Now is the ideal time to establish a Center for Jewish Studies at UC Irvine, said the center's director, history professor Matthias Lehmann.
"This is a time when we are seeing a resurgence in anti-Semitism," he said. "It is important to have a center where we can educate people about the Jewish experience, history and religion."
The center will open at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, with a lecture by Simcha Gross, an assistant professor of history, who will speak about the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a week-long thanksgiving celebration which ended Oct.11. Gross will examine the holiday's connection to ancient and medieval Iran.
Lehmann said the inaugural lecture showcases some of the center's unique strengths, including its access to experts in Sephardic Jewish history (Jews who lived in the Iberian peninsula) as well as Middle Eastern and Iranian Jewish studies.
"We are also looking to develop the study of modern Israel and our political science department is taking the lead on that," he said. "We are hoping that this center will serve as a resource not just for faculty and students, but also for the community at large."
Though UC Irvine has been the beneficiary of the Teller Family Fund that established a chair for the study of Jewish history 25 years ago, a full-fledged center has been a long time coming, Lehmann said.
The center, which will be housed in the School of Humanities and draw on the expertise of faculty across disciplines, is funded by the university. Lehmann said he is hopeful that the local Jewish community will offer support and help the center grow and thrive.
"For anyone who wants to learn about Judaism or Jewish studies, we want to be the place they come to," he said.
The center will allow the university to fully leverage faculty members' expertise in Jewish studies, said Georges Van Den Abbeele, dean of the School of Humanities.
"It allows us to connect more students to the resources we have now and will continue to build, and invite further interschool and interdisciplinary partnership both on campus and internationally," he said.