Key Funders Invest in the UC Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies to Establish a Permanent Presence for Students and Community

January 28th, 2019

In its seventh year, the Institute plans to expand its courses and academic programs with new matching grant and $10 million endowment campaign

BERKELEY, Calif. – To continue offering a robust array of Israel studies courses and programs, the Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies at UC Berkeley today announced a $1 million matching grant received from The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation of Los Angeles, with the goal of meeting a $10 million endowment by 2024.

The Institute also received grants totaling nearly $2 million from the Koret Foundation and the Jim Joseph Foundation in partial support of the Institute’s operations as it raises this endowment.

“We’re issuing a challenge to other funders who care about proven campus models for engaging students around the study of Israel and Jewish identity in the modern world. This is an exciting endeavor and we hope others join us in this cause,” said Martin H. Blank Jr., from The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, whose challenge grant comes on top of its annual operations gifts.

The Gilbert Foundation was a seed funder of the Berkeley Institute when it launched in 2011. Now in its seventh year of classes, academic programs, and other opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and community members, the Institute will raise the funds needed to secure the new Gilbert Foundation matching grant.

The Institute’s $10 million endowment effort is part of a larger campus campaign in concert with The Center for Jewish Studies and the Magnes Collection at UC Berkeley.

“The Institute’s interdisciplinary approach to modern Israel studies addresses the complex challenges of Jewish identity and Israel today, while allowing students the opportunity to explore these issues from different angles,” said Danielle Foreman, Director of Programs for the Koret Foundation, which has generously increased its existing support to the Institute. “In today’s heated climate and often challenging environment for Jewish students and faculty on campus, this is a sorely needed presence at UC Berkeley and sets an example for other universities.”

In this rich educational environment, students, faculty, and community members learn from Israeli scholars and top-tier academics through courses on the Israeli economy, culture, law, history and environment, and dive into the complex world of Jewish law, thought and identity. Every semester, the Institute sponsors five Israeli professors to come to Berkeley to teach classes across campus, while also generating new classes (65 in total), conferences and public events. Last academic year, the Institute hosted the 2018 Annual Conference of the Association for Israel Studies—the preeminent global conference in the field—which brought 320 Israel studies scholars from around the world to Berkeley.

“Students who want to study Israel in serious ways—whether its historical singularities or contemporary flashpoints—have a home here at Berkeley,” said Alexandra Barr, Undergraduate Fellow of the Berkeley Institute. “In a single week, I can attend an event on Israeli society or Jewish identity and study directly with a professor with expertise in Israeli law, all while my peers engage in similar activities in an entirely supportive environment. We are a network of students learning and growing together in an area about which we are deeply passionate.”

Thousands of students and others in the community engage with the Institute annually through its innovative model of student engagement, education, and empowerment. Through its Program on Israel Studies, the Institute integrates Israel studies throughout campus departments, courses, and programs. Its Program on Jewish Law, Thought, and Identity augments Jewish studies’ traditional focus on history and literature with a range of vibrant programs and classes engaging Judaism from other vantage points. The Institute’s Visiting Faculty Program increases undergraduate courses and faculty exposure, and the Institute’s Undergraduate Fellows Program builds a cohort of student leaders in the field.

“We look to similar yet more permanently established programs at Columbia, NYU, Brandeis, UCLA and elsewhere as a lodestar to where we need to take the Institute—and the long-term financial support we need to get there,” said Prof. Ken Bamberger, Faculty Director of the Institute and a professor in the law school. “Seven years ago, UC Berkeley had a reputation for anti-Semitism, and was devoid of any serious program in Israel studies. While anti-Semitism around the country has increased, the Institute’s programs create an important space for Jewish students and faculty to embrace the study of Israel and the deep examination of Jewish law, thought, and identity. And we thank the Institute’s generous donors for their partnership.”

As the Institute has progressed from a startup to a multi-faceted, influential program on and off campus, it has leveraged the resources of a globally pre-eminent public research university to create and grow a dynamic model for cultivating Jewish leadership among students and faculty. Now with plans to build a $10 million endowment, the Institute is poised to establish a permanent presence on campus and to foster important faculty partnerships. Just as the Institute looks to other universities as setting a bar for it to reach, the Institute’s supporters also say this model can serve as a national exemplar for engagement, education, and inspiration on other campuses.

“The strong desire for rigorous academic engagement with Israel at Berkeley is undisputed now,” said Dawne Bear Novicoff, Chief Operating Officer of the Jim Joseph Foundation. “Each year, The Institute offers even more to students, contributing to an Israel studies landscape that is completely transformed compared to what it was seven years ago. With its proven model, the Institute can work to ensure its future viability and long-term impact.”