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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News January 2003

January 27, 2003

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON NAHUM GOLDMANN

A well-attended international conference on Nahum Goldmann: Statesman Without a State was held at Tel Aviv University in Israel, January 5th-7th. The conference was co-sponsored by the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and the Claims Conference, in conjunction with Tel Aviv and Brandeis Universities. Prof. Anita Shapira, President of the Foundation, served as chairperson and played a major role in organizing the meeting, the first scholarly conference to review and evaluate Nahum Goldmann's multiple contributions to Jewish life.

Sessions included: Nahum Goldmann & German Jewry, Between Judaism and Zionism, Goldmann and Contemporary Jewish Leaders, Zionist Diplomacy, In the Aftermath of the Holocaust, and Writing the Biography of Zionist Leaders. An exhibition about Nahum Goldmann was also opened at Beth Hatefutsoth.

It is noteworthy that Shlomo Shafir, one of the speakers at the conference, opined that great as Nahum Goldmann's political accomplishments may have been, his cultural contributions may prove to be his most enduring legacy, including his establishment of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. Prof. Ron Zweig, of Tel Aviv University, in his excellent paper on the historical reparation agreement with Germany of which Goldmann was the major architect, quotes Goldmann from a debate within the Committee for the Utilization of Post-1964 Funds. "If I had all the hundred thousand intellectuals buried in Auschwitz, I could rebuild the Jewish people. But if you go on and spend everything on relief, then everything will become meaningless," Goldmann asserted.

 

Goldmann's Creation of the Memorial Foundation

This was, indeed, his vision for the Memorial Foundation, which he established in 1965, the only international agency dedicated solely to the propagation of Jewish culture on a non-political, trans-denominational basis, which he hoped would serve as a cultural parliament for the Jewish people. Its mandate was the reconstruction of Jewish cultural life around the world after the Shoah. Dr. Nahum Goldmann was one of the first to recognize that the Nazis not only sought to annihilate the Jewish people physically, but also to eradicate Jewish culture and religion, and eliminate the Jewish G-d from world history and civilization. As you all know, he successfully persuaded Konrad Adenauer to set aside a small portion of the reparations money for use by the Memorial Foundation for that purpose, the cultural reconstruction of the Jewish people, an act of genius whose fruits we continue to reap today.

 

Goldmann's Contribution to the Revival of Jewish Life in Eastern Europe

In my presentation at the opening session, I reported on one facet of Dr. Nahum Goldmann's remarkable contributions, which is hardly known to most people, even his closest colleagues and friends.

One of the most masterful achievements of the Memorial Foundation has been our support for the preparation and publication of almost 4,000 books and monographs in more than 30 languages, covering all fields of Jewish culture, very broadly defined. A small sample of these books was prominently displayed in the exhibition, which opened that evening at Beth Hatefutsoth. A portion of those publications, over 600 volumes in Russian and other East European languages, are connected with the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.

In the 70's and early 80's, during the time Nahum Goldmann served as president of the Memorial Foundation, the Foundation focused on Jews in the Soviet block as one of the significant sectors of the Foundation's mandate, which I have just described.

In the Soviet bloc countries of that time, outside of the Soviet Union itself, the communist governments either tolerated, or sanctioned, an official Jewish culture and community. Under Nahum Goldmann's leadership, we sought to expand the Jewish community's perception of what was possible even in communist countries, to help the local Jewish communities enlarge their vision of what could be accomplished even under their very severely circumscribed circumstances.

So in Hungary, for example, with one of the more liberal communist regimes, we established, together with the local Jewish community there, the first and most comprehensive department of Jewish studies in Eastern Europe at the University of Budapest, published the first books for children and families since the Holocaust, and developed a teacher training program for the Jewish schools in Hungary.

For the Jews in the Soviet Union, long before Glasnost, we inaugurated two programs for Soviet Jewish cultural life. Together with the Israeli government and other Russian groups operating in Israel, we supported the preparation and publication of several hundred books in the Russian language dealing with Jewish culture in the broadest sense of the word - about Zionism, Jewish history, religion, even books for children and families.

The more than 600 books that we published are today the core books in almost all of the libraries that are now functioning in their schools and synagogues. Secondly, even in the 70's and 80's where the iron curtain seemed impenetrable, the Foundation began supporting the training of Russian men and women for future service to the Russian Jewish community. Almost all were Russian ?migr?s who accomplished aliyah.

We trained hundreds of such men and women, and they are today occupying critical roles both for Russian Jewry, and Jewish life all over the CIS.

In sum, under Nahum Goldmann's powerful leadership and vision at the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, we helped through our publications to reconnect Russian Jewry to their roots, enlarging their Jewish consciousness and knowledge. We also helped Russian Jewry to develop the requisite leadership to revive and rebuild their community and cultural infrastructure.

It is one of his, and our, most impressive achievements, not fully recognized or acknowledged, because it was done quietly, as it needed to be.

 

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 but one part, indeed a significant one, of the Foundation's mandate for the reconstruction of Jewish cultural life after the Shoah, to wit, 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 a mosaic of the new generation of scholars, writers, academics, rabbis, researchers, intellectuals and artists that filled the vacuum created by the decimation of the Jewish cultural elite in Europe during the Holocaust.

The Foundation has awarded almost 12,000 scholarships and fellowships since 1965 to such individuals all around the world, mostly but not entirely young men and women, to achieve this noble aim.

One of the most promising new trends discussed at the conference is "niche journalism" aimed at specific sectors of the Jewish community. The successful Chabad magazine "L'Chaim", which reaches Jewish intellectuals in Russia is a very good example of this genre.

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.

Through the Foundation's Scholarship and Fellowship program, the Foundation has played a central role in the dynamic recovery and growth of the Jewish people in the post-World War II period, fostering remarkable cultural creativity and assuring the continuity of Jewish civilization.

One word about the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, perhaps the crown jewel of all of the Foundation's programs, inspired by and therefore named for Nahum Goldmann. At a meeting in his hotel room in Cannes during the last years of his life, this program to develop leadership, cultural, intellectual and communal, for Jewish communities around the world, was conceived. Eleven Nahum Goldmann Fellowships have been held in Western and Eastern Europe, South America and Australia and approximately five hundred young men and women from forty nine countries - from Uruguay to Ukraine, Melbourne to Moscow, Cuba to Croatia - have participated in this intensive, pioneering experience in Jewish learning, living and leadership.

Their diversity is not only geographic, but ideological as well. The fellowship resembles the Jewish rainbow - liberal, secular, Orthodox, and even marginally affiliated Jews from widely divergent backgrounds who are seeking to secure their Jewish future personally, as well as that of their Diaspora communities.

The alumni of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship are now serving in positions of communal and cultural leadership in Jewish communities - large and small - all over the world.

 

Goldmann As A Cultural Visionary

In conclusion, Nahum Goldmann was a cultural seer, who understood the vital role that Jewish culture can, and should play, in the reconstruction of the Jewish people, not only in the aftermath of the Shoah, but even now, more than 50 years later, in the post-Holocaust era. This is especially true in our time when the emphasis for Jews has shifted in the West 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, Nahum Goldmann understood, poses both major challenges and opportunities to the cultural vitality of the Jewish people.

Nahum Goldmann's legacy at the Memorial Foundation, an agency continuing to serve, even today, as an incubator for the creation, intensification and dissemination of Jewish culture for Jewish communities on six continents, is one of his most valuable, creative and enduring accomplishments to the quality of Jewish life.

Were there another Nahum Goldmann in the ranks of our global Jewish leadership today, our current cultural life and future would be vastly enriched, in a magnitude that would have brought a small, approving smile to his face, that those who remember him would cherish.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President