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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News May 2013

May 2, 2013

From Strength To Strength
The Mini-South African Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

In this Board Briefing, I will be reporting on the mini-South African Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, which has, since its inception in 2009, not only successfully demonstrated the great effectiveness of the mini-fellowship program, but also its implications for future Nahum Goldmann Fellowship programs around the world.

Last year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. I shared with our Board and the leadership of the international Jewish community the very impressive results we have achieved with the more than 800 alumni of the program and the impact of the program on Jewish communities on six continents. The focus in the international Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was to identify and help motivate young Jews to redefine themselves as Jews and potential leaders in their communities. An evaluation of the international program several years ago demonstrated that more than 70% of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni reported that they had indeed redefined themselves as Jews and potential leaders of their communities.

Several years ago we initiated a second phase, mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowships, in which we sought to help the Fellows redefine their community, in addition to their own redefinition and growth as individuals. Participating in the international Fellowships very often are contingents of Fellows from specific communities, offering the potential opportunity for them to join together and cooperate in joint endeavors in their local community.

Four young South Africans attending the International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Israel in 2009 joined me for an informal meeting at which we discussed the idea of launching a more advanced model of the mini-Fellowship which we had already introduced in Iran, South America and Australia. As a result of that meeting, David Jacobson, the executive of the Cape Town Jewish community and the others developed a magnificent program that we believe can serve as a model for Jewish communities around the world. The project, since its inception with 15 Fellows, has now involved 100 young Cape Town Jewish community members directly, and thousands of others in South Africa via various media and communication 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 to and for their community, a rare happening in South Africa. Even more remarkable is that the program continues to grow.

In David Jacobson's words, the program has created "a safe space for dialogue", utilizing the model of the international Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, but adjusted to address the unique needs of a specific Jewish community. The Fellows at the local mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowships, unlike those participating in the International Fellowships, are operating within the actual context and framework of their communities, not the Jewish community in abstract. These Fellows are intimately familiar with their community's history, its strengths and weaknesses and its special needs and challenges.

The importance of this space is especially critical in South Africa, a country where apartheid generated a legacy of fear and separateness that also contaminated the Jewish community. This was especially evident in the gap that developed between the generations within the Jewish community, appallingly evident at the first mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship held in Cape Town in 2009.

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 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 Continuing Evolution of the Mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship
A Look Forward

Before dealing with what we believe are the possible next steps in the evolution of the mini-Fellowships, it is important that we identify the vital and innovative components that have been successfully incorporated from the parent international programs into the minis.

The first is the operative concept that animates the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship - to create within the Fellowship an authentic expression and microcosm of Klal Yisrael, an endangered value in Jewish life today.

The Foundation has had remarkable success in our International Fellowships replicating this feature with increasing success during the last two decades. We have assembled both lay and professional young Jewish leaders representing all the religious dominations of Jewish life in all the various hues and permutations, representatives from the right and left politically, as well as the full spectrum of the diverse social and cultural ideologies in Jewish life today.

Secondly, and most critically, the Foundation does not propagate any political, religious or any other agenda in the Fellowship. Unlike other international and regional bodies, our only focus has been, as stated above, to create a safe and comfortable ambiance where the Fellows can discuss and debate their divergent and sometimes very deeply held beliefs in a respectful and civil manner, simultaneously recognizing that the bonds they developed there have no less transcendental meaning and value than the issues about which they differ.

Furthermore, 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 this community at large.

There are three reasons for our growing confidence in that collective wisdom that inheres in the Fellowship. Firstly, and perhaps the most critical 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 currents flowing under and above the surface of Jewish life — both internal and external.

Secondly, with their ears to the ground, they can and have indeed served as barometers of those emerging changes. The best example is our experience at the last mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Latin America, about which I reported in an earlier Board Briefing. One of the very noteworthy findings reported there from recent studies of Latin American Jewry by Prof. Daniel Fainstein was the increased importance of religion in Jewish communities in South America. The starkest evidence of this trend was the increase in the number of rabbis there from 35 to 350 in the last four and a half decades. In the four Fellowships the Foundation organized in South America during that period, we sensed among many of the Fellows an intense personal search for Jewish meaning in their lives. As a result of those observations, the Foundation beginning in the nineteen seventies and eighties initiated support for the nascent Conservative, Chabad and Sephardic religious communities. These groups have been responsible for that growing revolution in Latin American Jewish life. Of the 350 rabbis mentioned earlier, the Foundation helped support the training of 152, from all of the above movements. In addition we also helped train 317 other individuals who served as educators, communal and youth workers and religious functionaries in the secular and other religious communities.

Those sparks we detected at those Fellowships, have ignited, with our modest help, a vital, and hopefully an enduring change in Jewish life there, providing new meaning to the next generation of Jewish leaders personally, as well as with their families and communities.

Thirdly, that combination of their experience, individually in their communities and collectively at the Fellowship helps explain the incredible bonding that has characterized the Nahum Goldmann Fellows since the inception of the Fellowship which continues to grow. The most potent example is the South African mini-Fellowship about which I just reported above.

We believe that what we can achieve in the future via the mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowships in South Africa, South America and other Jewish communities, is the creation of a lever, if not an agency of change in those communities.

In our judgment, and this is perhaps one of the most critical potential results of the Fellowship, the major direction of change will flow, not from the communal bodies to the Fellows, but 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 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 that the process there will continue to expand and move forward, leading potentially not only to the intensification of cultural and communal life there, 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.

Best wishes for a joyous Shavuot.

With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President