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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News July 2014

July 1, 2014

The Latin American International Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

The Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, the 26th program the Foundation has organized in Jewish communities around the world, was one of the most successful since the program's inception. In the previous four Fellowships we organized in South America, the local Fellows reported that while their parents and grandparents successfully organized important institutions to serve their communities, their own vision and passion was not compatible with the spirit of some of those institutions. It appeared to us that they were seeking more substantive meaning in their and their families' lives as Jews. We therefore chose South America as the site of the 26th Fellowship because we were persuaded that it was a fertile site for the advancement of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship concept.

Because the ears of the earlier South American Fellows were close to the ground and to the emerging existential reality of Jewish life in their communities, the Foundation, as early as the seventies, initiated support for the Conservative, Chabad and Sephardic religious institutions that were beginning to work in South America. When we started in the seventies, there were only 35 rabbis in South America; currently there are 350. The Memorial Foundation supported the training of 152 of those rabbis from all the above movements. In addition, we identified and supported 317 educators and communal and youth workers for other cultural and communal institutions there. Based on successful experience there, we were convinced that the soil in South America was ripe for further expansion and development - communally, culturally and spiritually - in which the Fellowship alumni can play an important and expanding role.

When we began planning the Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, many senior communal leaders there advised us not to hold the meeting in June because of the Mondial Cup Soccer games that were to be held in Brazil. They insisted that the young people would prefer soccer to the Fellowship. They were mistaken; the Hotel Nirvana in Colonia where the Fellowship was held was filled to capacity.

There was a second compelling reason for our decision to organize another Fellowship in South America. The recent Pew Report documented a very disturbing profile of a growing number of American young Jewish adults who were increasingly becoming disconnected from Jewish religious and communal life. It also described a growing decline in the effectiveness and relevance of selected American Jewish communal, cultural and religious institutions. The Foundation was determined to explore the implications of the Pew Report for other diaspora Jewish communities, including South America, to ascertain the condition of those Jewish communities, and take whatever positive steps in the future that could intensify Jewish life in those communities.

Attached is the program of the Fellowship which we developed aimed at both those objectives. The program dealt with three themes - Jewish Identity in a Secular Age, Wrestling With Modernity and Whither the Global Jewish Diaspora Community.

We invited outstanding academics from the United States, Israel, and South America to explore those themes, including Profs. Ismar Schorsch, President, Memorial Foundation, Professor of Jewish History and former Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary of America; Sylvia Barack-Fishman, Chair, Dept. of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Brandeis University; Saul Berman, Adjunct Professor, Columbia University School of Law; Steven Windmueller, Professor of Jewish Communal Service, Hebrew Union College; Steven Bayme, Director, Contemporary Jewish Life, American Jewish Committee; Prof. Avinoam Rosenak, former Chair, Dept. of Jewish Philosophy and Thought, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; and Prof. Daniel Fainstein, Dean, Universidad Hebraica, Mexico.

What was remarkable at this Fellowship was that there was an emerging common denominator, both explicit and implicit, in almost all of the lectures and sessions, congruent with the concept and goals for the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship.

The Goals of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship is not a happening but an evolving concept - aimed at inspiring both the Jewish leadership and Jewish community in a manner which ultimately will also promote the Jewish values and positive relationships within the wider society.

The Fellowship has three major goals. The first is promoting the spirit of Klal Yisroel. This has been successfully achieved by our policy of recruiting and selecting the most diverse body of young Jews reflecting the contemporary tribes of the Jewish people. At the Latin American Fellowship the Fellows were recruited from 19 countries from the most diverse religious, political and ideological backgrounds (see below the attached profiles of the Fellows). Examples of the diversity - Sara Groner from the J Street organization in Israel, Leandro Galanternik, a leading executive of the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano of the Conservative movement, William Miller, a major leader of Cuban Jewry, Therie De Sedas, a future leader of the Reform movement in Costa Rica. Rabbi Yosef Germon, chief rabbi of the Sephardic community in Cali, Columbia, Martin Leibovich, the coordinator of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (Orthodox) in Argentina, and Sasha Friedman, (Hungary), Vitaly Chernoivanenko (Ukraine), and Yulia Karchevskaya (Russia) from Eastern Europe .

The second goal is the individual growth and redefinition of the Fellows as Jews and as potential leaders. This is accomplished by exposing them to the most distinguished Jewish academics and scholars in the world, as exemplified by the excellent faculty we recruited.

The third goal is communal development. Having re-defined themselves as Jews and potential leaders in their communities, our objective is for the Fellows to redefine their communities culturally. The latter is most effectively achieved by organizing mini-Fellowships confined to one country or region of the world where a critical mass of Fellowship alumni reside, who join together with their peers to discuss and implement their vision for Jewish life.

While all the lectures and workshops were dynamite sessions, the discussion groups in which only the Fellows were present (where they had the opportunity to speak both their minds and hearts, opportunities not always available to them in their home communities) were especially pertinent and productive to the overall goals of the Fellowship. The most significant of those discussion groups was held on the next to the last evening of the Fellowship, where the Fellows were divided into geographic groups to deal with the theme, "Whither the Global Diaspora Community". All these discussion groups, but especially those of the three major South American countries - Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay - which were chaired by local Fellowship alumni from those countries, achieved the most impressive and possibly long-range impact of the Fellowship.

Moving Towards Minis in South America

The most interesting and creative meeting was the one composed of the Uruguayan Fellows. To understand the significance of their groundbreaking discussion, one needs to understand the history of the Uruguayan Jewish community.

When I first visited Montevideo more than 30 years ago, the Yavneh school there was on the verge of bankruptcy. It was largely due to the fact that it was a Zionist school, and most of the families whose children were attending Yavneh left on Aliyah. During that period, Jewish life in Uruguay was also in decline, especially, but not only, in the religious sector. Unusual for any country in the West, there was not even a daily minyan available. When I returned to Montevideo, 30 years later, a week before the Fellowship, the school was not only booming. The young leaders at Yavneh had developed a whole constellation of satellite institutions around the school - educational, religious and communal - even the first Hillel in South America.

The most apparent component of change in any Jewish community is its leadership. Four of the past presidents and vice-presidents of the Yavneh community, including Marcelo Ellenberg and Marcelo Cynovich who assisted in the organization of the Latin American Fellowship, and two of its executive directors were alumni of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. They provided the herculean effort, courage, wisdom and ingenuity to revive, re-shape and expand the contours of the Yavneh school and its consequent impact on the community. It could never have happened without them.

But the leaders of Yavneh have always operated independently from the larger community. At this meeting of the Uruguayan Fellows, 3 were from Yavneh and 3 from the larger Jewish community. They took an incredible step forward at this meeting by agreeing to organize a mini Nahum Goldmann Fellowship in Montevideo, where selected leaders representing all the institutions in the community, would work together to coordinate their efforts to intensify and expand Jewish education in Montevideo - a major communal achievement for both sectors. Since the Fellowship, that process has continued to move forward.

The two other delegations of Fellows from Argentina and Brazil in separate meetings, also pursued their own local agendas. The meeting of the Brazilian Fellows was chaired by Alberto Milkewitz, the executive of the Sao Paulo Jewish Federation who discussed their own Brazilian Pew Report, prepared by Alberto. The meeting concluded with a decision to organize a second mini in Brazil. The first one which the Foundation initiated in 2013, developed a new model of our mini-Fellowships in that it was organized with the full cooperation and support of the two top leaders of the Brazilian Jewish community - Claudio Lottenberg, president of CONIB, the roof organization of Brazilian Jewry, and Mario Fleck, president of the Sao Paulo Federation. The second mini will focus on future communal programs in which the Brazilian Fellowship alumni can play leadership roles.

Finally, and in some ways the most remarkable meeting was the one chaired by Glenda Garber, a professional on the staff of AMIA, the central communal body in Argentina. We have 60 Argentinian alumni from past Fellowships. But they never bonded as a group with their peers from the other Fellowships; past and future. This time was different, resulting from the excellent experience of alumni from AMIA, the roof organization of Argentinian Jewry, with the cooperation of Anita Weinstein, a senior professional at AMIA who promoted the idea of using the potential collective energy of all the Argentinian Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumni. We invited David Jacobson, the executive of the Cape Town Jewish community, who has organized a remarkable on-going series of mini-Fellowships in his community, to share his experiences with the Argentinians. In his excellent report about his program, he went out of his way to emphasize the need of the Argentinian Fellows to adapt a model mini-Fellowship program in Argentina that is congruent with the character of the Argentinian community. The meeting concluded enthusiastically with the Argentinians voting to meet again and set the time and place of their meeting in Buenos Aires.

I should like to emphasize again that the three meetings of the Uruguayans, Brazilians and Argentinians were one of the incredible achievements, among many others at the Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship - the successful lectures, the inspiring Sabbath program, the intense and non-stop bonding of every free moment at the Fellowship; and the final banquet, closing with a joyous rendition of the Ha'Tikva. The Fellows achieved what many described at the final session, Where Do We Go From Here, as a transforming experience for themselves as Jews and potential leaders. But they have also decided to move forward in three very different Jewish communities in South America to redefine their communities and transition themselves as agents of change, individually and collectively.

What is even more remarkable is that the strategies they are developing to intensify Jewish cultural life in their communities are unique, adapted specifically to their communities, based both on their own vision of Jewish life in the future, but also on the special history and character of their communities and the challenges they are confronting, present and future.

The Foundation will, of course, continue to work with the Fellows in this giant step forward for Jewish life in South America, based on their individual aspirations and collective inspiration generated by their experience at the Latin American Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. May they continue to go and grow from strength to strength.

Best wishes for a pleasant summer.
With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President