A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
May 13, 2010 Volume 40 / Number 6

This is the new Chabad House on 4th and Chestnut. Photo by Anna Harris.
Photo: From left, Matthew Bently and Dane Cameron

20 Years of Jewish Studies on Campus

The Modern Jewish and Israel Studies (MJIS) minor has seen some major changes since its inception more than 20 years ago. MJIS became a minor around 1989, then a consortial major, which meant that students could take online courses from other universities in the consortium. But with the retirements of founder Sam Edelman and Irv Schiffman, Political Science, there weren’t enough faculty or courses, and the major was suspended two years ago. Jed Wyrick, chair, Religious Studies, has overseen some new developments as coordinator of the minor since 2006.

What direction has MJIS taken since you’ve stepped in as coordinator?
Right now, we think we can do a better job as a minor. Some changes I’ve instigated: moving the program to HFA and, more important, moving beyond just “modern” in Modern Jewish and Israel Studies and incorporating some of the basic curriculum of Judaica programs across the country. There is a new GE Jewish History course and a course in Rabbinic Judaism: Talmud and Midrash. Both of these courses are key in the study of classical Judaism. The Modern Hebrew courses were moved into Foreign Languages and Literatures.

We received a renewal of a $25,000 grant from Koret that Sam Edelman initiated. The purpose of the Koret grant is to teach Hebrew language, Hebrew Bible, and Judaism in America. We also received $30,000 from the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise to fund visiting scholar Raphael Israeli from Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Professor Israeli teaches courses in the Arab-Israeli Conflict and the Politics of Israel that haven’t been taught for several years.

Why is the study of Judaism on campus important?
California is one of the largest centers of Judaism in the world, and the University should reflect that. Jewish and non-Jewish students need to have the opportunity to gain a basic intellectual understanding of Judaism as a religion and culture, to study Hebrew, and to study abroad in Israel. These opportunities acknowledge Judaism as a piece of the multicultural fabric of American life and as having a crucial impact on world affairs. A version of U.S. multiculturalism that did not include the study of Jewish culture would be as bizarre as one that didn’t include the American Indian, African American, Asian American, or Chicano experience.

Any other developments?
Particularly exciting is the new Chabad House—a million-dollar enterprise to turn an abandoned fraternity house on 4th street into a Jewish center with a synagogue, kosher kitchen, and housing for Jewish students, together with an apartment for Rabbi Mendy Zwiebel and his family. At Chabad, students can attend Shabbat dinners, become familiar with Orthodox Jewish services and have one-on-one sessions with Rabbi Mendy.

This broadens our Jewish community in Chico and enriches opportunities for Jewish students. Other opportunities for Jewish students, in addition to taking MJIS courses, include becoming part of the student organization, Chico State Hillel, or attending Congregation Beth Israel or Chico Havurah. And MJIS is an important part of this campus and community experience.

Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications