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Marlene Bethlehem re-elected global ambassador of Jewish culture

  • Marlene
South African Jewish communal stalwart Marlene Bethlehem was this week re-elected President of the global Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture (MFJC) for a second two-year tenure.
by OWN CORRESPONDENT | Jun 21, 2018

For 52 years, this foundation has been promoting the global regeneration of Jewish culture by supporting, developing and connecting the next generation of scholars and leaders in Jewish communities around the world. Based in New York, the foundation has supported 14 000 scholars, artists, filmmakers, rabbis, and Jewish communal leaders since it launched in 1965.

Bethlehem, a past Chair and President of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), was nominated and appointed unopposed for the prestigious and influential position.

She said she was honoured to be re-elected to fulfil the “sacred task” of “training Jewish people between the ages of 25 and 40 to provide social capital for the Jewish world” through the foundation’s Nahum Goldmann Fellowship (NGF).

Bethlehem has been associated with the foundation for many years, and was instrumental in fostering close and mutually beneficial relationships with the SAJBD, which she represented. She has a long history of communal leadership, including being Chair and President of the Jewish Women’s Benevolent Society, Chair of Jewish Social Services, and Chair of the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre.

“Over the past two years, there have been enormous changes in the ideology of the organisation,” she said. “We decided to be far more public and, to this end, I spoke in Germany, not only on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, but I also addressed the Lower Saxony Parliament.

“In August, we will be holding the NGF programme in Hanover, Germany. There are now more than 100 000 Jews in Germany. My plan is to carry a message of reconciliation to them, while acknowledging efforts to repair treacherous acts of horrifying history.”

At the opening address of the Foundation in New York last weekend, Bethlehem said: “The dreams of our great founder Dr Nahum Goldmann have been realised. His most cherished goal was to enhance the Jewish cultural background of the community’s most gifted young leaders for future leadership roles in the community.”

And, having assisted more than 14 000, “these scholars from many disciplines serve the communal needs of the Jewish people on six continents”.

She spoke of the NGF, the flagship of the Foundation, as having become “the crown in our efforts at creating a very unique bonding, known as Klal Israel”. They have held 29 international and mini fellowships over 52 years.

Bethlehem quoted Professor Steven Windemeuller of the Hebrew Union College of Religion in Los Angeles after taking part in three NGF programmes as a faculty member. “The Nahum Goldmann Felllowship may represent the single most important global Jewish network that exists today.”

Bethlehem warned that the Foundation shouldn’t rest on past achievements, and “must strengthen efforts for the future, to continue to grow the social capital of our people around the world”.

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