Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News July 2006

July 6, 2006

BIENNIAL MEETING OF BOARD OF TRUSTEES IN JERUSALEM

The meeting of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees in Jerusalem on July 4th, 2006 was one of the most productive ones in recent years. The creative programs we have organized during the last two years, including the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship and Hebrew in America, were discussed in depth. In future Board Briefings, I will report in greater detail about these innovative enterprises and their impact on Jewish life in the Diaspora.

 

REFORMULATION OF THE FOUNDATION’S MANDATE

I should like to deal in this report with the historic action approved by our Board of Trustees – the reformulation of the Memorial Foundation’s mandate. The Committee on Policy, appointed last year by our President, Professor Anita Shapira, was given the responsibility to review and re-think the Foundation’s philosophy, purposes, priorities and programs, with an eye toward refashioning and redesigning important segments of our work to make the Foundation a more effective body in the creation, intensification, and dissemination of Jewish culture around the world in the years ahead.

A critical part of that committee’s deliberations was a historical review of the mandate of the Memorial Foundation, including tracing the evolution of the philosophy and purposes articulated at the initiation of the Foundation, and the accretion of changes that have been introduced into the programs at the Foundation since that time.

At the Foundation’s inception in 1965, the stated mandate of the Foundation was the reconstruction of Jewish cultural life after the Shoah.

The truth is that in the more than fifty years after the Holocaust, the Jewish people have accomplished much, very much, both toward the restoration of Jewish cultural life and the regeneration of a new cultural elite in the post-Holocaust era, which the founders of the Foundation envisioned as the original goal of the Memorial Foundation.

However, the larger vision of the Memorial Foundation about the role of culture in the reconstruction of Jewish communal life is no less true today than it was in the post-Holocaust era, but from an entirely different perspective.

One of the major problems that the Jewish community is now facing in Diaspora is related to what can be described as the cultural normalization of the Jewish people. What has been happening in the West over the last several decades is that Jews are becoming more and more integrated into their host communities in the Diaspora. Jewish communities and their leadership have enthusiastically espoused and supported this integration, which has significantly reshaped the condition of Jews in the Diaspora. The heavy emphasis on integration into the larger society has been accompanied by an increasingly declining emphasis on the preservation and intensification of our cultural distinctiveness.

In the evolution of the Foundation’s programs over the last several decades, we have tried to shape the Jewish world that was emerging from the ashes of Auschwitz in a radically different Diaspora setting in a manner that could intensify and celebrate Jewish distinctiveness in the new contemporary setting in which Jews found themselves.

The Foundation’s Committee on Policy has taken this new sociological reality and the Foundation’s evolving response to it over the last several decades into account in its re-formulation of the Foundation’s posture and policies. The committee’s major recommendation, now approved by the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, is that the Foundation mandate be reformulated to reflect the new emphasis of the Foundation – the development of the “social capital” of the Jewish people, i.e. raising up a new generation of leadership that can deal with the current challenges we are facing in the Diaspora.

It is hoped that this new generation of Jewish leaders, who will be identified and trained with Foundation support for cultural, communal and professional roles in Jewish life, hopefully steeped in Jewish learning and culture and passionately devoted to the concept of Klal Yisroel, will also be inspired to stimulate their communities to achieve and celebrate Jewish distinctiveness in a maximalist mode in all aspects of Jewish communal life.

In Jewish life today, we are confronting a multiplicity of complex problems. Our most central one and the major challenge in Israel and the Diaspora is the great dearth, indeed poverty, of dedicated Jewish leadership, leadership capable of revitalizing and reshaping Jewish cultural and communal life both to reflect and project to the Jewish world and the general society the mores and values of our great Jewish civilization. In brief, l’Hagdil Torah u’leha’adirah. This type of leadership requires more than individuals endowed only with philanthropic resources.

If we had such a leadership, they could, in the judgment of the Foundation, deal competently and confidently, and hopefully, achieve some degree of resolution regarding most of the issues and challenges with which the Jewish community is wrestling today.

It is not often in Jewish life that institutions reformulate their mandate. Kudos to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees for this important action which will now bring the Foundation’s initiatives in recent years into harmony with its stated goals, allowing it to move with greater conviction and more resources to maximize the impact of our innovative work in these areas.

 

THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE EPHRAIM URBACH POST-DOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP

The second highlight of our meeting took place at the final session on Tuesday evening at which we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Ephraim Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship.

The hall at the Regency Hotel where our meeting took place was filled with close to one hundred of the Yakirei Yerushalyim – the cultural and intellectual leadership of Jerusalem, who listened attentively to the reports of four Urbach recipients based on the research for which they were awarded grants - Prof. Elisheva Baumgarten of Bar Ilan on Gender and Jewish History; Prof. Avinoam Rosenak of Hebrew University on Halacha and Jewish Thought; Prof. Ron Margolin of Tel Aviv University on Jewish Religious Secularism in Israel; and Prof. Manuela Consonni of Hebrew University on After Auschwitz: The Snares of Memory.

The panel, chaired by Prof. Anita Shapira, provided those assembled with an awesome intellectual feast. These outstanding young scholars dramatically confirmed our success in achieving the new mandate approved earlier that day by our Board, in this instance, the development of anshe ruach, masters of the Jewish spirit, who will be the major purveyors of ideas in Jewish life in the coming decades. I will be writing a special report in the future on the Ephraim Urbach fellowships, which will include their marvelous papers.

 

ANOTHER TRACK OF LEADERSHIP

Earlier in the day our Board approved the roster of new recipients of our Scholarship and Fellowship programs. One section of those grants was devoted to the Community Service Scholarship Program, which supports young men and women who are training to serve professionally in Diaspora communities in need around the world. Here, too, we demonstrated our success in developing a track of leadership consistent with our revised mandate, not creators or purveyors of ideas like the Urbach fellows, but initiators of communal activities that will enhance Jewish community development around the world.

Among those approved were two couples who plan to return to Poland and Belarus and help lead the remarkable Jewish revival that is taking place in Jewish cultural and educational life in those communities.

The first is Maciej Pawlak and Karolina Buchwald. Maciej, who taught himself Hebrew at the age of fifteen, is being groomed as the first Polish born rabbi since the Holocaust to serve in Warsaw. He will be obtaining his Smicha from Yeshiva University and returning to Warsaw to head the Lauder School there, and coordinate the camp programs for Polish Jewry. His wife, Karolina, who will be aiding him in the intensification of Jewish educational and cultural life in Warsaw, will be completing her studies as a psychologist. I had the pleasure of meting both of them when they arrived to study in the United States with our help several years ago and again several weeks ago. Both are passionate, committed and although young, very competent professionals.

Irina Belskaya and Mikhail Kemerov, a married couple from Minsk, Belarus, are now, and will continue to be, key actors in revitalizing Jewish education there, the most backwater and regressive republic of the former Soviet Union.

Earlier this year they were fellows at the South African Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. Their meeting with counterparts from Jewish communities all around the world inspired them to further enhance their Jewish knowledge and professional skills in order to succeed in the Herculean endeavor in which they are involved – the development of the Reform movement in Minsk. They plan to return to Leo Baeck College in London, where they both studied earlier with Foundation support, to continue their studies to enable them to more effectively serve as Jewish family educators, which they define as the most critical need in Jewish education in Belarus, and also to strengthen and enlarge the network of early childhood programs they have initiated in Minsk and fifteen other communities there.

As native Poles and Belorussians, both these couples possess a remarkable and marvelous sensitivity to the aspirations and needs of young Jewish Poles and Belorussians who are seeking to reconnect to Jewish life that imported schlichim can hardly match. They are the ideal examples of the type of communal leadership we aspire to develop in the Diaspora.

Deborah Durlacher, another Community Service scholarship recipient, represents an entirely different Jewish civilization. She is part of the younger generation of the Montevideo cultural “mafia”, about whom I have reported in the past, who have launched a revolution in Uruguay for the cultural invigoration of Jewish life in South America. Deborah, a former Nachum Goldmann fellow, is the professional head of the first Hillel in South America.

The South American model that Deborah is developing, in the judgment of knowledgeable professionals, is superior to what currently exist in the United States. In the United States Hillel serves the campus community; in Montevideo, it aims to serve all the young Jewish adults in the community. Even more significant is that the Montevideo Hillel is far more maximalist in its orientation than its counterparts in the United States.

Debby’s experience at the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship several years ago also inspired her about the need for more Jewish learning as requisite for her future communal leaders. She plans to study at Pardes in Jerusalem, one of the finest institutions for Jewish learning there, to supplement what she perceives to be her Jewish academic deficiencies, which will thereby enable her to achieve the level of communal leadership to which she aspires.

The above young men and women are excellent examples of the recipients of the Foundation’s International Community Service Scholarships, several thousand in number. Their names and contributions may not be widely known in Jewish life, but they are, and will, continue to make invaluable contributions, to the intensification of Jewish cultural life in whatever communities they serve, many far from the central core of our contemporary Diaspora.

Best wishes for a pleasant summer.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President