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

May 3, 2010


Dina Porat And Ayala Fader, Foundation Recipients,
Awarded National Jewish Book Prizes

Prof. Dina Porat, Professor of Jewish History at Tel-Aviv University, has been awarded the prestigious National Jewish Book Prize sponsored by the Jewish Book Council of the United States in the category of biography for her volume, The Fall of the Sparrow: The Life and Times of Abba Kovner, published by the Stanford University Press. The book was originally published in Hebrew ten years ago, based on her research of the history of the Jewish community in Vilna during the Holocaust and the life of Abba Kovner. Prof. Porat was supported in that research by three fellowships she received from the Memorial Foundation in 1985, 1994 and 1995.

Kovner, who combined two remarkable careers in one lifetime — partisan and poet — was a largely unknown hero of the Second World War. Born in Vilna, the Jerusalem of Lithuania, a descendant of the Vilna Gaon, Kovner organized and united Vilna's fractious political Jewish movements into a single underground movement, the United Partisan Organization. Prior to the final deportation in Vilna, Kovner led part of that group which he commanded out of the Ghetto to the forest outside of Vilna, where they engaged in resistance, sabotage and reprisal attacks against the Nazis and their collaborators.

Kovner immigrated to Israel after the war in 1945 where he founded "Nakam." Porat dramatically describes the story of Kovner's role in leading survivors of the Holocaust to try to exact mass revenge from the Germans after the war by poisoning the water supply of German cities. After serving with distinction in the Israeli War of Liberation, Kovner commenced his career as a poet. Kovner's experiences during the war largely influenced his writings throughout his career.

Among his major achievements, Kovner provided the vision for Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel-Aviv founded by Nahum Goldmann, the first president of the Memorial Foundation. Indeed, Goldmann invited Abba Kovner to present his vision for Beit Hatfutsot to a meeting of the Foundation's Board of Trustees in Paris in the early 1980s. Subsequently, Kovner became a consultant to the Foundation's Commission on the Holocaust and was commissioned by the Foundation to create a megillah of the Shoah to be used by Jewish families and in informal Jewish educational settings.

Megillat Ha'Edut (The Scrolls of Testimony) was Kovner's "magnum opus". Written in the Jewish tradition of megillot (scrolls) the pages follow the format of the Talmud, with the central text surrounded by notes and excerpts in poetry and prose. The scrolls appear as a separate text, with Kovner providing the commentaries. It is today regarded as one of the great masterpieces of Holocaust literature and a modern Jewish classic.

Prof. Porat, to whom the Foundation first awarded a grant in 1979 to help her complete her doctoral dissertation, The Role of the Jewish Agency In Efforts to Rescue European Jewry during the Holocaust, 1942-1945, is the author of more than 70 articles dealing with various aspects of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Among her important publications in Hebrew is An Entangled Leadership: The Yishuv and the Holocaust, 1942-1945, based on her dissertation, which won the Yad Ben-Zvi Award in 1988. Published in English by the Harvard University Press, it was a finalist for the 1991 National Jewish Book Award in the United States.

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A second recipient of Foundation support, Prof. Ayala Fader, was also awarded a National Jewish Book Prize in the category of Women's Studies for her volume Mitzvah Girls: Bringing Up the Next Generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, published by the Princeton University Press.

Based on ethnographic research of the Hasidic community in Brooklyn, this innovative study looks beyond their synagogues to their homes, classrooms and city streets, studying how Hasidic girls there become women responsible for rearing the next generation of Jewish believers.

One of the major findings in her study is that contemporary Hasidic femininity requires women and girls to engage with the secular world around them. Even as religious Hasidic observance becomes more stringent, Hasidic girls have unexpectedly become more familiar with secular modernity. They are fluent Yiddish speakers but switch to English as they grow older. They are increasingly modest but also fashionable. They read fiction and play games like other mainstream American children. They attend private Hasidic schools that freely adopt from North American public and parochial models. In Fader's final judgment, Hasidic women complicate their conventional stereotype by collapsing distinctions between the religious and the secular.

Ayala Fader was the recipient of three Doctoral scholarships in 1995, 1997, and 1998 to help her complete her doctorate, "Gender, Language and Education in a Hasidic Community in Brooklyn" at New York University, on which her book is based. She is currently Associate Professor of Anthropology at Fordham University. Prof. Fader was also a winner of the 2009 New York City Book Award given by the New York Society Library.


Nachas From Other Previous Recipients Of Memorial Foundation Grant

Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, President of The Hebrew University, and Professor Sara Japhet, a professor of Bible there, will be receiving honorary doctorates at the commencement exercise at The Jewish Theological Seminary on May 17th, 2010.

Prof. Ben-Sasson, whose area of expertise is the social and intellectual history of medieval Jewry in Muslim lands from the 7-14th centuries, received a doctoral scholarship to complete his dissertation in 1980, a fellowship in 1987 and two institutional grants in 1984 and 1988 for his scholarly work in that field. Prof. Sara Japhet, a world-renowned expert in Biblical studies who received the prestigious Israel Prize for Biblical scholarship, was awarded a doctoral grant from the Foundation in 1983.

Both have served as presidents of the World Union of Jewish Studies, and worked closely with the Foundation in a cooperative program between our institutions in awarding Ephraim Urbach Post-Doctoral Scholarships to outstanding students who completed their doctorates in the field of Jewish studies with distinction.

Prof. Jehuda Reinharz, president of Brandeis University who received two doctoral scholarships in 1970 and 1971, and two fellowships, in 1979 and 1994, related to his pioneering biography on Chaim Weizmann will become president of the Mandel Foundation in 2011. The Mandel Foundation is a distinguished international Jewish foundation which supports leadership and educational programs in universities and organizations around the world.

Prof. Elisheva Carlebach, who was appointed last year as the Salo Wittmayer Baron Professor of Jewish History, Culture and Society at Columbia University, and the Director for the Center for Jewish Studies there, is now also serving as a Chairperson of the Academic Committee of the Center for Jewish History in New York City. Under her leadership, the center is working towards expanding its archives and academic resources for use by students, scholars, and the larger Jewish community.

Prof. Carlebach received three doctoral scholarships in 1997, 1998 and 1999, and a fellowship grant in 1990, for her work on the cultural, intellectual and religious history of the Jews in the early modern era.


Special Doctoral Scholarships, 2009-2010

The Foundation's doctoral scholarship program is one of the most important vehicles by which the Foundation is fulfilling its mandate for developing the social capital of the Jewish people, i.e., the future intellectual and cultural leadership for Jewish communities all around the world, as demonstrated by the successful achievements of past recipients described above. 2009-2010 was again an eminently successful year for the Foundation's Doctoral program.

Three of the recipients of the special doctoral scholarships, whose work I will describe below, were especially impressive. They all attained the highest possible grades from our doctoral review panel of distinguished scholars. Twenty-eight other doctoral students received regular scholarships which can be renewed up to four times.

JONATHAN GRIBETZ, is completing his doctorate at Columbia University under the supervision of Prof. Michael Stanislawski. In his dissertation, "Muslims, Christians and Jews in the 'Arab-Zionist' Encounter: A Study of Mutual Perceptions in Late Ottoman Palestine," Mr. Gribetz focuses on the mutual perceptions of Zionist and Palestinian public figures. While the existing literature on the subject focuses on secular nationalist ideologies and social movements, according to Gribetz, both Jews and Arabs in late Ottoman Palestine defined themselves and each other largely in terms of religious sensibilities. Mr. Gribetz emphasizes in his proposal that religion must be taken seriously as a primary means of understanding the early Arab-Zionist encounter. Typically secularist in orientation, scholars of Zionism or Palestinian nationalism have all too often ignored religion and have thus failed fully to understand this foundational moment in the history of Palestine and Israel.

ILANA SASSON, who is studying for her doctorate in Bible and Semitics at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, analyzes the Judeo-Arabic translation and commentary on the Book of Proverbs by Yefet ben Eli, a Karaite, who was living in Jerusalem in the 10th century.

Yefet ben Eli produced a translation and commentary to the entire Bible, and his work marks a culmination of his predecessors' efforts in the field of biblical interpretation to consolidate the Karaite approach to the biblical text. Ms. Sasson compares ben Eli's commentary with contemporary rabbinical interpretations, especially that of Saadiah Gaon and the content of his writings with that of contemporary Christian and Muslim commentators in the 10th and 11th century.

ADAM ORON, who is studying for his doctorate in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University, explores channeling, a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly evident in Israeli society.

His dissertation, "Beyond the Self: Local and Personal Meanings of Channeling in Israel," documents the emergence of this esoteric practice for communicating with otherworldly beings. Though focused on this recent development of New Age spirituality among middle class, educated Ashkenazi Israelis, the study goes beyond a mere examination of religious life and belief systems, and promises to reveal much more about the nature of contemporary Israeli society. Although channeling is an aspect of New Age spirituality, it is imported to Israel from the West, and its particular Israeli manifestation is influenced by the local Israeli context and the Jewish religious heritage. Mr. Oron's work also raises interesting theoretical questions regarding the transnational diffusion of ideas and practices in an age of globalization, and the nature of self and identity in the modern world.

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The most powerful demonstration of the success of the Foundation's scholarship and fellowship program was evident at the last World Congress of Jewish Studies in September 2009, the most important global assembly dealing with Jewish scholarship in the world today. There were 1,408 scholars who made presentations. Four hundred and fifty of them, that is 30% of the presenters, had received scholarships and/or a fellowship from the Foundation for their doctoral studies and/or their research and publications, a truly remarkable statistic.


With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President