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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News July 2013

July 9, 2013

The Twenty-Fifth International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

At the 25th International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship held in Israel at the Kinneret on June 11-17th, 40 Fellows, a very highly diverse group ideologically representing Jewish communities on six continents including Cuba and a distinguished international faculty successfully created, as we have in the past, a microcosm of Klal Yisrael. Members of the Foundation's Executive Committee, which met the day after the Fellowship, were also invited to join at the conclusion of the Fellowship to savor the wonderful spirit of Klal Yisrael that emerged at the Kinneret, no small accomplishment in the divisive climate that characterizes so many sectors of contemporary Jewish life.

The twenty-fifth International Nahum Goldmann in Israel was especially noteworthy for three reasons. Firstly, it highlighted a critical step forward in the evolution of the Fellowship's impact, not only on the Fellows themselves, but on their communities as well. Secondly, the excellent lectures by the faculty provided a composite conceptual framework illuminating some of the critical challenges and opportunities that the leadership of Jewish communities will be confronting in the future. Thirdly, the Fellows initiated a plan for a new communications platform to serve the alumni of all 25 Fellowships sponsored by the Foundation to generate a global conversation among them, organize on-line courses and other programs to be developed by them, and to maintain and even deepen the strong personal bonds that have been developed in the Fellowship.

The excellent faculty at the Fellowship consisting of Dr. Steven Bayme, Prof. Saul Berman, Dr. Ruth Calderon, Dr. Stephen Donshik, Prof. Micha Goodman, Prof. Ilan Troen, and Prof. Ismar Schorsch through their excellent lectures provided us with important insights about the global Jewish communal community, portions of which are salient to what the Fellowship is aiming to achieve.

Prof. Ismar Schorsch, in an excellent lecture, emphasized the critical role of the synagogue as a central institution in the Jewish community until the Emancipation. Since that time, many of the synagogues' central functions were transferred to secular bodies.

Based on the Foundation's work in South America and other Jewish communities, involvement in some of those bodies as they are currently constituted appears not to supply adequate personal meaning and fulfillment for many of the future leaders from among our current generation of young Jews.

Prof. Berman thought that Israel and Diaspora must not only implement the "required" constellation of Jewish values that inhere in our legal legacy, but also strive to give expression to the "desired" values in our normative tradition, including those relating to the societies in which we reside.

Dr. Calderon and Prof. Goodman in their lectures on 'Jewish Identity and Peoplehood in Israel Today' both strongly opposed Shelilat Hagolah, the negation of the Diaspora, which once constituted a central axiom of Zionism. Prof. Goodman ably described the success of Zionism in establishing and embedding a secular weltanschauung in the emerging State of Israel. Goodman contended that Israel's secularism was now undergoing an important change, increasingly being inspired by Jewish texts and values. Dr. Calderon's report of her pioneering work in Israel confirmed that observation. This presents a possible opportunity of enlarging the dialogue between the secular and religious camps in Israel.

Profs. Steve Bayme and Ilan Troen dealt with the disparities and convergences between the concept of community which defines Jewish life in the Diaspora, and the State which provides the sociological and ideological framework for Israelis. Prof. Troen argued that historically, states have always differed in how they define both democracy and religion and their inter-connection. As a result, the Jewish communities in the Diaspora, especially in the U.S., and Israel cannot be considered similar civilizations at the present time. In Prof. Bayme's formulation, they represent "multiple modernities".

Changes to be accomplished in the Diaspora and Israel must, of course, take into account their different sociological and ideological character. Under these conditions, it is therefore vital for the Foundation to continue enlarging channels of communication between the Fellows, the young leaders of Diaspora and Israel, so they can come to better understand, educate and influence each other.

The composite of these views so ably articulated by the faculty provides both the Memorial Foundation and Nahum Goldmann Fellowship with tools for analysis to equip us for the next stage of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship enterprise.

The Mini Fellowships: A Major Step Forward

Our major programmatic goal at the inception of the International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, the first model of the Fellowship, was the re-definition and individual growth of the Fellows as Jews and potential leaders. We accomplished this by exposing the Fellows to the highest level of serious Jewish learning by the most distinguished Jewish scholars, and by creating a safe and comfortable ambiance and setting at the Fellowship that stimulates intense interaction between them and the faculty and between them and their peers.

And it works. In an evaluation we completed several years ago, more than 70% of the alumni declared that they had successfully re-defined themselves as Jews as a result of their Fellowship experience.

Our recent Nahum Goldmann Fellowships now emphasize the development of leadership motivated and possessing the skills, commitment and capacity to build Jewish communities in the spirit of Klal Yisrael. That today is the conceptual heart and objective of our enterprise.

This goal has been successfully integrated within our second Fellowship model, the Mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowships, in which Fellows from specific regions or countries participate. Most significantly, the Mini-Fellowships fuse a new, more dynamic component into the program, focusing beyond the redefinition and growth of the individual Fellow. It is aimed at helping the Fellows redefine their community.

I should like to share with you how this model is enlarging the impact of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship and why we believe it has enormous potential for our future work in Jewish life. I can best illustrate the effectiveness of this model by reporting on the Mini-South African Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, developed by David Jacobson, a Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumnus with his team of other alumni in Cape Town.

The South African Mini was organized with the concurrence of the 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 develop and operate in an independent setting adjacent to the formal community structure. Its objective was to help them begin to formulate and articulate for themselves their visions about the future of Jewish life in South Africa, and hopefully ultimately share those perceptions in ways to be developed with the establishment. To date, they have held more than 5 Minis, and enlarged the number of participants from an initial set of 15 alumni to 100 fellows from all sectors of the South African community, and about 1000 through various communications and media platforms.

What has emerged is truly remarkable. It is the only space in South Africa where Jews from all walks of life - Orthodox and Reform, Zionist and non-Zionist, religious and secular - can share their ideas of Jewishness and community, with all sharing responsibility for their community, a rare happening in South Africa. Even more remarkable is that the program continues to grow.

The Mini-South African Nahum Goldmann Fellowship has given the young generation of South Africans the opportunity to discuss and deal with, and even to try to repair, the divisions within the Jewish community resulting from apartheid and the growing dislocation of those Jews on the margins of the community. It has created a new model of inclusivity critical for the restoration of the healthy growth of the South African Jewish community.

The South African Mini is the most developed one to date. The Foundation has also organized Minis in Iran, Australia and most recently in North America, Israel and Brazil.

In this connection I should like to report that when I returned to the United States, I received an email from Berta Banana, from Istanbul, who was a Fellow at the Fellowship we organized in Poland in 2012. Upon return to her community, based on the reports she heard about the Mini-Fellowship at the Poland Fellowship, she consulted with the leaders of her community and, with their support, organized with them a series of Minis in Istanbul. It began with two Shabbatons, followed by a full one-day seminar, planned and organized by Berta and a committee, including other Turkish alumni of the Fellowship. That program attracted 400 young people. Like our Fellowships, the emphasis was on serious Jewish learning.

Berta explained that the Jewish community in Istanbul of 18,000 Jews is less than 1% of the Muslim population there. Once historically an important center of Jewish learning, both the Jewish population and its commitment to Judaism has been declining. She and her colleagues believe the Minis they have organized hopefully can re-connect the younger generation to their community.


The Mini-Fellowship Formula

We are confident that we can, via the Minis, construct vehicles for change in Jewish communities around the globe because of a very special strength the Minis possess.

It is our belief that there inheres in the body of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, both the international and Mini programs, the collective wisdom of the next generation of the young Jewish leaders. That wisdom encompasses both how they can and should relate to their Jewish communities, as well as the larger society in which they reside. We think it possible, as we have already successfully begun to do, to tap and distill that collective wisdom and make it available, in the first instance, to the Fellows themselves and through them to their peers and ultimately to the community at large, especially through the Minis, which take place, within communities in which the Fellows are intimately involved, not in abstract discussions and lectures.

The most critical reason for our growing confidence in the collective wisdom that inheres in the Fellowship is the fact that the Fellows, past and future, are living in the actual existential reality of the Jewish people today. As I have already pointed out, they represent Jewish communities on six continents; but they also reflect the most diverse spectrum of the religious, political, cultural, and social streams of those communities. Simultaneously, they also mirror the social context of the societies in which they reside. That combination provides them with a singular and unique perspective regarding the current flowing under and above the surface of Jewish life — both internal and external.

We believe that what we can achieve in the future via the Mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowships is the creation of a lever, if not an agency of change in Jewish communities globally.

In our judgment, and this is perhaps one of the most critical potential results of the Mini-Fellowship, that the major direction of change will flow, not only from the communal bodies to the Fellows, but equally from the Fellows to the communal institutions, especially regarding re-invigoration of the concept of Klal Yisrael in Jewish life.

This process we believe has already begun to emerge in South Africa where the community, in supporting the Mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, is beginning to become sensitive to the collective wisdom of the Fellowship and to the spirit of Klal Yisrael that animates that body. We believe it will do so in the most recent Mini in Istanbul about which I reported above.

We believe that the process in both communities will continue to expand and move forward, leading potentially not only to the intensification of their cultural and communal life, but also serving as a model for other communities around the world. It is a worthy challenge we plan to address in the years ahead.

With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President