A $1.5 million gift from alumnus Jack Kay will establish the Abraham S. and Jack Kay Chair in Israel Studies at the University of Maryland - the next critical piece in the development of an unusual integrative approach to teaching Middle East studies. The gift will be used to hire a historian of 19th and 20th century Israeli history to serve jointly in the new Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies, the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies and the department of history.
"There's a major trend on U.S. campuses to expand Israel studies and to create endowed chairs in the field, and we're in the forefront - but we're going about it differently here," says Hayim Lapin, director of Maryland's Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies. "We see ourselves as building Israel and Middle East studies together from the ground up. This is a new model. We want to encourage academic study of the Middle East in the broadest sense - so that national politics doesn't overshadow rigorous studies from all the other vital fields and so that the histories of Israel and the Jews are integral parts of Middle East studies."
The search for an internationally distinguished scholar to serve as the Kay Chair in Israel Studies will begin in September, 2007.
"This new chair will fill a vital missing piece in Israel studies at the university," says Eric Zakim, executive director of the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies. "This will complement our strength in Hebrew language and literature. We're not trying to fill a narrowly defined niche. We're open to scholars who push the boundaries of history and also look at questions from a sociological or political science perspective."
The focus on Israeli history, according to Lapin, represents Maryland's response to the trend at American universities to focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict rather than the cultural, historical and social dynamics of Israeli life.
"The conflict may be the elephant in the room, but it's not the whole room," Lapin says. "Many students are probably most interested in the conflict, but we need to give them more. The field of Israel Studies is reaching maturity. We've now got more than a half century of history and society to talk about."
MIDDLE EAST STUDIES AT MARYLAND
The University of Maryland has seen a growth boom in Middle East Studies over the past several years, creating:
-- A Center for Persian Studies (http://www.languages.umd.edu/persian/);
-- expanded Arabic language program;
-- National Flagship Programs in Arabic and Persian, a kind of demonstration project to jumpstart Arabic language programs at other universities. (http://www.languages.umd.edu/AsianEastEuropean/arabic/programs.htm);
-- new positions in the departments of history and government and politics for faculty who focus on the Middle East.
These new resources add to the university's longstanding programs, such as the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development and other programs at the university's Center for International Development and Conflict Management.
"It's unique that it's all being built at the same time," adds Zakim. "We have the luxury and opportunity to work together to form a uniquely unified Middle Eastern program."
ABRAHAM S. AND JACK KAY
Abraham S. Kay was born in Lithuania in 1899 and came to Washington D.C. as a child. He left school at age 12, but proved a successful businessman. His Kay Construction Company thrived on work in the Washington, D.C. and Maryland area. His soon Jack followed in his father's footsteps.
Jack Kay graduated from Maryland in 1947, and has become a business and community leader, as well as a dedicated philanthropist in his own right. He is a resident of Chevy Chase, Maryland and Palm Beach, Florida.
The gift from Jack Kay and the Kay Family Foundation is a response to the creation of the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland. It recognizes the university's commitment to become one of the leading centers of study of modern Israel, and in honor of Abraham S. Kay's personal commitment to Jewish education.