To help expand Israel studies in the United States, Brandeis University is building a $15 million center using a grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
The new Schusterman Center will allow the Jewish-sponsored liberal arts college to create an interdisciplinary Israeli studies program, focusing on the country's history, language, culture and society. In addition to educating graduate-level students at Brandeis, the center will offer training, resources and scholarship opportunities for faculty at other universities.
Established in 1987, the Schusterman Family Foundation works to promote Jewish living and learning. The Brandeis grant represents the largest single commitment the foundation has made.
"We believe that Brandeis has a lot of resources that will help foster a very strong center," said Lisa Eisen, the foundation's national program director.
Eisen noted the college already has the Brandeis Summer Institute for Israel Studies, which has trained faculty from nearly 60 colleges and universities worldwide since its founding in 2003. The foundation has also committed to fully funding that program.
A little less than half of U.S. college campuses offer courses on Israel, according to a 2006 study by the Israel on Campus Coalition. Of those colleges that do offer courses, a quarter focus primarily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Eisen said the study used a sampling of 500 American universities - including the 400 top-ranked schools from U.S. News and World Report - and ranging from state schools to Ivy League institutions.
"We believe that Israel is a very important ally of the United States and yet there are very few opportunities to learn about Israel," Eisen said. "Most Americans know only what they see on CNN."
Israel is a multi-ethnic, multicultural, Democratic society that should not be defined by conflict, Eisen said. She said the new Brandeis center will allow people to learn about Israel's "extremely rich" cultural life, history, arts, politics, agriculture, and more.
"We thank Lynn Schusterman and the Schusterman Family Foundation for accelerating our work in Israel Studies and promoting rigorous scholarship and excellent teaching," Brandeis President Jehuda Reinhartz said in a release Friday. "This Center is the perfect marriage of a University committed to creating and disseminating knowledge and a philanthropist interested in making that knowledge available to the wider public."
The university intends to match the $15 million gift through recruiting donors, with a goal of creating a $30 million endowment for the Center by 2015.