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RIETS and Revel Student Daniel Goldberg Participates in Prestigious Fellowship at Auschwitz for Study of Professional Ethics

A newly ordained Catholic priest from Kenya, a Mennonite theological student at Princeton University, a Muslim student in a hijab from Harvard Divinity School, and Daniel Goldberg, a semicha [rabbinic ordination] student at Yeshiva University-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, walked into a Polish synagogue.

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FASPE Seminary Fellows walk to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

It may sound like the setup to a great joke, but for Goldberg, it was one of many eye-opening experiences during his two-week Fellowship at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE), a highly selective program for future clergy that explores the history of the Holocaust through the lens of contemporary ethics and firsthand visits to Auschwitz and other sites throughout Germany and Poland.

Goldberg had been looking forward to attending Shabbat services at the historic Krakow synagogue, called the Kupa Synagogue, for a moment of much-needed thought and reflection. During the Holocaust, his own grandparents spent six months in the Krakow Ghetto. As the only Orthodox Jew in his cohort of 12, Goldberg was taken by surprise when many of his peers, curious about the Friday night prayer service, asked to tag along. Moved by their interest, he found himself delivering a crash course on Judaism to students of many faiths in the city where his grandparents had been persecuted for their heritage.

“I explained the order of the prayers and how the silent portion is the apex for us, and might be a good time for them to meditate on their own prayers,” he said. “The davening [praying] was led by two American bar mitzvah boys who had come to have their bar mitzvahs in Krakow, and the meaningfulness of there being a bar mitzvah in Krakow wasn’t lost on any of us. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.”

Goldberg, a Yeshiva College graduate who is also pursuing a master’s degree in Bible at YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, actively seeks out such moments. One of his inspirations for applying to the fellowship was Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought at YU. “He models reaching out to the broader Jewish community and broader world, and encouraged me to seek experiences that would give me range and depth that would be invaluable to me as a pulpit rabbi—to expose myself to an array of opportunities and a variety of people and try to learn from them and make a kiddush Hashem [sanctification of God’s name],” he said.

Goldberg was especially intrigued by the fellowship’s emphasis on the moral obligations of religious leaders. “When you think of the failure of religious establishments in Germany and Poland and all throughout Europe to stand up and help the Jewish people—there were notable exceptions but overwhelmingly it was a failure—in modern terms, it’s a call to be that ethical voice for people suffering,” he said. “It’s a reminder that a rabbi or any religious figure needs to stand up for what’s right even if it seems beyond the bounds of your specific religious or geographic community.”

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Daniel Goldberg (far right) with other members of his cohort.

Led by Kevin Spicer, C.S.C., James J. Kenneally Distinguished Professor of History at Stonehill College; LeRoy Walters, Joseph. P. Kennedy, Sr. Professor of Christian Ethics at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University; and Rabbi Nancy Wiener, Clinical Director of the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the program integrated historical, cultural, philosophical and literary sources, survivor testimony, and workshops in Berlin, Auschwitz and Krakow.

Participants write and publish essays on contemporary ethical issues in the annual FASPE Journal, in addition to presenting on how historical religious figures handled ethical dilemmas. Goldberg’s presentation, on Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, a noted European rabbi, posek [decisor] and rosh yeshiva known as the Seridei Eish, took place at the House of Wannsee Conference, the site where representatives of State and Nazi Party agencies convened in 1942 to discuss and coordinate plans for the Nazis’ “Final Solution.”

“This was the place where the most diabolical plans in history were hatched, a place of tremendous pain for any Jew,” said Goldberg. “To speak there to this group of Christians, Muslims and Jews together about the heroism of the Seridei Eish—how he maintained fidelity to halacha [Jewish law] but was maximally accommodating to help Jews live their lives under Nazi rule—was extremely emotional.”

Ultimately, Goldberg believes the nuanced discussions and insight he gained through the fellowship will better enable him to lead a congregation after he completes his rabbinical studies.

“You have certain experiences in your life that shift slightly or greatly the way you see things and the way you think about things,” said Goldberg. “This is part of who I am now.”