Thanks to a pair of generous donations, as well as the hard work of current Judaic studies professors, PSU is getting ready to offer Judaic studies as a major.
Previously, the program was only available to students as a minor. However, last summer the Harold Schnitzer family, from which the Judaic program received its name, offered the program a $150,000 challenge grant.
Lorry I. Lokey, a name familiar to Judaic studies, matched the grant, and with the help of additional donors PSU is now announcing the formation of the Rabbi Stampfer Professor of Israel Studies.
The grant allows PSU to find a fourth tenured professor for the program, and gives it the ability to offer Judaic studies as a major for students. The grant is named after Rabbi Stampfer, who taught at PSU in the 1960s.
The Schnitzer family has been working across the state to offer endowments like these to universities. They previously gave a gift to the University of Oregon to form a Judaic studies program.
Judaic studies may be unfamiliar to some, but the current professors will note that the program is not specific to Jewish students and does not necessarily focus on religion.
"There is a lot more to Jewish culture than just religion, which is what Judaic studies teaches," Assistant Professor of Judaic studies Natan Meir said.
Meir, who is a tenured professor under the Lorry I. Lokey grant, sees the cooperation within departments as a great asset to the students in the program.
"History majors can take Judaic studies courses and work towards their major," he said.
While Meir is the second tenure professor to join the Judaic studies program, it is the program's academic director who has seen the evolution of the program firsthand. Michael Weingrad was the university's first full-time professor of Judaic studies. Since he has been hired, the program has added two others: Meir and Associate Director of Development Jenn Knudsen.
"We have incredibly dynamic faculty offering a top flight program," Weingrad said. "I'm grinning ear to ear. I can't tell you how proud I am."
The program offers courses through different departments, and their multi-departmental approach is something that the faculty believes is a strong betterment to both the students and the university.
For students who have not taken courses in Judaic studies, Weingrand argues that the program is not just for Jewish students.
"It studies the very rich and very fascinating 3,000-year history of a fascinating people," he said.
The search for the new professor will begin within the next year, and they expect to have student involvement in the decision process, much like they did with the other tenured positions. The focus will be to find the best possible candidate, and not necessarily one who has an expertise in one area of discipline.