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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News July 2012

July 24, 2012

The Foundation's Board Of Trustees And The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship In Warsaw

Both the Foundation's Board of Trustees and the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship held consecutive meetings in Warsaw on July 3-11. On one day, July 10th, both programs overlapped so that the members of the Foundation's Board of Trustees could mingle and meet with the Fellows who came from Jewish communities in 17 countries around the globe (see attached profiles of the Fellows).

The central focus of the Polish sector of our program was not only the Shoah, but pre and post-Shoah Poland. We were told by the leaders of the Polish Jewish community that this was rarely the agenda of most other visiting Jewish bodies.

The pre-Shoah part of the program for the Fellows was an incredible lecture, The Restoration of Historical Memory, by Prof. Moshe Rosman, an internationally distinguished Professor of Polish Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University and an advisor to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews now being erected in Warsaw. That great Jewish civilization and its legacy eradicated in the Holocaust has largely been forgotten, even by the descendants of Polish Jewry who emigrated before World War II to the United States and Israel. Indeed, the children and grandchildren of those immigrants in the United States know more about the American Indians than their Jewish antecedents in Poland. Prof. Rosman's lecture dealt both with the history and meta-history of Polish Jewry from its inception up until the Shoah.

At the opening session of the meeting of our Board, the Trustees heard an excellent presentation from Prof. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, program director of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, being erected in Warsaw in which she described the exhibits planned of the different historical periods of Polish Jewry and their rich cultural achievements.

The post-Shoah part of the program dealt with the revival of Polish Jewry in Warsaw. That session took place on Shabbat afternoon at which we heard from two young leaders of Polish Jewry, Piotr Kowalik, a Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumnus who is now responsible for Jewish education at the museum, and Rabbi Mati Pawlak, a recipient of Foundation Community Service scholarships while studying for the rabbinate in the United States, who is now the director of the Jewish school in Warsaw. Both reported in great detail the herculean efforts to revive Jewish life in Poland, their successes to date and the challenges they face in the future. Most moving was how they discovered they were Jewish and their complicated return to their Jewish roots. Piotr for a time was a practicing Christian until he became aware of discrepancies between the Old and New Testaments. Without any formal instruction, he began to practice the Jewish faith and has today become a key personality and leader in the revival of Jewish life in Poland.

The final section of this Polish program was a symposium at the conclusion of the Board meeting dealing with "Poles and Jews: Reconfiguring the Historical Relationship" in which we heard presentations about possible options in the relations between Poles and Jews, not only in Poland but globally. While there were no definitive conclusions, both speakers, Konstanty Gebert, a leading Jewish intellectual in Poland and Zbigniew Nosowski, a Pole and lay leader in the Catholic Church in Poland, were guardedly hopeful and optimistic about re-configuring that relationship and the future for Jewry in Poland.

While the Foundation has organized meetings of the Foundation's Executive Committee and Board, pre and post-Glasnost, in the former Soviet Union, in Budapest, Riga, Prague and Moscow and three Nahum Goldmann Fellowships in Russia, the meeting in Warsaw was unique. Not only did it provide an important lift to the budding Jewish community in Warsaw. Even more impressive and important was the beautiful Sabbath we experienced together there. The spirited dancing and singing of the Fellows, from Jewish communities, large and small, religious and secular, was a powerful demonstration in what was the epi-center of the Shoah, Poland, that the Jewish people are alive and flourishing and will continue to do so. Whatever our national or ethnic origins, we all felt we were heirs to the incredible legacy of Polish Jewry.

The Bonding of the Fellows

The Fellowship program was not confined to those segments devoted to Polish Jewry (see attached program). There were important series of lectures, Reformulating Our Normative Connections, dealing with reconfiguring those connections with the Wider Society, the Jewish People and the State of Israel, brilliantly presented by Professors J.J. Schachter and Shalom Rosenberg, The Emerging Profile of the Global Jewish Community by Prof. Ilan Troen, a lecture by Prof. Ismar Schorsch, president of the Foundation, dealing with the role of the fast days Jews celebrate in Jewish history, and workshops dealing with Jewish texts, identity, and community.

As in the past, the most dramatic results of the program were accomplished by the Fellows themselves in two separate spheres.

The first was the incredible bonding that took place at the Fellowship. Every one of the Fellowships we have organized in the past has had its own unique mix and character, partially reflecting the site of the meeting, but also the continuing expansion and effectiveness of the manner in which we recruit the Fellows from all sectors of Jewish life. We always have representatives from Jewish communities, large and small, both lay leaders and professionals, including the full range of adherents of the religious "denominations" in all their variegated hues, and members of the secular Jewish community, including both the right and left political poles.

What was remarkable about our group in Warsaw was the large number of Fellows who earned or were currently enrolled in doctoral programs, many, if not most, in the field of Jewish culture. Many others had earned or were enrolled for other graduate degrees. A second surprise was the number of Fellows who were participants in other international or national programs or seminars like the ROI fellowships or graduates of PAIDEA. That phenomenon certainly reflects the growing recognition and respect for the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program.

In my judgment, the most vital addition to our mix of Fellows in Warsaw was the large and impressive group of participants from Israel. They played an important and visible role in every aspect of the program. In the past, the target of the Fellowship was enhancing Jewish life in Diaspora communities. In recent years we began selecting individual Fellows from Israel. Warsaw was the first time we consciously recruited a delegation from Israel, who contributed greatly to the success of our program in Poland. We can truthfully declare that the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship today reflects the microcosm of the young leadership of all the contemporary tribes of the Jewish people globally, no small accomplishment that.

The peak of the incredible bonding that took place in Warsaw was, as in past Fellowships, during the Shabbat, which I alluded to above. It opened with a joyous and moving Carlebach Kabbalat Shabbat in which faculty and Fellows, observant and non-observant, participated in the lively singing and dancing. At the meals, the national groups represented at the Fellowship contributed Shabbat and other melodies from their tradition. Marvelous divrey Torah were given by Liana Jagniatinsky from Lithuania, William Miller from Cuba and Inbal Halperin from Israel, all relevant to their individual, unique experience as Jews in their home communities.

The highlight of the Sabbath program and the Fellowship was the naming ceremony organized for Liana. At the workshop on Jewish identity led by Dr. Rina Rosenberg, we learned that she never was given a Hebrew name. At the mincha service on Shabbat afternoon, all the Fellows gathered at the service. Following the traditional reading of the Torah, she was called to the Torah and Rabbi J. J. Schacter read out the prayer, based on an old Sephardic tradition, in which she was given the name Devorah, which she had chosen for herself.

This was not the first time we have organized such a ceremony. It was done several times before for Fellows from countries in the former Soviet Union without Hebrew names. Devorah was lifted up on a bench, in the manner resembling a Jewish wedding, surrounded by the Fellows engaged in joyous dancing and singing. We would have concluded a most successful Fellowship on this high note.

- Responses

The 25th Anniversary of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

But there was more to come, connected to the 25th anniversary of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship which is taking place this year. Two reports at the final session at the Fellowship and the report by four Fellows at the meeting of the Foundation's Board of Trustees were powerful confirmation of the impact of the Fellowship, not only on the Fellows themselves, but on their communities as well.

The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship has developed two organizational models: International Fellowships, in which young men and women from communities all around the world participate and mini-Fellowships, in which Fellows from specific regions or countries participate.

The fundamental difference between them is that the international Nahum Goldmann Fellowships emphasizes the individual redefinition and growth of the Fellows. We have been extraordinarily successful in this aspect of our work. In an evaluation survey of alumni several years ago, 72% of the alumni declared that they have, as a result of the program, redefined themselves as Jews and leaders.

The mini-Fellowship fuses a new, more dynamic component into the program, focusing beyond the redefinition and growth of the individual Fellows. It is aimed at helping the Fellows redefine their community. The Fellows at the local min-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.

At the closing session of the Fellowship, there were reports from David Jacobson from South Africa and Tova Ganzel from Israel aimed at inspiring the Fellows to undertake mini-programs in their community. At the meeting of the Board, there were two additional ones from Marcello Ellenberg from Uruguay and Yair Miller from Australia. The latter reports were intended to demonstrate to the Board members the impact of their support for Nahum Goldmann Fellowships.

Marcello Ellenberg's report dealt with the results of the mini Nahum Goldmann Fellowship organized in Uruguay. The Uruguayan alumni recognized the gap in their perception and vision for the Jewish community in Montevideo from that of the established leadership there. Ellenberg described the dramatic steps they took in implementing that vision. It is crucial to note that they were not part of the established community. They focused their initial attention and efforts on reviving the Yavneh Academy in Montevideo, a school from which most of the families who were active in the school had made aliyah to Israel. They were able, after the development of a thoughtful plan, to re-activate that school and around it developed a community, the Yavneh community, which engaged in a whole constellation of educational activities involving students, both on the elementary and secondary levels and in college, simultaneously revitalizing a synagogue within the school and fostering a whole host of religious activities for young families in the community. In essence, what they accomplished very successfully was the establishment of an intense activist sub-community within Montevideo that directly and indirectly, began to influence the larger Jewish community in important areas, the most significant of which was Jewish education.

One incredible example of their success was the establishment of the first Hillel in South America, in Uruguay which was subsequently replicated in other countries including Argentina and Brazil.

David Jacobson's report dealt with the South African mini, currently the most advanced level of our minis. Organized with the consent and in cooperation with the official established South African community, its objective from the outset was to provide a safe and secure format for the South African Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni and new faces recruited by them to enable them to begin to formulate and articulate for themselves their vision about the future of Jewish life in South Africa. Following that, to move toward the implementation of those visions within their community, which they are now beginning to accomplish.

From a small core of 5-6 alumni, they have expanded the membership to 75 participants, and organized 5 minis in Cape Town representing all sectors of the Jewish community there. That includes Orthodox and Reform rabbis sitting together, a phenomenon as rare as black swans in South Africa, as well as young members of the community who have anti-Israel proclivities.

The South African mini has provided real substance and flesh to the objective of the mini model, implementation of their visions by numerous means being developed, involving interacting with, and modifying the ethos of the established leadership and institutions there.

The next mini, which we are planning to organize in Sao Paulo early next year, is intended to even further extend that model in a most significant way. The top leadership in Sao Paulo not only approved but also indicated their willingness to participate in ways to be established in the mini that we are planning in Brazil, which hopefully will lead in small steps to introducing the ambience and spirit of Klal Yisrael that is inherent in the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship into Brazilian Jewish life.

Our successful meetings in Warsaw have amply demonstrated that the Foundation, under the leadership of Prof. Schorsch, has revitalized the initial vision for which the Foundation was established.


May we continue to go and grow from strength to strength.

With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President