Development of the Institute

The new institute reflects the long-standing vitality of Israel and Jewish studies at Columbia, previously anchored in the Center for Israel and Jewish Studies. The center was created by Salo Wittmayer Baron in 1950, twenty years after he assumed the Nathan J. Miller Chair in Jewish History, Literature and Institutions—the first professorship of Jewish history in a secular university outside of Israel. The center has flourished for the last half century, especially after the arrival of Yosef H. Yerushalmi and Michael F. Stanislawski, who have served as director and associate director, respectively, since 1980.

Philanthropy has played a major part in the growth of Jewish studies at Columbia. A gift of 4.3 million dollars in 1981 served to endow the center and to create two new chairs in Jewish studies: the Leonard B. Kaye Chair in Hebrew and Comparative Literature and the Russell and Bettina Knapp Chair in American Jewish History. In the late 1980s, the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation donated 1 million dollars to Columbia to endow the Lucius N. Littauer Chair in Classical Jewish Civilization in the Department of Religion. These chairs, along with the Baron chair, established in 1979, and the Miller chair, have secured the excellence of Jewish studies at Columbia.

Columbia remains one of the leading institutions in Jewish studies in the country and the world. Undergraduate enrollment in these courses has historically been robust and continues to grow. Columbia is also home to the most successful graduate programs in Jewish history and Yiddish studies outside of Israel, and our graduate program in Talmud and Judaism is world renowned. With Professor Dan Miron's assumption of a full-time position at Columbia and Uri S. Cohen's appointment as an assistant professor of Hebrew literature, we expect the graduate program in Hebrew literature to expand significantly.

In recent years, the center has sponsored an increasing number of academic programs and courses on the history and culture of Israel, and professors Miron, Stanislawski, and Cohen continue to teach new courses on Israeli history, Israeli literature, Zionism, and culture, among others. These courses have large enrollments and reach a broad spectrum of students at Columbia College, Barnard College, the School of General Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the School of International and Public Affairs.

A number of other programs also contribute to the vitality of the center. The Salo and Jeannette Baron Prize in Jewish Studies honors the best Columbia dissertation in the field each five years. The monthly Israel and Jewish Studies University Seminar convenes an invited group of scholars, graduate students, and friends from the New York metropolitan area. The Sylvia and Joseph Radov Lectures on Israel and Jewish studies, given once every three years, have brought to campus distinguished scholars and public figures such as Saul Friedlander, Aharon Appelfeld, George Steiner, and Martin Indyk. Additionally, Professor Cohen is leading the effort to establish at Columbia the most important archive anywhere of Israeli feature films and documentaries, from the pre-state period to the present.

It is against this backdrop that the trustees approved the new Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, opening up new directions for Columbia's leadership in this vital field. Most recently, and also significantly, four trustees of Columbia have pledged more than 3 million dollars to the institute to endow a professorship in Israel and Jewish studies, which is to be named for Professor Yerushalmi upon his retirement.