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EMU Foundation

Community Support Allows Jewish Studies Program to Thrive

by Jeff Samoray

Eastern Michigan University’s recently launched Jewish Studies program isn’t designed just to educate students about the richness of Jewish culture and religion. It also forges collaborative relationships with surrounding communities.

The interdisciplinary program, which debuted in the fall 2010 semester, offers a 21-credit minor with a host of courses drawing faculty from across the University. Some of the exciting new courses are “Introduction to History of Judaism,” “Jewish American Politics,” and “Jewish Children’s and Adolescent Literature” (the first Jewish children’s literature course taught in the U.S.). In 2011, the study abroad class “Representing the Holocaust” provided a life-changing experience for students who visited Nazi concentration camp sites in Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland.

The program also sponsors a vibrant lecture series for students, staff, faculty and the community. Speakers have included Ira Berkow of the New York Times, author Sam Hoffman and Michigan Senator Carl Levin. In addition, EMU Jewish Studies partners with the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus of Farmington Hills to offer summer seminars for teachers, and with local synagogues to bring college-level classes to their institutions.

“We’re serving our students and the community in many ways,” says Martin Shichtman, professor of English and director of Jewish Studies at EMU. “We not only teach students about the dramatic impact Jews have made on our social, intellectual and cultural life, we also make strong alliances with the community by offering seminars for teachers and bringing many fascinating speakers to campus.”  

Shichtman says the program couldn’t have launched without the community’s generous financial support. This includes several major gifts from an anonymous donor as well as grants from EMU Women in Philanthropy, the Covenant Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor, the Gerber Charitable Lead Trust, the Pfizer Foundation, and the Institute for Language Information & Technology.

“The generosity of our loyal donors gives EMU faculty members the time to research and prepare the Jewish Studies courses,” Shichtman says. “These are faculty members hired to teach within specific departments—they’re creating courses for existing majors that also count toward the Jewish Studies minor. Our donors have been very supportive of the program. We couldn’t function without them.”

Plans for program expansion include additional courses, more study abroad opportunities and more faculty research opportunities, Shichtman says.
“This winter, students enrolled in ‘Becoming Jewish in America’ will visit New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. to see sites like Ellis Island, the National Museum of Jewish American History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum,” he says. “There are very exciting things happening in EMU Jewish Studies. The generosity of our community is making them happen.”

EMU Foundation is located at 112 Welch Hall, 850 W. Cross St., Ypsilanti, MI, USA 48197 Phone: 734.484.1322