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 university's history department.
"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 in the broadest sense where national politics doesn't overshadow rigorous studies from all the other vital fields."
The search for an internationally distinguished scholar to serve as the Kay Chair in Israel Studies will begin September 2007.
Abraham S. Kay was born in Lithuania in 1899 and came to Washington D.C. as a child. His Kay Construction Company thrived on work in the Washington, D.C. and Maryland area and soon his son, Jack, followed in his footsteps. Born in 1925, Jack and his father were pioneers in developing the Maryland suburbs after World War II, including such communities as Kemp Mill Village.
Jack Kay graduated from Maryland in 1947, and became a business and community leader, as well as a dedicated philanthropist in his own right. He is a resident of Chevy Chase, Md. and Palm Beach, Fla. He has been honored for his philanthropic efforts with a number of prestigious awards from the Jewish community.
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.
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."