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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News August 2004

August 30, 2004

Celebrating the Memorial Foundation's 40th Anniversary

The Memorial Foundation this summer celebrated its 40th Anniversary at the meeting of our Board of Trustees in Jerusalem on July 13-15, 2004. It was one of our most successful meetings, encompassing a number of special events to mark this occasion.

 

Jewish Culture in the Era of Globalization

Our 40th Anniversary meeting opened on July 12, 2004 at the Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History with an Academic Convocation, Jewish Culture in the Era of Globalization. The following distinguished scholars – Professors David Cesarani, Antony Lerman, Aviezer Ravitzky, Sergio DellaPergola, Richard Cohen, Moshe Halbertal, Eliezer Schweid, Ella Belfer, Arnold Eisen, and Shalom Rosenberg – presented thoughtful, wide-ranging, and sometimes provocative papers about the emergence and components of globalization and its implications for the Jewish people.

Sessions were devoted to the following themes: Globalization and the Clash Between Civilizations, Religions and Cultures: Its Impact on the Jewish People, The Impact of Globalization on Jewish Collective and Individual Identity, Globalization and Post Modernism: A Challenge to Jewish Religious and Ethnic Culture or an Opportunity for Universal and Pluralistic Enrichment, and The Impact of Globalization on the Jewish Character of the State of Israel and the Relationship Between Israel and the Diaspora.

Prof. Cesarani, who opened the Convocation, asserted that there are two conceptions of globalization – the first conceives globalization as an ideologically neutral revolution in communications and technology; the second, an exercise of economic power by capitalist societies, including the United States, and international corporations. We plan to publish the papers presented at the Convocation as a book, so that the Memorial Foundation and other bodies can continue to explore the implications and consequences of both concepts of globalization on Jewish culture and the Jewish people in the decades ahead.

 

Beit Hanassi

The formal opening session of our 40th Anniversary meeting took place at the Beit Hanassi. The theme of the meeting was The State of Jewish Culture Globally. Two marvelous papers were given by our President, Prof. Anita Shapira, and Prof. Ismar Schorsch, Chairman of our Executive Committee. Prof. Shapira presented two models for the Jewish people in the era of globalization. Prof. Schorsch effectively demonstrated the renewed interest in Jewish texts that was occurring in the Diaspora, an important harbinger, he thought, of Jewish cultural renewal in the Diaspora. Attached are copies of their papers.

We were honored that the President of the State of Israel, the Honorable Moshe Katsav, concluded the session with his own remarks. What was remarkable was that the day after our Academic Convocation, Jewish Culture in the Era of Globalization – a subject not widely discussed or deeply explored heretofore – President Katsav's comments dealt, in considerable part, with his view that the impact of globalization would be more deeply felt in the Diaspora than in the State of Israel, where Jews are more comfortable and confident about their Jewishness.

The Academic Convocation and the meeting at the Beit Hanassi demonstrated the power and necessity of ideas for reformulating the programmatic agenda of Jewish cultural life, and the potential role of the Foundation as a catalyst in this area.

 

A Fortieth Anniversary Overview of the Foundation's Achievements

At the first plenary session of the meeting of the Foundation's Board of Trustees, I presented an overview of several of the Foundation's major achievements in its 40 years of existence that reflect the Foundation's creative and innovative character.

 

A. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

The first is the Foundation's unique contribution to Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union, pre- and post-Glasnost. In the 70s and 80s, we operated on two tracks in the former Soviet Union – the Soviet-Bloc countries in Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union itself. In the Soviet-Bloc countries in the late 60s and the 70s, our efforts were aimed at supporting local Jewish communities to maintain their cultural life. In the late 70s, we took a very important step forward, believing that we could expand the Jewish communities' perception of the parameters of what was possible even in Communist countries, and indeed enlarged their vision of what could be accomplished even under their severely circumscribed condition.

In the Soviet Union, where we could not work directly with the communities there, we worked with the Israeli Government in supporting the publication of books, heavily emphasizing literature related to Zionism and the Hebrew language, which were transferred there through an underground network. Here, too, we became more proactive in the late 70s and 80s and began creating a literature to stimulate, not only Zionism, but also Jewish consciousness among Russian Jewry. We supported the publication of more than 600 books about Jewish history and Jewish religion, the Orot library for children, young people and families, and classic Jewish texts.

These hundreds of books that grew out of our activities in the pre-Glasnost era are now core books in most of the libraries now functioning in schools and synagogues in the C.I.S.

Today, of course, Jewish books are widely available there commercially. But we were there at the very beginning, at B'reishis, playing a critical role, not only supporting the visionaries and activists in the movement to revive Jewish cultural life there, but in helping to shape the literary contours of that historic movement.

In addition to books, we played an important pioneering role in developing Jewish leadership. Long before Glasnost when the iron curtain seemed impenetrable, the Foundation was supporting the training of Russian young men and women for future service to the Russian Jewish community. In the late seventies and early eighties, these young people were mostly Russian émigrés who had accomplished Aliya.

We provided scholarships for them to study in Israel. When the iron curtain finally fell, these individuals were ready and were among the first emissaries to serve as rabbis, educators and communal leaders. These include the two current Chief Rabbis of Russia, Beryl Lazar and Adolf Shayevich, and many of the rabbis, educators, communal workers and klei kodesh who are the mainstays of Jewish religious and cultural life in the C.I.S today.

Simultaneously, since 1990, we also helped develop the cultural leadership of the community, the cultural elite (the scholars, writers, intellectuals and artists) who are helping create the cultural infrastructure, the vital pre-requisite for a serious Jewish cultural life in the C.I.S.

Most significantly, throughout our decades-long effort on behalf of Soviet Jewry, we worked with, consulted with and supported all the variegated parts of the indigenous community there, as they defined their needs. We never imposed theological, ideological or organizational doctrines, or any preferences or biases from the outside.

In this way, we have thus made a more than modest, indeed a very meaningful contribution, to the miraculous revival of Russian Jewry.

 

B. The Reconstruction of the Jewish Cultural Elite After the Shoah

Let me add that the training of professional and communal personnel for Russian Jewry was a small part, however unique, of the Foundation's larger mandate for the reconstruction of Jewish cultural life after the Shoah. That mandate can be articulated in one sentence – the replacement of the generation of Jewish cultural and intellectual leadership that perished in the Shoah. The men and women supported by the Foundation's Scholarships and Fellowships are today part of the fabulous mosaic of the new generation of scholars, writers, academics, rabbis, researchers, intellectuals and artists that have filled the vacuum created by the decimation of the Jewish cultural elite in Europe during the Holocaust.

The more than 12,000 individuals who have received Foundation grants during the last forty years have helped to create and sustain Jewish cultural institutions around the world. Many of these individuals are today the intellectual movers and shakers, or should I say shapers, of Jewish culture, the cultural elite of our people in contemporary Jewish life.

No less important are the hundreds of young men and women from the Diaspora who, with Foundation support, studied to prepare for professional careers in Jewish educational and communal work, and returned to Latin America, Western Europe, the former Soviet Union, Africa and Australia to serve there.

These individuals are the “special forces” of the Jewish people, working on the ground in dispersed Jewish communities, serving as Conservative rabbis in South America, Reform communal workers in the C.I.S. and Chabad emissaries and Sephardic educators, from Cuba to Croatia, Uruguay to the Ukraine and Guatemala to Greece.

 

C. The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship

The crown jewel of our effort in the rejuvenation of Jewish culture around the world has been the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, aimed at the development of a deeply committed communal and cultural leadership for world Jewry.

We have to date sponsored thirteen Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Seminars all over the world in which almost 500 young men and women participated. When we initiated this program in 1985, we organized one every two years, mostly in Western and Eastern Europe. In 2003-2004, we will have held three: Nahum Goldmann Fellowship XII in August 2003, an international Seminar in Sweden; Nahum Goldmann XIII, a regional Australasian Seminar in December 2003, including several subsequent mini-Nahum Goldmann weekends for Australian alumni of previous Nahum Goldmann Fellowships; and in November of this year we will be convening Nahum Goldmann Fellowship XIV, an international Latin American Seminar in Uruguay, followed by the first reunion of South American alumni of previous Nahum Goldmann Fellowships.

It is amply evident from this activity that the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship has transformed the Memorial Foundation into an international body, whose focus and service spans the Jewish globe – from Melbourne to Moscow.

The major thrust of the program, as originally conceived, was to energize the Nahum Goldmann Fellows to re-define themselves as Jews, by exposing them to serious Jewish learning. The cardinal axiom of the program was, and still is, that exposure to the finest minds and teachers in Jewish life – serious Jewish learning, not Mickey Mouse Judaism – can motivate the Fellows to consider new options for themselves, personally and professionally, as Jews, and hopefully trigger an internal dynamic within them that will continue to motivate them even after they leave the seminar.

A formal evaluation of the Fellowship several years ago, indeed, reported more than 70% of the Fellows did feel that the most important outcome for them of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was the opportunity to re-shape themselves as Jews – each in a manner and direction which was compatible with their individual needs and aspirations. The Nahum Goldmann Fellows are now serving Jewish communities on six continents.

In sum, through the Foundation's Fellowship and Scholarship Programs, and the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, the Foundation is creating, in Prof. Schorsch's felicitous phrase, the “social capital” of the Jewish people, developing a leadership – intellectual, religious and communal – for all segments and strata of our community in the 21st century, a leadership rooted within the authentic values and experience of the magnificent cultural heritage of our people, and most impressively, a leadership with the motivation to work harmoniously with all the sectors of Jewish life.

 

D. Hebrew in America

At our meeting in Jerusalem, the Foundation's Board approved a major new initiative, Hebrew in America, which the Foundation will be launching in partnership with the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey in the United States. It was a very auspicious way to mark the Foundation's Fortieth Anniversary, as this program is one of the most innovative, challenging and bold initiatives the Foundation has ever undertaken. It is the best demonstration of how far the Foundation has come in the last 40 years.

We were honored by the presence at our meeting of Mr. Howard Charish, the Executive Vice-President of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, where the pilot project will be organized. The reasons for our undertaking the challenge are compelling national and ideological imperatives, in light of the radical decline of Hebrew in the United States.

Jewish peoplehood is achieved by the transmission of our collective memory and culture, rooted in our common language, literature and values. Lacking a common language means we also lack a common vocabulary, not only of words, but of values, norms and ideals. This weakens and wounds us as a people.

Our focus programmatically will be primarily on Hebrew as a portal to Jewish culture, literacy and Jewish text, not on spoken fluency. We will be emphasizing Hebrew as a national value, aimed at achieving K'lal Yisrael objectives, and nourishing the common vocabulary of our people, not simply acquisition of Hebrew as a language.

The major concept in the implementation of this pilot program will be attempting to change the culture regarding Hebrew in Northern New Jersey – in the first instance, the culture about Hebrew in Jewish schools. The program will not confine itself to the traditional concerns of curriculum, teacher training and related “standard” issues. The first phase of the program will entail working in close contact and cooperation with the principals, to first ascertain their perception of the role of Hebrew in their schools and then, hopefully, assisting them in enlarging their perception of the possibilities for expanding and intensifying the propagation of Hebrew in their schools.

Should we succeed in changing the culture about Hebrew in the schools, we will have taken a major step for helping trigger change on the communal level as well.

 

The Foundation's Vision: Old and New

Dr. Nahum Goldmann, who established the Memorial Foundation, was a cultural seer, who understood the vital role that Jewish culture can, and should play, in the reconstruction of the Jewish people in the aftermath of the Shoah. It is undoubtedly true that the Jewish people have accomplished much toward the restoration of Jewish cultural life and the regeneration of the new Jewish cultural elite in the post-Holocaust era, which Nahum Goldmann envisioned as the role and mandate of the Memorial Foundation.

But his larger vision about culture in the reconstruction of Jewish cultural life is equally true today, more than 50 years later, in the post-Holocaust era. The emphasis for Jews today in the West has shifted from the preservation of our cultural distinctiveness to our integration within the larger societies in which we live. This cultural normalization of the Jewish people poses both major challenges and opportunities to the cultural vitality of the Jewish people.

In this respect, we in the Foundation have tried to stand on Nahum Goldmann's shoulders, to help Jewish culture again become the core around which Jewish life is organized, intensified and rejuvenated.

The Memorial Foundation has, and can continue to play, an important role here in the future – to help formulate the issues, shape the philosophical and programmatic responses and develop and test pilot programs in this critical enterprise, like Hebrew in America.

In fulfilling our revised Foundation mandate, we did not and will not simply replicate or reproduce the Jewish world that was holocausted. We tried and will continue to attempt to shape the Jewish world that emerged from the ashes of Auschwitz within a radically different Diaspora setting in a manner that can joyously celebrate Jewish distinctiveness in the new contemporary setting in which Jews find themselves.

At the Foundation we have, therefore, re-invented ourselves, broadening our focus beyond Eastern Europe – our major concern in the early years – and transformed ourselves into an international body with a global range and focus to deal with the new global Jewish realities. We focused primarily, but not exclusively, on creating the social capital for the Jewish people, a new generation – cultural and communal – of leadership, what we believe is our most pressing priority.

What of the future? On what can we base our endeavors in the next forty years? Firstly, the marvelous track record of creative and innovative programmatics of our first four decades.

And, secondly, on one other very vital ingredient. Unlike many other Jewish communal organizations, regional, national and international, our recent leadership is composed of Anshei Ruach, men and women of the spirit, people like Professors Anita Shapira and Ismar Schorsch, deeply rooted in the Jewish heritage, Jewish thought, Jewish history, Jewish culture. From our multi-faceted heritage, they have, and can help us draw the lessons, inspiration, directions, experience, the risks to, and not to, be taken, to move our Jewish cultural agenda forward, to deal competently and courageously with the incipient Jewish realities that I have described.

With these components in hand, the Memorial Foundation can hopefully continue its role as conceiver for Jewish cultural renewal and catalyst for its revitalization in the decades ahead.

Warm regards and best wishes for a New Year of peace and good health.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President