UCI Opens Center in Support of Jewish Studies

By Iris Wang

UCI Humanities launched their new Center for Jewish Studies on Wednesday, Oct. 18. Aimed at increasing the campus presence of the Jewish studies program, the center plans to strengthen an undergraduate minor in Jewish studies and leverage faculty expertise in Jewish studies and culture.

Humanities Dean Georges Van Den Abbeele opened the event by contemplating about the possible future of the Jewish Center as serving “as a hub for interdisciplinary and comparative study for Jewish and Israeli culture in societies at UCI and in Orange County” and engaging “the wider community through public programs and lectures.”

Dean Van Den Abbeele also said the goal of the center is “to support cutting-edge research and to inspire undergraduate scholars in Jewish and Israel studies, and to promote tolerance and cultural pluralism.”

Matthias Lehmann, Teller Family Chair in Jewish History, has been working to engage faculty and students for the past five years, encouraging them to explore Jewish culture at UCI,  particularly for undergraduate students.  

“The UCI Center for Jewish Studies offers a wide array of courses for students at UCI, including lower-division courses fulfilling GE requirements,” he said. “It’s not only Jewish students who might find this interesting — also Christian students, for example, will find that they learn more about their own religion by knowing more about Judaism, and students of all backgrounds have taken great interest in our classes on the Holocaust and what it might teach us about tolerance and coexistence today.”   

Lehmann encouraged students to check out classes in Jewish studies, consider a minor in Jewish studies, and share their own research on topics related to Jewish studies through the center’s upcoming essay prize competition.

“The UCI Center for Jewish Studies will provide a range of opportunities for students: we will launch an undergraduate student essay prize this year and any student (not only those in the Jewish Studies minor) can submit essays that they’ve written in one of their classes that address any topic related to Jewish studies, the Holocaust, or Israel.”

Lehmann’s lecture was followed by music and a dance performance by Yuval Ron, a Los Angeles-based music group.  Traditional Jewish food was also served.

Simcha Gross, assistant professor of history, hopes that the center will continue to offer ample opportunities for UCI students, faculty, staff and the local community to engage with Jewish history and better understand collective history. Gross joined UCI this fall and is a Yale graduate who has taught at Stanford and lived in Jerusalem.

“Jewish history and culture is a fascinating story,” said Gross. “It evolves with time, changes along with ever-changing circumstances, responds to both power and persecution, and negotiates issues of identity and alterity.”

Corrections: An earlier version of this article contained a misspelling of Professor Matthias Lehmann’s surname, and incorrectly stated his tenure at UCI. He has been on the campus for five years, not 25. In addition, while the Teller Family Foundation funded Professor Lehmann’s Chair position, the foundation did not fund the UCI Center for Jewish Studies as a whole.