This week, Georgetown launched the new Center for Jewish Civilization, a significant expansion to the already existing program, buffered by a $10 million donation dedicated research. The Jewish studies program at Georgetown was founded in 2003 by the late Rabbi Harold S. White, a longtime Jewish chaplain on the Hilltop.
For Georgetown, the CJC represents the best of curricular and department expansion: focused, thoughtful growth that builds on a history of success, available resources and is in line with Georgetown’s educational and spiritual mission. Jewish Civilization at Georgetown has perfected and refined a terrific focus on three principal areas: Holocaust studies, Arab-Israeli relations and Jewish culture. Among its faculty, the Program boasts accomplished diplomats including Dennis Ross and Elliott Abrams, experts in the field of Holocaust Forensics including the Rev. Patrick Desbois and in American-Jewish culture, the Center’s director, Jacques Berlinerblau.
The CJC builds on Georgetown’s educational mission — looking not just spiritually inward but also outward toward interfaith dialogue and real world politics — by highlighting Catholic-Jewish relations and Middle Eastern religious dialogue, a specific focus of the mission begun by the Second Vatican Council and given special emphasis under Pope Francis. Just so, the center’s focus on Holocaust research and contemporary Anti-Semitism parallels the religious mission of the Church to oppose and bring light to discrimination and oppression in many forms.
But what perhaps is most remarkable about the Center for Jewish Civilization is how well it knows its niche. Far too many academic departments — at Georgetown, as at most universities — expand when they have neither the resources nor curricular potential, or they stay limited when they could expand offerings to more students and scholars. By contrast, the Jewish Civilization program has fared well in the School of Foreign Service, attracting a diverse range of students. It has chosen to eschew a major, but is now adding a specific M.A. program in Holocaust Forensics: a unique development that will have a long-term impact on the role of Holocaust research worldwide.
Many departments would do well to take heed of the CJC’s development.