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Strengthening the Bond Between USC and Hebrew Union College

At Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, near USC: President Steven B. Sample; Lewis Barth, dean of HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles campus; and Morton Owen Schapiro, dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, which includes the School of Religion.

Photo by Irene Fertik

When Alfred E. Gottschalk became dean of the fledgling Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion campus in the Hollywood Hills in 1958, he envisioned an alliance with USC that would strengthen both institutions.

A decade later, Gottschalk’s dream became a reality: He moved the Los Angeles campus to 30th and Hoover streets, next to the USC University Park Campus, beginning an academic exchange between the two schools that has grown and prospered. Now, the two institutions jointly offer one of the country’s strongest Judaic studies programs.

“We have a wonderful academic reciprocity agreement between HUC-JIR and USC that has led to a broadening of both institutions’ teaching missions and involvement in the larger community,” said President Steven B. Sample. “We are close partners in our core mission of providing the best possible education to the students at our respective institutions.”

The academic partnership, which began with a meeting between Gottschalk and then-USC President Norman Topping, is expanding even further this fall. HUC-JIR is adding 12 courses and two faculty members, and USC students will be able to minor in Jewish American studies or in traditional Judaic studies.

HUC-JIR – founded in Cincinnati in 1875 and now with campuses in Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York – is one of the world’s leading institutions of higher Jewish learning. Because of its partnership with USC,

more than 500 USC undergraduates take Judaic studies courses through USC’s School of Religion and HUC-JIR’s Jerome H. Louchheim School of Judaic Studies. In conjunction with HUC-JIR, USC offers a Ph.D. in religion and social ethics, with a concentration in Judaic studies.

Moreover, graduate students in HUC-JIR’s Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service can receive a double master’s with several USC professional schools, including social work, gerontology, public administration and communications. The joint programs groom students for professional leadership in Jewish communal service.

LEWIS BARTH, dean of the HUC-JIR Los Angeles campus, described the relationship with USC as “absolutely extraordinary.”

“From the days of Norman Topping onward, there has been outstanding cooperation, both on the highest levels of administration and between professors here and in the School of Religion as well as other academic departments at the university,” Barth said. “It has been a remarkable relationship – for the students and faculty, as well as for institutional development, the local community and the greater Jewish community.”

The “academic reciprocity,” as Sample describes it, began with HUC-JIR professors teaching Hebrew language and a few Judaic studies courses to USC students.

When USC and HUC-JIR first began its academic alliance, USC had only one faculty member teaching in Judaic studies, recalls Jack Crossley, director of the School of Religion. The HUC-JIR faculty introduced courses such as Jews in the Modern World and graduate seminars in Jewish ethics, which became available to upper-division USC students.

Over the years, more Judaic studies courses were added that fulfilled general education requirements, and students could major in religion with an emphasis in Judaic studies.

FOR THE FIRST TIME this fall, USC students will be able to minor in Jewish American studies as a new concentration in the American Studies and Ethnicity Program, or in traditional Judaic studies through the School of Religion. Also this fall, 12 new undergraduate courses in Judaic studies and Jewish American studies will be added; HUC-JIR has hired two new faculty members to accommodate the expanded number of courses.

Because of the high quality of faculty and curriculum provided by HUC-JIR, the “alliance enables USC to be top-notch in an area that would be difficult for us to do alone,” said Morton Owen Schapiro, dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, which includes the School of Religion.

For undergraduates, the process is seamless. The courses are taught by HUC-JIR faculty on the USC campus, and students have full access to HUC-JIR’s extensive Judaica research library. “With more than 100,000 volumes, the Frances-Henry Library is one of three major Judaica research libraries in Southern California,” Barth said.

The Judaic studies classes – especially popular ones, such as “The Holocaust,” “Jewish History” and “Jerusalem: Jewish, Christian and Muslim ‘Holy City'” – draw a heterogeneous group of students. Most are not Jewish, but all gain a better understanding of Judaism, said Reuven Firestone, HUC-JIR’s professor of medieval Jewish studies and director of the Jerome H. Louchheim School of Judaic Studies and the Edgar F. Magnin School of Graduate Studies.

Firestone recalled one student who was raised Catholic and learned her maternal grandmother was Jewish; she wanted to learn more about her grandmother’s heritage. “There are a lot of myths everybody has about everybody. The classes break down stereotypes and bring people together,” he said.

Many students in the joint Ph.D. program have gone on to prominent careers as rabbis and leaders in the Jewish community. Among them are Rabbi Daniel Gordis, dean of students at the University of Judaism. Another is Rachel Adler, a faculty member with the first joint appointment at USC and at HUC-JIR. She specializes in modern Jewish thought, Judaism and gender.

“I felt I received very creative, interdisciplinary solutions to some of the needs I expressed,” Adler said, adding she also enjoyed “a tremendous amount of individual attention.”

The partnership has been equally important for HUC-JIR graduate students in the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service. Over the past 30 years, nearly 550 students have graduated from the school, said Director Steven Wind-mueller. The majority have obtained dual degrees from HUC-JIR and USC by taking concurrent courses in the schools of social work, gerontology and public administration, and, most recently, the Annenberg School for Communication.

“These students have the opportunity to earn a degree in professions such as social work, and then walk into the Jewish community, fully knowledgeable and prepared to take a leadership role in that community,” Windmueller said. “Both programs have helped each other.”

TODAY, HUC-JIR is helping USC develop the new Institute for the Study of Jews in American Life. The institute will be a think tank and research center focusing on the evolution of the Western Jewish community within American society. Initially, the in-stitute is planning lecture series, conferences and exhibitions.

“Having HUC-JIR right across the street is an extraordinary resource,” said Barry Glassner, sociology professor and director of the institute. “The HUC-JIR faculty have been instrumental as we’ve been organizing the institute, and defining and implementing its mission.”

Strengthening the Bond Between USC and Hebrew Union College

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