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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News March 2006

March 6, 2006

THE SOUTH AFRICAN NAHUM GOLDMANN FELLOWSHIP

The seventeenth Nahum Goldmann Fellowship took place in Cape Town, South Africa on February 13-20, 2006. It was the largest most diverse, and in the judgment of the faculty and staff, the most impressive group of fellows that we have ever assembled. Forty-eight Fellows from fourteen countries participated, including representatives from Australia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Hungary, India, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. The group was equally divided between South Africans and Fellows from the rest of the Jewish globe.

The South African seminar demonstrated the ongoing efficacy of the model we have developed for the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. The model also continued to evolve at Cape Town, with some truly stunning results. Before discussing the latter development in detail, let me briefly explain why we chose to meet in South Africa and some of the highlights of the program there.

 

 

As you all know, a substantial portion of the South African Jewish community emigrated during and immediately after apartheid, including many of the young people from whose ranks the next generation of leadership was expected to emerge. The generational gap in leadership created in those years now needs to be filled, especially as the situation of South African Jews has stabilized. We believed that the ten South African alumni from previous Nahum Goldmann Fellowships could serve as the nucleus for that next generation of leadership.

In September, 2005, I visited South Africa to consult with these alumni about organizing a South African Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program. During my trip I also met with the leadership of the South African Board of Deputies as well as the local Boards of Deputies in Johannesburg and Cape Town. They all warmly endorsed the idea. With their help and our efforts, we were able to recruit twenty-four South Africans, a cross-section from every nook and cranny of that community.

As in past seminars, the program for the fellowship was developed in close consultation with the South African alumni. The theme, "Judaism, the Other and Otherness," closely reflects their concerns in coming to grips, as Jews, with the new realities in post-apartheid South Africa. The academic program and workshops that emerged from these consultations (see attached program) matched the level of excellence of seminars past. One panel, "Raising Jewish Consciousness," that we added to the South African Fellowship was one of the highlights of the program. It consisted of six fellows reporting on efforts to raise Jewish consciousness in their very disparate communities.

The most dramatic moment at that panel, and perhaps the entire seminar, was the presentation of Caroline Touthang from the Bnei Menashe in India. She described the history of her group and the herculean efforts to maintain their tradition over hundreds of years of exile and dispersion, especially in China, and in the remote northeastern state of Manipur, India, where they currently reside.

Caroline's description of their stubborn and unyielding determination to insure their identity and unique culture moved the faculty and fellows deeply. All the contemporary tribes of the Jewish people can learn much from the inspiring toughness of this young Jewish woman who walked through a riot of rebels near her home in order to board the plane to bring her to South Africa. The fellows agreed to assist her in developing a library of educational materials for the children of the Bnei Menashe in India. As this is being written, the South African fellows are busy assembling materials for that purpose.

Meyer Moses of Thane, India reported on the Bnei Yisrael in India and their success in maintaining their communal identity over centuries, despite being enveloped by the powerful and pervasive Hindu religious culture in India.

Iryna Belskaya and Mikhail Kemerau, leaders of the budding Reform movement in Belarus, reported about programs to rekindle Jewish life in Belarus, the most regressive of the former provinces of the Soviet Union, where they live.

Carmela Vaisman, from Netanya, Israel, talked about a program in which she was involved of restoring to secular Jews in Israel, access, appreciation and comprehension of Jewish traditional texts. She cogently argued that changes in the attitude of secular Jews in Israel must flow from review, analysis and re-interpretation of the texts themselves, that is, change must flow from our internal sources, unlike the earlier effort of the Reform movement in Europe to introduce change in Jewish belief and practice based on sources and forces external to Jewish life.

Finally, Saul Kaplan, an educator responsible for informal education at the Herziliya Schools in Cape Town, presented a comprehensive report on the programs organized by the South African Jewish community to raise and deepen Jewish and Zionist consciousness among the youth and young adults of South Africa.

As in previous seminars, the Sabbath was the central spiritual, cultural and social event of the fellowship. It was organized by the fellows themselves under the able leadership of Saul Kaplan. It began with a pre-Sabbath program of songs, stories and poetry, followed by a very moving and dignified candle lighting ceremony in which all the women fellows joined in lighting the candles together, and a beautiful outdoor Friday night service facing the majestic mountain range adjacent to the site of our meeting reddening in the sunset. At the Sabbath meals, all the strands that were bonding the fellows converged, creating a truly magical moment, deepening our sense of fellowship and animating a spirit of Klal Yisrael in the group that carried over to the very last minutes of the program.

 

From Individual Redefinition to Collective Action

There were two evolutionary developments in our South African program, that I alluded to earlier, that very substantially expanded and deepened the impact of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program in Cape Town. The Fellowship there shifted emphasis from individual growth and redefinition by the fellows to collective action. Let me explain.

Since its inception in 1987, the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship has largely focused on individual fellows, aimed at stimulating them to redefine their Jewishness, and simultaneously motivate them to assume leadership roles in their communities.

At our most recent seminars, especially at Nahum Goldman Fellowship XVI in Sweden, we became cognizant of the growing presence at the fellowship of cohorts of fellows from specific countries, which greatly increased the possibility of these cohorts impacting on their communities upon their return. This was doubly so if we added to these cohorts alumni from those countries who had participated in previous seminars. A particularly potent example of that potentiality was reported earlier to our Board, involving three fellows from Uruguay - Marcello Cynovich, Marcello Ellenberg and Devorah Durlacher - who played an important part in revitalizing Jewish religious and cultural life in Montevideo.

The major outcome of the South African fellowship was the decision of the South African caucus on the next to the last day of the seminar to create an ongoing Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program in their community. The South Africans decided to establish two sub-sections of the Fellowship in the two major communities there - Johannesburg and Cape Town - which would meet several times a year. They also agreed to organize a larger national meeting of all the South Africans, including the alumni, once a year.

That decision, taken unanimously and enthusiastically by the South African fellows, is a giant step forward for the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program. It adds collective action and responsibility as one of the coveted goals of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program to our earlier emphasis on individual growth and redefinition. As these lines are being written, the fellows in both Johannesburg and Cape Town are drawing up their plans for this new track of Foundation activity in their community.

 

New Voices

There was a second phenomenon which evolved from the deliberations of the fellows at the South African Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, surprising in the manner and force with which it emerged, which deserves further cultivation in the future.

We have always emphasized the high level of the academic lectures and learning that take place at the Fellowship. But we have always matched this facet of the program with a parallel track - workshops and discussion groups - especially the latter, where the fellows have the opportunity to talk together about issues of concern to them, personally and communally.

Anticipating the move from individual redefinition to communal responsibility at the South African seminar, we focused much more attention than heretofore in the discussion groups on critical communal, rather than individual, issues like external threats to the community, internal dissension and propagating Jewish education, culture and consciousnesss in their communities. The results surpassed our expectations.

In discussion groups in the past, the fellows mostly focused on sharing information and analysis and evaluation of the institutions and programs in their community. Two Brazilian fellows, Clarice Mester and Heloisa Pait, observed at one of our consultative meetings in Sao Paulo that in the discussion groups they were always dealing with the community as they had inherited it from their antecedent generation. Implicit in this critique was a request to us to provide them with the opportunity to blueprint from scratch a model of a Jewish community which would reflect their own hopes and aspirations. We introduced a series of questions reflecting this perspective in the discussion group dealing with the propagation of Jewish education in their communities.

The reports of all the four sections of this discussion group were almost unanimous, the fellows concluding that the educational programs that they would advocate for their communities should give lower priority to Holocaust education, provide much more instruction in the Hebrew language, de-emphasize formal Zionist education and, most importantly, more directly address the needs and values of their local communities and seek to connect Judaism to their lives in, and the culture of, the societies in which they reside.

It was the first time at the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship that we detected a clear "voice" of the next generation of Jewish leadership, offering goals for Jewish education in their communities, viewed through the prism of their communal and personal aspirations.

One should not necessarily conclude with finality how this consensus should or will become expressed in its actual implementation in the future. There is no denying, however, that their vision of Jewish education in their communities is at variance with important institutional interests and establishment policies in places, high and low.

In future Nahum Goldmann Fellowships, we need to enlarge the programmatic means for the fellows to be able to reflect further on their views concerning Jewish education, at the same time educating them about the complexities that inhere in the Jewish educational enterprise in the Diaspora in the 21st century. We should also provide them with further opportunities for their "voice" to be heard on other cultural issues and concerns in their communities, connected to the Foundation's mandate for the revitalization of Jewish culture around the world, enabling them thereby to more effectively articulate their vision in anticipation of their assumption of leadership in the future.

The Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, in our judgment, is a most appropriate vehicle for this noble enterprise because of the credibility we have achieved among critical sectors of this young leadership around the world. The Fellowship has also served to date as an effective and fair non-political forum where such issues can be raised and discussed with civility and respect, not only by distinguished academic experts from various disciplines from all around the world, but also by the fellows themselves, who represent a geographic and ideological microcosm of the contemporary Jewish world, operating in the spirit of Klal Yisroel. This should become one of the most coveted and challenging directions that the Foundation consider in future Nahum Goldmann Fellowships.

 

New On-Line Course

The Foundation launched a new on-line course, "The Haggadah", beginning Wednesday, March 1, 2006, and lasting until just prior to Passover. It will be led by Professor Avigdor Shinan, Professor of Hebrew Literature at Hebrew University, a distinguished international authority on Midrash.

 

Nachas Department

Mazal Tov and congratulations to David Bryfman (Australia) and Miriam Kriegel (USA) who met at Nahum Goldmann Fellowship X (2001) in Sweden who plan to wed this May; and Ezequiel Nacach (Mexico) and Joanna Wurmann (Chile) who met at the Latin American Fellowship XIV (2004) who were recently engaged.

Best wishes for a joyous Purim.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President