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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News August 2002

August 2002

THE AUSTRALIAN NAHUM GOLDMANN FELLOWSHIP

The eleventh Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was organized by the Foundation in Victoria, Australia, at the outskirts of the Macedon Ranges, one hour outside of Melbourne, on August 6-14. The landscape there, Australian bushland with the flora and wildlife native to Australia, including kangaroos, provided a stunning background for the first Australian Nahum Goldmann Fellowship.

Thirty-seven fellows participated from fifteen countries including Australia, Brazil, Croatia, Hungary, India, Israel, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, Spain, The Netherlands, Turkey, United Kingdom, U.S.A. and Uruguay. The Australian contingent consisted of eighteen fellows from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Canberra.

The Australian Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was certainly one of the most, if not the most successful seminar, in the series of Fellowships we have organized since 1987. The fellows, in the judgment of senior faculty and staff, were the brightest group we have ever assembled for a fellowship. The faculty also excelled, not only in the quality of their lectures and workshops, which surpassed previous seminars. They were also more fully integrated into this Fellowship than heretofore, actively participating in all aspects of the program, including the lectures of the other faculty. Most significant of all, they mingled with, and "mentored" the fellows more than ever before. All this greatly enhanced the quality and the depth of the "Fellowship" concept we seek to foster at the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship.

 

Breaking New Ground

The first Australian Nahum Goldmann Fellowship differed in some very significant respects from past Nahum Goldmann Fellowships and also broke new ground. Let me explain.

The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship for the most of its history since 1987 can be classified as a "broken soul" model. The fellows from Europe — East and West — who attended the earliest seminars were searching, seeking to shape and give expression to their Jewish identity. For those from Latin America, the passion to maintain the viability of their communities and their own personal Jewish identities dominated our seminars there. The tenor of those seminars was therefore explosive, with intense debate among and between faculty and fellows raging all day and late into the night. The bonding among the fellows, once achieved, was equally intense.

The ambiance at the first Australian Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was much more tranquil, like Australia's natural and cultural landscape. In part, it reflected the laid-back nature of Australian life, reflected in the large contingent of Australians present. It was more fundamentally due, in my view, to the composition of this cohort of fellows, especially the Australians. They were more deeply involved in their communities than previous Fellows, more learned Jewishly and more Zionist. Knowledge of Hebrew was more common and more spoken than previous Fellowships. (The Fellowship concluded the last night with the spontaneous singing of the Hatikva by fellows and faculty.)

While more confident about their Jewishness, they were deeply aware of the gaps in their Jewish knowledge and extremely hungry for serious Jewish learning, not "Mickey Mouse" Judaism. This was especially true for the Australians because of their isolation geographically and culturally from the critical mass of world Jewry. As I have indicated, this serious learning was amply provided by our excellent faculty, including Professors Arnold Eisen, Uriel Simon, Shalom Rosenberg, Steve Katz, Benny Ish Shalom, Adriane Leveen, Mrs. Rena Rosenberg and Dr. Steven Bayme.

 

Advancing the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Model

The Australian Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was in one important respect a test for the model we have developed and refined over the years, with the continuing input of the fellows. Our greatest success in the past was energizing Jewishly the individual fellows who came from disparate and diverse communities from all around the world. The most comprehensive formal evaluation of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship that the Foundation undertook demonstrated our incredible effectiveness in stimulating the fellows to re-define their Jewish identity and to motivate them to become more Jewishly active in their personal, professional and communal lives.

Could we also energize a cohort of Fellows from one continent and community — like the eighteen Australian Fellows — to become agents of change in deepening and transforming the Jewish quality of their communal life? This remains to be seen. What did occur at Nahum Goldmann Fellowship XI in Australia may be a harbinger for the future. The Australians organized a caucus, under the chairmanship of Melanie Schwartz, an aspiring human rights attorney, that met for extended sessions, officially and unofficially, once concluding long after midnight. All eighteen Australian fellows, and Lynda Dave, the Australian coordinator of Nahum Goldmann Fellowship XI, actively participated in these discussions. They dealt with the problems and challenges they perceived the Australian Jewish community was now facing, and how they could relate to them as a group.

What was most remarkable was that the fellows from Melbourne and Sydney, intensely competitive communities, and participants from Chabad, the orthodox and reform communities, sharply divergent in Australia, could find a common, and hopefully continuing vocabulary for joint discussion and activity in Australian Jewish life.

The Australian Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was also more fellow-driven than in the past. This was reflected in several sessions, newly introduced into the seminar, that were especially productive. The first, "Raising Jewish Consciousness — Personal Reflections" chaired by Marlo Newton, an Australian fellow, consisting of a panel of two faculty and two fellows, was, in my judgment, one of the most moving moments of the seminar. The session was highlighted by the presentation by Tanja Divjak of Zagreb. With a Serbian mother and Croatian father, raised with no connection to the Jewish community, she became alienated from both Serbian and Croatian culture during the recent war there. She hesitantly turned to the Jewish community in Zagreb and derived some temporary satisfaction from that connection. Regressing from that tie, she was given a Book of Psalms by Dunja Sprajc (more about her later), before a long trip she was taking away from home, with the recommendation that she read one psalm each day. When she returned home, she came to recognize the deep impact of these readings on her consciousness and she started to actively pursue her social and religious ties to the Jewish community, which in turn, lead to some leadership responsibilities and attendance at Nahum Goldmann Fellowship XI.

The second, "The Challenges and Responsibilities of Jewish Leadership in the 21st Century", also chaired by a fellow, David Bernstein, the Executive Director of the Washington office of the American Jewish Committee, consisting of a panel including Dr. Hilton Immerman, Dr. Steven Bayme, Mrs. Nina Bassat and Marcus Solomon, an Australian fellow, covered a comprehensive and wide range of leadership issues facing the Jewish community and the fellows as future leaders. What was noteworthy of this discussion was the depth and range of concerns dealt with by the fellows, and the positive and productive tone of the dialogue between the fellows and the faculty and invited guests.

 

Mother-Daughter Pair of Fellows

One fellow, Laila Sprajc, from Zagreb, should be noted, as she is the daughter of Dunja Sprajc, a Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumnus who attended NGF II and VII. Dunja Sprajc, who served for many years as secretary-general of the Jewish Community of Zagreb and the Coordinating Committee of the Jewish Communities of Croatia, is a heroic figure in Jewish Zagreb, organizing and promoting Jewish education and consciousness there in the dark years of Communist rule in Yugoslavia, and most recently during the difficult year when war was ravaging Croatia. (In the late eighties and nineties we also had a father-son pair, Rabbis Yitzhak and Naftali Haleva of Istanbul. It is with considerable pride that we report that Rabbi Yitzhak Haleva will soon assume the post of Chief Rabbi of Turkey.) It was good to see her daughter, Laila continuing her tradition of involvement in the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship.

 

A Mini-K'lal Yisroel

The greatest accomplishment of the Australian Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was the mini-K'lal Yisroel that emerged "Down Under" in the tranquil and stunningly beautiful Australian bush country. This was responsible for making the Australian experience so meaningful to the fellows at Nahum Goldman Fellowship XI.

At the Academic Convocation — Culture, Community and Continunity — that the Foundation organized in Jerusalem preceding the meeting of our Board of Trustees in July, we heard from a most distinguished group of Jewish academics and scholars that one of the seminal problems the Jewish community is facing in the 21st century is the decline in the value of the concept of K'lal Yisroel among the Jewish people today. We learned about the critical absence in Jewish life today of a common vocabulary and language, that a bare majority of Jews in the largest Diaspora community in the world are committed to this concept, and that the cultural themes that once united us as a people now divide us.

At the Australian Nahum Goldmann Fellowship we demonstrated that the concept of K'lal Yisroel still has validity, can be made operative, and can have profound meaning and significance for Jews. At Nahum Goldmann Fellowship XI, thirty-seven fellows from the most diverse educational, religious and communal backgrounds, including Jeni S. Friedman, a third year woman rabbinical student at Jewish Theological Seminary, Marcus Solomon, a Chabadnik lawyer from Perth, Marlo Newton, a Reform lay leader from Melbourne, and Izak Peres, a Sephardic rabbi from Istanbul, as well as non-zionists, secularists and a smorgasbord of religiously observant, with very sharply divergent and deeply-held beliefs, were able to intensely discuss and debate those views, respectfully. They were simultaneously able to acknowledge and recognize the deep bonds that emerged between them during the Fellowship — in the dining room, lecture hall, playing field and even the synagogue at the beautiful Friday night service in which all participated — that had no less transcendental meaning and value than the issues about which they differed. This was not a pluralism plagued by accelerating contentiousness, or one where differences are papered over for the sake of an artificial harmony.

The Australian Nahum Goldmann Fellowship was an authentic expression and microcosm of the concept of K'lal Yisroel. It can also serve as a model and a very modest but hopeful omen for the Jewish people in the 21st century.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President