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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News July 2011

July 5, 2011

The Twenty-Third Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

The twenty-third Nahum Goldmann Fellowship took place in Israel on June 12-19, and overlapped with the meeting of the Foundation's Executive Committee, which was held there on June 20.

After more than two decades of organizing and continually refining and calibrating the conceptual and programmatic model of the fellowship, we achieved at this Israeli Fellowship a remarkable and successful fusion of all the programmatic goals we have established for the program. This fusion greatly enlarged the impact the program had in many significant ways on the Fellows which I will illustrate in this report.

Forty-two Fellows from Jewish communities in 17 countries on six continents, from Mumbai to Moscow, participated in the program. The group was not only diverse geographically but also ideologically. Representatives from all the religious denominations — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, in all their variegated hues and shades, including the secular community in Israel and Diaspora were present there. We also recruited Fellows from the political right and left, probably the most explosive sector in Jewish life today. The fellows also represented a mix of the lay and professional leaders of their respective communities. Like past programs, the Fellowship was indeed a microcosm of the contemporary Jewish community.

As in the past, we also recruited the most distinguished scholars and teachers in Jewish life for the Fellowship (see attached program and profiles). The Foundation believes that serious Jewish learning is the most effective catalyst in motivating the fellows toward cultural and communal leadership in the Jewish community.

It is important to note here that the faculty did not perform solely in the role of lecturers, but were assimilated into the Fellowship "process", meeting informally with the Fellows during the seminar and also mentoring them.

As in the past, the largest segment of the day was devoted to workshops and discussion groups which dealt with the Fellows' personal, professional and communal concerns. This enabled them to develop their own vision regarding Jewish communal life and their responsibility to work collectively with their peers to intensify Jewish life in accordance with that vision when they return home.

At this Fellowship, more than ever before, we, the Memorial Foundation, arranged a framework and context for the Fellows to shape their own program.

The Evolution of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Model

At the initiation of the Fellowship more than two decades ago, our major emphasis and programmatic goal was the individual re-definition and growth of the fellows as individuals and potential Jewish leaders. In the past we successfully accomplished this goal. In a formal evaluation of the program done several years ago, 72% of the Fellows confirmed that they indeed re-defined themselves as Jews as a result of the Fellowship.

This was replicated at the Israeli fellowship. At the concluding session, "Where Do We Go From Here", numerous Fellows from South East Asia, Eastern Europe, South Africa, Israel and the United States reported on the impact of the Fellowship on them personally. This attitude was most effectively expressed in the following e-mail we received from one of the Fellows after the program "Thanks again for the wonderful opportunity. From my perspective it was worth every effort and I feel it was literally a life-changing experience — both professionally and personally. So thank you!" But our most impressive achievement at the fellowship is what happened on the group level, to which I would like to devote the rest of my report.

Klal Yisrael

A second and equally critical objective of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program is generating a spirit of Klal Yisrael. The bonding that we have successfully achieved among the Fellows over the years is not only personal. That bonding has also enabled us to achieve a level of harmonious integration between the disparate groups - geographic, religious, political and cultural — who have participated in the Fellowship. This comfortable ambiance and safe setting we have developed at the fellowship, has enabled the Fellows, firstly, to engage in an open dialogue about their beliefs, often very disparate and oftentimes with great passion, but always civilly and respectfully. The Fellows have come to recognize that those bonds — personal and communal — that they have established within the group have a transcendental value no less significant than their ideological, religious or political beliefs. As a result of this intense bonding process, the microcosm of the Jewish people that constitutes the Fellowship has come to resemble and indeed became transformed into a mini Klal Yisrael.

This is the most notable achievement of the Fellowship, with profound implications both for the individual Fellows and for the communities they represent. For the individual Fellows, they begin to perceive and redefine themselves as part of Klal Yisrael. This is especially noteworthy, given the widespread polarization that exists in Jewish life, locally, religiously and globally. But it also has equal relevance beyond them individually to the communities they represent as well.

Communal Responsibility, Community Development and Collective Action

Past International Nahum Goldmann Fellowships, especially the most recent one in Israel, strongly reflect three other components we have fused into the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program in recent years. In the workshops and discussion groups we have sought to inspire the Fellows about their responsibilities to their communities when they return home. At past Nahum Goldmann Fellowships, participating in the program were not only individuals, but contingents of Fellows from specific communities. The potential impact on the Fellows changed substantially when there are more than one or two members in their delegation, especially when we take into account that there are other alumni of the Fellowship active, or on the threshold of involvement in these communities, with whom they can possibly cooperate.

Our growing programmatic emphasis in the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship has been on developing a Jewish leadership that is both motivated and possesses the skills, commitment and vision to build Jewish communities in the spirit of Klal Yisrael. Today this is the conceptual heart of our enterprise.

I should like to highlight what was, in my view, two of the newest promising and encouraging developments that have resulted from the continuing evolution of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program that emerged more strongly than ever before at the Kinneret in Israel.

The Sabbath

The Sabbath program at the 23rd Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was, as in the past, the peak experience of the seminar. It began with a pre-Sabbath program of song but was highlighted by a short talk by Dario Atijas from Doboj, a small community of 100 Jews in Bosnia. Dario described the history of the community tracing it back to the expulsion of Jews from Spain, its almost complete decimation by the Nazis, repression by the Communists and again reduced during the war in Bosnia. In recent years, his family, due to the generosity of an outside donor was able to build a synagogue, which through Dario's persistence is helping to maintain the cultural, religious and communal life in his town. All were deeply moved by Dario's dedicated efforts to maintain a semblance of Jewish life in his community.

The Sabbath that followed, a tapestry of happenings woven by the Fellows, further consolidated and moved them to a higher level of Klal YIsrael, beyond establishing a setting and ambiance where they could comfortably debate their beliefs passionately and respectfully with their peers, notable as that was. The Sabbath experience transformed the collectivity they developed into an authentic community that captured and expressed the essence and spirit of Klal Yisrael.

It began with a lovely candle lighting ceremony in which all the female participants lit the Sabbath candles together, many who had never done so before. That was followed by a Friday night service in which all the Fellows participated on the roof-top terrace of the dining room, with an unobstructed view of the Kinneret and the majestic range of mountains that constitute the Golan Heights. The Carlebachian service, beautifully rendered by Rabbi Yoav Ende in the descending twilight, enveloped the group in a moment of rare tranquility and spirituality. In the approaching darkness, even the flocks of geese and other unfamiliar birds winging across the Kinneret seemed to add their song to ours.

At the Sabbath meal after the services, there was an abundance of religious and national Jewish melodies in which all the Fellows participated, as well as Divrey Torah by some of the Fellows, many of whom were distant from organized Jewish life. In the animated Oneg Shabbat that followed the meal, the conversation was more collective, rather than individual, and continued until the wee hours of the morning.

The crowning moment of the Sabbath, indeed of the whole Fellowship, took place at the end of the Sabbath morning service. In the workshop on Jewish Identity lead by Dr. Rina Rosenberg, we learned that Florence Haeems from Mumbai, one of the most beloved the Fellows, was never given a Hebrew name.

We decided to amend this at the conclusion of the Sabbath morning service, based on an old Sephardic minhag. The prayer was composed from various sources by Prof. Shalom Rosenberg. Florence was brought up to the Ark, accompanied by all the women in her workshop group. Rabbi Yoav read out the prayer and officially bestowed on her the name Orah, which Florence had chosen. The women broke out in a spontaneous dance with her, to the shouts of Mazel Tov. There was not a dry eye in the house. The ceremony was followed by a Kiddush in her honor in which Florence spoke about her life experiences in Mumbia, and her quest for her Jewish identity.

That brief and very moving emotional ritual bestowing on Florence the name Orah, illuminated the ascending level of Klal Yisroel that the Fellowship had achieved.

We pray that we can maintain that achievement at our future Fellowships, and replicate it in communities around the globe through the mini- programs the alumni will launch, based on the growing success accomplished by the Fellows in South Africa.

The Mini-NGFs

On the last day at the Israeli fellowship, there was a session devoted to two mini Fellowships the Foundation organized in South Africa and North America. I have already reported to the Board in my most recent Board Briefings about the history and background of these two recent programmatic initiatives, both of which were very successful. I should like here to share with you briefly the most recent results at the third South African mini-program which was presented to the Fellows as a model that they should consider for implementation in their own communities.

The difference between the mini and international program is not solely the number of days the program runs. The international program is aimed, as I noted earlier, at the growth and re-definition of the Fellows. The mini adds an even more dynamic component to the Fellowships — their redefinition of their communities.

David Jacobson, the executive director of the Cape Town Jewish community, and an alumnus of previous Fellowships, and several other outstanding Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni — Rael Kaimovich, Daniella Peiser and Lance Katz where responsible for organizing and developing the mini program in South Africa. At their third mini-program, which took place the last week in March of this year, they dealt with their South African Jewish Identity and Zionism.

What was achieved at that meeting was most remarkable. They invited to this mini Fellowship, not only alumni of previous international Nahum Goldmann Fellowships, but also new faces. They included young men and women from outside the organized community, especially critical of the community's position regarding Israel. That was no small achievement for the mini in Cape Town.

What was even more remarkable was that one of the leaders of that opposition, Daniel Macintosh, following his participation in that mini applied and was accepted as a Fellow in the Israeli International Fellowship. He participated with distinction in all aspects of the program, connecting and becoming involved with the Klal Yisrael ambiance of the Fellowship.

Following the fellowship, Daniella Peiser, one of the organizers of the mini South African program reported at the Executive Committee meeting that in the S. African caucus at the Israeli Fellowship, Daniel, with a second South African Fellow, Gabrielle Sulcas volunteered to help organize and bring the members of that outside group closer to the community. Members of the South African delegation were exceedingly pleased, with this very noteworthy outcome of the Klal Yisrael ambiance generated at the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program - first, internationally, then in turn, replicated locally through the mini in Cape Town in South Africa, and now at the Kinneret, re-enforced again within the larger expanded South African delegation present in Israel. They believed that this was the beginning of what could possibly have a major healing impact on what has in recent years been the dissension, especially among some of the young adults, in their community.

All this was reported at the Executive Committee Meeting which overlapped with the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship and provided the opportunity for our leadership to meet and interact with the fellows. At that meeting, the Executive Committee confirmed with appreciation the evolution of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, approved a Nahum Goldmann Fellowship to be organized in Eastern Europe next year together with the meeting of our Board of Trustees and recommended the expansion of the mini Fellowship program.

I am also attaching two articles about the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship that appeared on the eJewishPhilanthropy blog (25 Years of Leadership, The Questions Jewish Leaders Ask), and the email received from the fellows after the program.

With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President