Boosted by a $10 million donation from the Braman family, Georgetown University officially launched the Center for Jewish Civilization, announced by University President John J. DeGioia in a campus-wide email Wednesday.
The CJC serves as an interdisciplinary teaching and research unit within the School of Foreign Service, with a focus on Jewish history, culture and civilization. The center will replace the Program for Jewish Civilization, which was originally launched in September 2003 under the leadership of Rabbi Harold White in an effort to promote an increased understanding of Jewish civilization at the university.
CJC Director Jacques Berlinerblau, who previously led the PJC, said the center will act to facilitate the study of Jewish civilization on campus.
“We see ourselves as a hub. We want to encourage and make possible the study of Judaism on the Georgetown campus, and we view ourselves almost as like the convener,” Berlinerblau said.
The center is the result of 12 years of a fundraising effort by Georgetown faculty and administrators, in which the university raised almost $11 million in endowed funds for the center from more than 500 families, and another $10 million from the Braman family to establish the Braman Endowed Professorship of the Practice of the Forensic Study of the Holocaust, a new position within the center that will be filled by Rev. Patrick Desbois, previously an adjunct professor.
The Braman family is personally connected to the study of Jewish civilization and the Holocaust, as donor Norman Braman of Miami, Fla., is the son of Holocaust survivors.
“I have decided to make this gift, now, and to Georgetown, in part as a sign of my appreciation for the leadership of Pope Francis and the priority he so clearly attaches to fostering closer relations between
Jews and Catholics,” Braman wrote in a statement to The Washington Post.
The center will primarily focus on American-Middle Eastern foreign policy as it pertains to Israel, the Holocaust and genocide and Jewish literature.
According to Berlinerblau, the focus on American-Middle Eastern foreign policy is a result of the center’s setup in the SFS.
“The first initiative, because we were in the SFS, is we wanted to become the pre-eminent school in the world that studied American-Middle Eastern foreign policy as it pertained to Israel,” Berlinerblau said. “And that of course implies that we have to also know about energy policy, oil prices, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, that’s all enfolded within Middle Eastern geopolitics.”
Berlinerblau said the university has made strides in the field of Middle Eastern studies in recent years by hiring professors such as Ambassador Dennis Ross, former Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams and Michael Oren before he became Israeli ambassador to the United States.
The center will focus heavily on research into the Holocaust, in part through the work of Desbois, according to Vice President for Advancement Bart Moore.
“It’s based on Fr. Desbois’ groundbreaking research that has established the full extent and murderous impact the Nazi’s ruthlessly effective mobile killing squad that was used in East-Central and East Europe to kill previously uncounted tens of thousands of people, in places where they did not have established concentration camps,” Moore said.
Berlinerblau said the CJC will provide a center for the experience of Jewish culture and Judaism’s role in Georgetown’s campus life.
“I would say there was a perception in the Jewish community prior to Jack DeGioia creating the CJC that Georgetown was at best indifferent and at worst not really interested at all in Jewish civilization, and whether it was right or wrong, that perception existed,” Berlinerblau said. “Well that perception doesn’t exist anymore, because everyone sees Georgetown as a friend, as an asset, as a neighbor and everything is good here.”
Moore said it has always been important to the university to increase education about Judaism.
“Fr. Healy often spoke publicly about the importance of any great university knowing and teaching the intellectual, religious and cultural traditions of the Jewish people, and I think it was, in part, a desire to complete a project initiated by Fr. Healy that this became so important to President DeGioia,” Moore said.
Berlinerblau said establishing the CJC helps ensure that the center’s work is on an equal and long-lasting footing.
“But also there is a solidity, a perpetuity, since this is $21 million of endowed money, we now know that we’re around forever,” Berlinerblau said.
According to Berlinerblau, the CJC also hopes to establish a major and master — a major in the college in Jewish civilization and a master’s program in Holocaust studies — at the university. Berlinerblau said a master’s program could be formed in two years, while the CJC is ready to move ahead with developing a major this year once it receives approval from the administration.
“We’re locked, ready, loaded and ready to go, and we need to see if we get pushback, but generally Georgetown is good with these things so I would hope that by the end of this semester we have a signal from Chet that this is something he wants to explore,” Berlinerblau said.
Moore said donors appreciated Georgetown’s commitment to Judaism.
“I think there’s a great appreciation for the respect that the university is paying to the Jewish people and their history and culture and tradition and religion by making it a priority in President DeGioia’s presidency that we have a properly funded, permanently endowed center dedicated to Jewish studies,” Moore said.
John Davison (GSB ’87), who donated to help establish the PJC in 2003 and then the CJC, said the reasons behind his donations have changed over the past 12 years.
“I feel like I’m no longer giving to something to alleviate a problem, I’m giving to something to make the center more substantial and to attract greater teaching talent, would be how my perspective has changed,” Davison said.
Director of Jewish Chaplaincy Rabbi Rachel Gartner added that there is a significant level of interest for Jewish education on campus.
“From my perspective as the rabbi on this campus, I can say that there is a thirst for more Jewish knowledge in our Jewish student community and there is an interest in learning about Judaism among students from other backgrounds as well,” Gartner said. “So I think this center serves a need and will be met with terrific enthusiasm among the students.”
Professor Ori Soltes said he was excited about the prospect of expanding the understanding of Jewish civilization at a Catholic university.
“All those kinds of cross-communications that the greater visibility will hopefully make it even more effective as an instrument to serve that purpose, from at least the angle of Judaism and its relation to Catholicism, Christianity at large, Islam and what have you,” Soltes said.
Maddy Budman (COL ’18), a GUish intern at Georgetown University Campus Ministry, wrote in an email to The Hoya that she hopes the center will help advance the curriculum relating to Jewish studies.
“I hope that the center launch will bring more attention to the CJC, leading us to things like a better physical office space and more administrative support,” Budman wrote. “I’ve seen a shift recently in the PJC from purely Israel-Palestine and Holocaust classes to literature and theology and more creative humanities classes, and I think that the center launch will help encourage the continuing of this diversity in curriculum.”
Adam Shinbrot (COL ’18), who is a member of the Georgetown Israel Alliance and Alpha Epsilon Pi, wrote in an email to The Hoya that he is also excited for the center.
“I think that the launching of the CJC will promote Jewish life on campus for both Jews and non-Jews. At a school like Georgetown, I think that offering students a way to learn about Judaism, anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and Israel (although the Holocaust and Israel can be seen in a “non-Jewish context”) is the best way to promote Jewish life and allow students to engage in Semitic studies,” Shinbrot wrote.