Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News November 2013

November 25, 2013

The Pew Report, the Global Jewish Community And the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

The recent Pew Profile of American Jewry, probably the most important and impartial study of its kind in recent decades, generated a storm of discussion, debate and soul-searching in the American Jewish community. Justifiably so. Its portrait of the condition and future of this Jewish community, with some notable exceptions, is bleak indeed. What has been missing in the flood of commentary about its findings is the implications of the report for the global Jewish community outside of the United States.

Alan Cooperman, who authored the report, was invited to join Prof. Ismar Schorsch and me immediately after publication of the study to discuss that very question. In a close to three hour meeting, he provided us with an excellent in-depth analysis of the findings. One side product of our meeting, very favorably received by him, was the suggestion that Pew undertake a similar report in Israel. There was little our meeting, however, contributed to the question of the implications of the report for other diaspora communities. Although the other diaspora communities are much smaller in size and influence than the United States, responsible Jewish leadership must be concerned about the future of Jewish life wherever Jews reside. Alan Cooperman made very clear in his meeting with us that the Pew Organization's goal was confined to the study and findings of the report, not the resolution of challenges it presented to the Jewish community. That is the responsibility of the Jewish leadership and the American Jewish community itself.

At its inception, the Memorial Foundation established as its mandate the reconstruction of Jewish cultural life around the globe in the post-Holocaust era. In the almost five decades of its existence, it has supported the creation, intensification and dissemination of Jewish culture in Jewish communities on six continents. More than 13,000 grants have been awarded through its scholarship and fellowship programs to replace the cultural elite that was decimated in Europe during the Holocaust. In more recent decades our programs were expanded to develop Jewish leadership — communal and cultural — to meet the challenges Jewish communities are confronting today. I believe it instructive to share our experience, especially in recent years, with the Foundation's Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program, our most potent vehicle in this effort in diaspora communities outside the United States, to demonstrate a connection to the findings of the Pew report in the United States.

The Pew report highlighted four major findings, the increased percentage of Jews who claimed no connection with Judaism and the very substantial increase in inter-marriage, especially if we excluded the Orthodox community. Those issues require a herculean programmatic effort to address effectively, if it is at all possible, to impact on them. An equally significant set of findings dealt with young Jews - that young Jews have less connection with, and interest in, Jewish religious and cultural life. They are also less interested in, and connected with, the Jewish community and its institutions.

Selected Recipients Of Special Doctoral Scholarships 2013-2014

Here the Foundation's experience over the last 25 years with the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program can be instructive about the possibility of impacting on, if not rectifying, those challenges with young Jewish adults in some positive manner.

Since 1982, the Memorial Foundation has organized 25 Fellowships on six continents - Europe, East and West; South America; Australia; South Africa; South East Asia; North America and Israel. More than 1,000 young men and women have participated in those Fellowships and returned subsequently to serve their communities.

The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship consists of two organizational models — an international program in which young men and women between the ages of 25-40 from Jewish communities all over the world participate and a mini-regional program. The international program emphasizes the redefinition and growth of the individual Fellow as Jews. That objective is intimately linked with serious Jewish learning for the Fellows. We believe this is the most effective catalyst for triggering an internal process of self-redefinition which subsequently motivates the Fellows towards cultural and communal leadership in their community. In an evaluation survey of alumni done several years ago, 72% of the Fellowship alumni declare, that as a result of the program, they have indeed redefined themselves as Jews and leaders.

The second result of the program has been the bonding of the individual Fellows and the development of their Jewish connectedness. In the Fellowships we combine a mix of all the contemporary tribes of the Jewish people, representatives of the various social, political, cultural and religious groups and bodies that constitute Jewish life today. The bonds the Fellows develop are more than personal, vital as those personal connections are. These bonds have also led to a harmonious and effective integration of all the diverse groups we recruit. The most extraordinary accomplishment at the end of the Fellowship is the emergence of a mini-Klal Yisrael, an authentic expression and microcosm of the concept of Klal Yisrael.

The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship: Redefining the Jewish Community The Tale of Three Mini-Fellowships

The second organizational model is the mini-regional Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in which Fellows from specific regions or countries participate. 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 regional mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowships, unlike those participating in the International Fellowships, operate within the actual context and framework of their communities, not the Jewish community in abstract. They are intimately familiar with their community's history, its strengths and weaknesses, its special needs and challenges.

I should like to focus on three of the six minis we organized in Uruguay, South Africa and Brazil which highlight the evolution and impact of the mini-Fellowship program. We believe it has considerable relevance to connecting and involving young Jewish adults in their communities, which is sorely absent in the Pew profile of American Jewry.

Those three minis represent 3 stages in the evolution of the mini-Fellowships we have been organizing during the last two decades. In the first, we worked with the Fellows outside of the community. When we launched the mini-Fellowships, many communities did not have, or could not identify, young leaders that they could co-opt to join their ranks. The most noteworthy example in this area is our work in Montevideo, Uruguay, which I will describe below.

In the second stage, we began to attract young men and women, either interested in or already active in, some fashion within the communities in which they resided. The objective of the program was to inspire and motivate them to get more involved in their communities and help redefine and intensify Jewish culture in those communities. An excellent example and model of this program is what we have accomplished in Cape Town, South Africa.

In Brazil we are not working outside or adjacent, but inside the community itself, with the involvement of its major communal bodies.

Let me now elaborate on these three models. In the mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship we organized in Uruguay, local Fellowship alumni have successfully articulated the redefinition they sought to achieve within the Uruguayan Jewish community and the steps needed to implement their vision. Their attention was initially focused 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 their thoughtful plan, to re-activate that school and around it developed the Yavneh community, engaged in a whole constellation of educational activities involving students, both on the elementary, secondary and college level. They simultaneously revitalized a synagogue within the school and sponsored 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 began, directly and indirectly, 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, which was subsequently replicated in other countries there including Argentina and Brazil.

The second model of the mini-Fellowship 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. Their goal was to help them begin to formulate and articulate for themselves their visions about the future of Jewish life in South Africa, and hopefully, share those perceptions in ways to be developed with the establishment. To date, they have held more than five 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 more 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.

Remarkably, the new faces that were added to the mini Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Cape Town include some young men and women who were critical of the community's positions, especially regarding Israel. What is even more remarkable is that one key leader of that opposition was subsequently successful in helping bring key members of that outside group closer to the community, via the mini Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, into what possibly can lead to a major healing impact in South Africa, especially among some of the young adults of that community.

The mini-South African Nahum Goldmann Fellowship has also 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 third model, the most recently developed, was the Latin American mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship organized in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was a significant accomplishment because in it was organized with the full cooperation of the major communal bodies there - CONIB, the roof organization of Brazilian Jewry, and the Jewish Federation of Sao Paulo - and their established leadership. The fact that this program achieved the support and cooperation of these established communal bodies was a major achievement.

At the conclusion of the mini-Fellowship in Brazil, we therefore met with the key lay leaders of CONIB and the Sao Paulo Federation to discuss the results achieved at the mini-Fellowship there, the current and future needs of the Brazilian Jewish community, and finally, the importance of enlarging the opportunity for the young people to talk among themselves in an open and comfortable and safe setting about all the issues impinging on Jewish life in Brazil. It was agreed that the mini-Nahum Goldmann Fellowship would be the vehicle for that endeavor under the auspices of the community.

Our hope is, not only to enable the Fellows in Brazil to redefine themselves and their communities, but also to extend this effort in other Jewish communities in South America as well.

The Overall Strategy

What we have successfully achieved in the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship during the last two and a half decades is the creation of a microcosm of Klal Yisrael that works. It comprises four main components. The first is geographic. The Fellows who participate in our program represent global Jewry, coming from Jewish communities, large and small, on six continents. Secondly, the composition of the Fellowship also includes representatives from all the religious denominations — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform - including too, the secular Jewish community, both from Israel and the Diaspora. The Fellowship also represents a mix of the lay and professional leaders of their respective communities. This is very significant given the current importance of both these categories of leadership in Jewish communities globally. Finally, in the last several Fellowships, we have also introduced into our mini-Klal Yisrael Fellows from the right and left political poles, probably the most explosive sector of Jewish life today.

The most crucial ingredient in our success is that the Memorial Foundation and the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship have no overt agenda — political, Zionist, religious or ideological for the Fellowship. Unlike seminars sponsored by the Zionist movement, Chabad, and the other religious denominations, and international Jewish organizations who are seeking members, funds, influence or access to individuals or institutions, our objective at the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship is very transparent from the outset. Our central objective is, first, to expose the Fellows to the highest level of serious Jewish learning by the most distinguished Jewish scholars and intellectuals in the world, and to their peers from all around the globe. Second, by creating a safe and comfortable ambiance and setting at the Fellowships that stimulates intense interaction between them and the faculty and between them and their peers, we enable then to redefine themselves as Jews, and hopefully, as potential leaders in the Jewish community. Finally, they, as mature adults, are given the opportunity to decide for themselves, the path and vision they wish to pursue when they return to their communities, a path and vision that is congruent with their personal aspirations and ambitions as individuals and as potential Jewish leaders.

The International and mini Fellowships have demonstrated that the Fellows have the capacity to redefine themselves and their communal institutions, some outside the regular communal structures, others adjacent to them, and finally, inside the community itself, working jointly with the established leadership.

We believe these successful programs can indeed serve as a model for Jewish communities globally, including North America, to hopefully deal, in part, with the major challenge the Pew Report highlighted confronting its Jewish community there regarding their population of young Jewish adults.

The Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

To maintain the momentum of our successful work in Latin America, the Foundation is planning to organize the next International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Uruguay on June 10-16, 2014.

We have recruited an outstanding faculty including: Prof. Ismar Schorsch, President, Memorial Foundation, Professor of Jewish History and former Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary of America; Prof. Avinoam Rosenak, former Chair, Dept. of Jewish Philosophy and Thought, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Prof. Daniel Fainstein, Dean, Universidad Hebraica, Mexico; Prof. Sylvia Barak Fishman, Chair, Dept. of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Brandeis University; Dr. Steven Bayme, Director, Contemporary Jewish Life, American Jewish Committee; Prof. Saul Berman, Dept. of Jewish Studies, Yeshiva University and Adjunct Professor, Columbia University School of Law and Prof. Steven Windmueller, Professor of Jewish Communal Service, Hebrew Union College, U.S.A.

Further details will be made available to you in the very near future to help us recruit outstanding young men and women from Jewish communities around the world to participate in the 26th International Fellowship program that the Foundation is sponsoring.

Best wishes for a joyous Chanuka.
With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President