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Jewish Studies Program Celebrates Successful First Year

The Jewish Studies minor program at Loyola Marymount University has passed a milestone: The first two seniors to complete the course of study have graduated. And, showing more evidence of the program’s growth, it will offer the first course under its own rubric in the fall 2009 semester. 
 “We are thrilled with the first year of the program,” said Holli Levitsky, associate professor of English and director of the Jewish Studies program. “The students were excited to learn details of Jewish history and culture and to practice their knowledge through local internships.” 

Building on a long-standing interfaith dialogue, the Jewish Studies program, in the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, provides courses for students interested in Jewish history, culture, faith and practice. LMU has had a long history of engagement with the Jewish community in Los Angeles, including opening Loyola Law School in 1920 without enrollment restrictions on Jewish students that were found at other law schools.

The groundwork to establish the Jewish Studies program was begun, in part, by a 2007 campus visit by Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. Michael Engh, S.J., then-dean of Bellarmine College, was inspired by Wiesel’s address to an overflow crowd at Gersten Pavilion. He turned to Levitsky to lead the program. Her course on Holocaust literature, which she has taught in the Department of English since 1994, and other Jewish literature courses became part of the curriculum. The program included 10 students in 2008–09, its first year.

The course “History of Modern Israel” is the first initiated under the program. It will be offered in fall 2009, and space was filled the day registration opened. The class, which is cross-listed with the Department of Political Science,  will be taught by Saba Soomekh, who has been a visiting professor for the past four years in the Department of Theological Studies.

Levitsky hopes the program’s growth will lead to establishing a major in Jewish Studies, one that interacts with other departments. “Jewish Studies is half of the Judeo-Christian tradition that shapes much of Western culture,” Levitsky noted. “Jewish-Catholic relations are a focus of much attention now and we see our program as a vital addition to that intellectual discussion. That’s why Jewish Studies has a very central place in a Catholic university.”

For more information, go to the Jewish Studies Web site at http://bellarmine.lmu.edu/jewishstudies.