Historical Ha’Am is a new weekly column that is focused on bringing archived articles into the electronic age. Each week, Ha’Am staff will choose one article that was printed in our newspaper before the Ha’Am website existed.
While this column is a way for current readers to reflect on how Jewish life on campus has changed and to enjoy a previous generation of Jewish journalism, its primary purpose is to preserve archived articles so that they are not forgotten.
With that said, please take a moment to step back in time to October of 1994, when Nader Pouration wrote about the creation of the Center for Jewish Studies which still exists today:
“UCLA created a new Center for Jewish Studies last Spring, more than 40 years after it offered its first class in Jewish Studies.
Before the center was established, the Jewish Studies program, under the auspices of the Committee for Jewish Studies, had much success. During its 40-year history, the Jewish Studies program turned out 115 Ph.D.’s, enrolled tens of thousands of undergraduates in Jewish Studies courses, and amassed a faculty of eight full-time professors and nine part-time professors, according to Professor Arnold Band, director of the new center.
‘We have lots of activity and now we’re building a center to give it greater shape. We want to make our resources known and available to the greater public, to more students and to more people in the community,’ Band said.
David Myers, assistant history professor specializing in modern Jewish intellectual and cultural history, agrees. ‘UCLA is one of the premier institutions of higher learning in this area. Jewish Studies has a long and distinguished record at the university. I think it’s now time that Jewish Studies assume the prominent place that UCLA has in the broader community,’ he said.
Although the change in status from a committee to a center seems to be only a change in name, it is more significant to those involved with the Jewish Studies program. The change reflects a greater degree of respect for and faith in the future of Jewish studies and the Jewish culture on campus, according to Myers.
‘It’s not just a transition, it’s a major quantum jump. As a rule, universities only understand certain types of administrative units. Once you’re a center, the attitude of the university changes immediately. There is more respect and a certain sense of recognition and identity,’ Band said.
Organizers believe that the establishment of the new center occurs at a critical time in the history of UCLA. As the university moves toward a more multi-cultural identity, the center will ensure that Jewish culture retains its identity in the community.
‘This is a major step forward in the maintenance of a certain Jewish presence and identity on campus. There are other communities on campus which are very definite, very assertive, and very aggressive and they all have centers. We, up until now, have not had a center. If you don’t assert your cultural values and your cultural past when you’re dealing in a very multi-cultural setting, no one’s going to assert it for you and you’re going to get lost,’ Band said.
Faculty members are not alone in their sentiment about the change in status of Jewish Studies. The change has been a very positive and important move for the alumni and students of UCLA, according to Jeff Seymour, president of the Jewish Student Alumni Association.
‘In a period of budget reductions, I think it was a major achievement for UCLA to get the program online. Outside of the official family of UCLA, [The Center for Jewish Studies] provides identification. It provides a real potential for people who are not affiliated with the university to know that the university feels Jewish Studies is important,’ Seymour said.
Another purpose of the center will be to heighten the visibility of Jewish Studies and the wealth of Judaic resources available at UCLA.
‘Now that there will be a Jewish Studies Center, there is an address which gives coherence, a certain sense of locale and a certain sense of visibility to Jewish Studies on this campus. Before the center was established, people never knew that there [were] tremendous resources in both teaching power and books,’ Band said.
In an attempt to make the general public more aware of Jewish issues, the center will be conducting exhibitions, sponsoring conferences and symposia by UCLA professors and visiting lecturers from world-wide institutions. They also will attempt to offer continuing education programs.
‘[The Center for Jewish Studies] will give both Jews and non-Jews an opportunity to study and meet faculty and visiting professors, which they may not have been able to do in the past,’ Seymour said.
Organizers also intend to make people aware of the Judaic collection of the University Research Library. The collection is second only to Harvard University among American university libraries.
‘We are now elevating the visibility and exposure of Jewish Studies on campus to reach more students, to participate more vigorously in the intellectual world of the university, and to participate more actively in the broader community, especially the Jewish community of Los Angeles, which is the second largest Jewish city in the world,’ Myers said.
The Jewish Studies center will function as an interdisciplinary center, allowing faculty to stay within their respective departments. Band feels the various areas of Jewish Studies are already housed in the proper departments and that he would prefer not to segregate the field from the rest of the university.
‘What I’d like to see is a place where people in various disciplines with a strong interest in Jewish Studies can come and exchange ideas with other scholars in other disciplines. By having people of various disciplines, they’re able to draw upon their own departments to bring Jewish studies a broad perspective that is imperative in making sure the field of Jewish Studies remains vital,’ Myers said.
The impetus for the establishment of the Center for Jewish Studies came from a conversation between Band, Myers, and Provost Brian Copenhaver. After considering the accomplishments of the Jewish Studies program at UCLA, Copenhaver questioned why a center had not yet been established.
‘It was really his question that prompted us to raise our voices yet again for a center,’ Myers said.
Although the center will be receiving some funding from the university, it will rely a great deal on private donations in order to advertise events and to maintain the high quality resources which are available at this time.
‘The success of the center and its activities will largely depend upon our success in raising money from outside of the university, from private contributions, largely within the Jewish community,’ Myers said.
Organizers of the center are looking forward to the future. They hope that the center will grow with time and that it will work with its new identity to build on past achievements. In the meantime, they stand proud of what they have already accomplished. ‘We have done wonderful things here,’ Band said. ‘We have earned the right to have a center.’”
-Nader Pouration, October 1994