Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
50 Broadway, 34th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10004

Tel: (212) 425-6606
Fax: (212) 425-6602

Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News May 2011

May 2, 2011

The Two Minis

With the organization of two Mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowships in Ottawa, Canada and Cape Town, South Africa during the last week of March 2011, the Memorial Foundation has achieved what we can justifiably consider a milestone in our decades-long effort of developing the "social capital" of the Jewish people. The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, the crown jewel of our programs for the development of the next generation of the cultural and communal leadership of the Jewish people, has, since 1987, organized twenty-two international fellowships on five continents; Europe — East and West, South America, Australia, Asia and South Africa. Through this program, the Foundation has provided an intense experience in Jewish living, learning and leadership for over 800 young men and women between the ages of 25-40 who have returned to their communities to assume leadership positions there.

The Evolving Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Model

From its inception, the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was focused on helping Diaspora communities, especially the small, dispersed ones, distant from the major centers of Jewish life, especially in Europe — East and West. With the success of our programs in Europe, we expanded our work to similar communities in South America, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Although we began to recruit fellows from Israel and the United States to the international fellowships, the intention of that effort was to provide the potential leadership of those Diaspora communities on which we were focusing an opportunity to relate with their peers from those major Jewish centers of Jewish life.

In the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Advisory Committee, which consists of selected Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni from around the world who advise in planning for the international fellowships, we did talk about the need and feasibility of a North American program. But we pondered whether the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program could, in fact, impact in North America with the same potency as it did in our work in Jewish communities on the other continents both because of the complexity of the Jewish communities in North America and the availability of other resources for them in this area.

In 2006, we organized a Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in South Africa, which had an extraordinary impact on the fellows who participated in the program, as well as on the Jewish community there, especially in Cape Town. Three years later we formulated, based on previous efforts in Iran and Australia, a new model — the mini Nahum Goldmann Fellowship — which, instead of ranging over a period of 8-11 days - was condensed into 2-3 days.

The major difference between the two programs — the international and the mini — was not only the length of time of the program, but also its objective. The international program was aimed at the Fellows re-defining themselves as Jews. Over the two decades that we had sponsored the international programs, we have achieved substantial success in this area — 72% of the alumni reported that as a result of their participation in the program they had indeed re-defined themselves as Jews and potential leaders in Jewish life.

The mini-fellowships which we designed and introduced in South Africa added a new, more dynamic concept. The program focused beyond the re-definition and growth of the individual Fellows. It was also aimed at helping the Fellows re-define their community. In the South African mini-fellowship, the South African alumni of the previous fellowships as well as new faces recruited for the program, were now operating, not with a Jewish community in the abstract, but within the actual framework and context of their own community, a community with whose history they are intimately related. Their perspectives were vital for the future of the community because they could, as potential leaders, re-shape it in the future.

The first mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in South Africa in Cape Town in 2009 was an enormous success, as was reported to the Foundation's Board of Trustees, and was followed by an equally successful one in 2010.

It is important to emphasize that the South African "minis" were planned by a small committee of South African alumni, working in tandem and in consultation with the Memorial Foundation. The success of the mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in South Africa encouraged us to undertake a pilot mini in North America.

The North American Mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

The North American mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, which took place in Ottawa, March 27-29, was a marvelous experience for all who participated — faculty, the Fellows — both alumni of previous Fellowships and the new Fellows who were recruited — and staff. The success of the program was due, in large part, to the extensive planning that preceded the seminar, the quality and diversity of Fellows we recruited and the program (see attached) we organized, which was uniquely shaped to their needs.

The faculty consisted of two veteran teachers at the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, Profs. Saul Berman and Jack Wertheimer. Prof. Berman gave two outstanding lectures that sought to re-configure and link the constellation of ultimate Jewish values that have guided the Jewish people historically with contemporary Jewish society in the Diaspora and the State of Israel.

Prof. Jack Wertheimer and Prof. Irving Abella, who was also invited to join us, provided the Fellows with fair, fresh and provocative perspectives of American and Canadian Jewry, concluding with the challenges that confront both the United States and Canada, the first and third largest Jewish communities in the Diaspora, in surviving in the open and democratic societies that characterize North America.

The critical core of the program, even more than the lectures, which were on the highest possible level, were the workshops and discussion groups which the Fellows ran by themselves. Despite the limited two days at our disposal, we incorporated four workshops and discussion groups into the program, which provoked very wide ranging and intense inter-action, discussion and debate among the Fellows. That interaction was not confined to the formal program. As in past Fellowships, the talkfest began prior to the opening orientation session when the Fellows met for the first time, and continued at the meals, between sessions, up to the final minutes before departure. Based on our experience in past Fellowships, the most important outcome of this one will probably be the network of Fellows that will emerge, even from this mini program.

The largest component for our success was the quality and diversity of the Fellows we assembled for the program. While they did not in any way match the huge geographic spread that characterizes our international program, they were as diverse and active as any group we assembled in the past. It consisted of both lay leaders and professionals from the United States and Canada. Most important were the representatives of the smaller provinces and cities in Canada, who participated in very visible and significant ways in all the discussions. Also represented were Fellows from the right and left political sectors in Jewish life, one of the most explosive sectors of contemporary Jewish life.

Although most of the Fellows never participated in the Fellowship process before, the quality of their comments, the depth of their passions and the intensity of their interchanges was almost a facsimile of what occurred at earlier Nahum Goldmann Fellowships. For the Fellowship veterans, that replication of their earlier Fellowship experience in this new virgin setting was almost magical. Although the program lasted for two days, the Fellows could have easily continued their discussion for three to four more days.

Most importantly, at the North American mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, we demonstrated again, as we have at all our previous Fellowships, that the concept of Klal Yisrael, according to Prof. Jonathan Sarna, an endangered Jewish value, can still be made operative. It still has both validity, vitality, and profound significance for young Jews, despite the polarization and divisiveness that characterizes so many sectors of Jewish life in North America. Fellows from the most diverse educational, religious and communal backgrounds, with very sharply divergent and deeply held beliefs, were able to intensely discuss and debate those views, while simultaneously being able to acknowledge the bonds that emerged between them during the Fellowship, recognizing that these bonds have no less transcendental meaning and value than the issues about which they differed. The Nahum Goldman Fellowship for most of the Fellows who participated in Ottawa remarkably began to resemble, like past Fellowships, an authentic expression and microcosm of the concept of Klal Yisrael. We are more confident after the Ottawa Nahum Goldmann Fellowship that this dimension of the program can be replicated and expanded in the future both in North American and in other Jewish communities and the world.

Collective Wisdom

We also deeply believe that there inheres in the body of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, both in the mini-models in South Africa and North America, and in the international ones, the collective wisdom of the next generation of young Jewish leaders regarding how they can, and should, relate to the various disparate sectors of the Jewish community, as well as the larger social context that encompasses our communities and Jewish life globally. We think that it is possible, as we have already begun to do, to successfully tap and distill the collective wisdom and make that collective wisdom available, through the international and mini-Fellowships, to the Fellows themselves, their peers, and, hopefully, the leadership of their communities. This may be one of the most important contributions of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship to the Jewish community, especially if done in a manner that can serve both their dreams and aspirations as Jewish leaders and help them restructure and intensify Jewish life in their North American communities.

The most important accomplishment of the program in Ottawa and South Africa, the latter which I will describe briefly below, proves that we were able to adapt and expand a concept originally devised for smaller, distant, dispersed and less effectively organized Jewish communities in the Diaspora to North America in the first and third largest Diaspora Jewish communities in the world, and demonstrate the efficacy of our model for the development of the leadership in Canada and the United States. In Ottawa we successfully established a safe and secure forum where young Jewish leaders of the most diverse backgrounds — geographically, religiously, ideologically, politically and culturally — can engage in intense dialogue about their beliefs, often disparate, with great passion and civility, recognizing simultaneously, as I pointed out earlier, that these bonds that they have established within the group have transcendental value no less significant for them as Jews than the ideological and political positions they espouse. This indeed is in essence what constitutes the concept of Klal Yisrael.

We are also attaching, for your information, selected responses we received from the Fellows by email after the Fellowship and the profiles of the Fellows participated in the North American Mini-Fellowship that amply demonstrate both the considerable diversity of the Fellows and the incipient community that became evident and plausible there after only two days of the meeting.

The Mini-South African Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

What is remarkable is that during that very same week in March, the South African Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni organized their third mini with even more impressive results than their two earlier mini programs. The theme of the South African Mini-Fellowship was Wrestling with Israel-Diaspora Relationships. Prof. Steve Bayme, a vice president of the Foundation and the National Director of Contemporary Jewish Life in the Diaspora of the American Jewish Committee, was the resident scholar. David Jacobson, the Executive Director of the Cape Town Jewish community and a former Fellow who helped organize the program reported to the Foundation "that the third mini Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was another resounding success. The organization was excellent, the structure sound and the management top class. Everyone who attended left the Fellowship more educated, motivated and inspired."

We believe the mini Nahum Goldmann Fellowship marks a giant step forward for the Foundation and the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. At the next meeting of the Executive Committee in Israel in June, there will be detailed reports and discussion about the next steps to be taken to strengthen this model for replication, not only in North American and South Africa, but in other parts of the world. If we can succeed in this endeavor, as some of the leadership in the Foundation believe, both the mini and international models of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship can serve as a model for Jewish communities around the world.

Future Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Programs

The 23rd International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship will take place in Israel at the Yam Kinneret on June 12-20. 2011, just prior to the meeting of the Foundation's Executive Committee. The meetings will overlap for one day to give the members of our Executive Committee an opportunity to meet and interact with the Fellows. For this program, we have assembled the largest and most diverse group ever to attend an international Fellowship, representing 21 Jewish communities around the world, from Mumbai to Moscow.

The faculty will include: Professors Steven Bayme, Stephen Donshik, Ruth Gavison, Moshe Halbertal, Benjamin Ish-Shalom, Rina Rosenberg, Shalom Rosenberg, Ismar Schorsch, Natan Sharansky, Ethan Tucker, and Jack Wertheimer.

The Foundation program of on-line courses for 2010 for the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni will also commence later this spring. There will be two courses taught by Prof. Avigdor Shinan of Hebrew University who lead a very successful course on the Haggadah in 2010. Both courses will deal with Biblical Texts — The Book of Ruth prior to the Shavuot Holiday and the Book of Jonah prior to Yom Kippur. Further details about the courses and how to enroll can be obtained from the Nahum Goldman Fellowship website.

With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President