland; Sasa Cvejin from Serbia; Natasha Ilieva from Macedonia; Anna Evtushenko and Daniel Strishewsky from Russia; and Maryna Bezdenezhnykh from the Ukraine.

Even more than this, our experience in Croatia transformed the Fellowship into a mini-Klal Yisrael incorporating the variegated hues of the glorious tapestry of the Jewish people in the world today.

Best wishes for a joyous Passover.

With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President