Building bridges – UCI News

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Professor of political science UCI Jeffrey Kopstein has made a career studying violence, particularly against Jews, in both historical and modern contexts. According to him, knowledge is the most effective antidote against hatred.

“The best way to combat anti-Semitism is to do what the university excels at: studying and teaching, developing cross-cultural understanding through in-depth education and learning,” Kopstein says. “At its core, Jewish learning is about asking questions, debating the answers, engaging with tradition, and then asking deeper questions. »

As the new campus director Center for Jewish StudiesKopstein envisions UCI becoming a global leader in Jewish studies, not only by educating its diverse student body, but by building bridges of understanding within the community and facilitating exchange with Israeli institutions of higher education.

“At UCI, we teach hundreds of students each year in a wide range of courses on Jewish history and culture, the Holocaust, the history of anti-Semitism, and Israel,” said Chancellor . Howard Gillman. “The Center for Jewish Studies is the hub of this important educational effort, and Professor Kopstein, whose groundbreaking research illuminates the history of the Jewish people in the modern era, is the ideal choice to advance the center and its vital work. »

As the United States continues to become more diverse – more than 40% of Americans identify as people of color, according to the 2020 census – the history of anti-Semitism offers relevant lessons about systemic racism and marginalized groups around the world.

“Jewish culture is a microcosm of diversity, demonstrating the potential for both enormous achievements, good things as a people, and enormous tragedies,” Kopstein says. “We live in a society, as well as a campus, of great and increasing diversity. You have to know how to get along. »

“Resolutely interdisciplinary”

Kopstein, who arrived at UCI in 2015, is no stranger to leading large interdisciplinary centers. He was previously director of the Anne Tanenbaum Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto.

He is also no stranger to anti-Semitism. Growing up in Canada among a large Jewish immigrant community, he remembers a time when Jews were excluded from certain neighborhoods and local clubs. Yet this type of segregation pales in comparison to the violence his loved ones suffered in the years leading up to the Holocaust.

“My family, in all its branches, in various times and places, has encountered anti-Semitism – sometimes tragically and sometimes simply out of irritation or offhand comment,” Kopstein says.

It was perhaps because of this context that he became interested in studying the specific conditions under which ordinary aversion turns into outright violence. Kopstein earned a doctorate in political science from UC Berkeley before embarking on a three-decade academic career, during which he wrote or edited five books and published numerous works on anti-Jewish violence in five LANGUAGES. Kopstein mastered Polish and German for research projects, in addition to the English, French and Russian he learned as a child in Canada. His Hebrew, he admits with palpable disappointment, is only moderate.

Kopstein describes his own work as “decidedly interdisciplinary,” often drawing on historical documents and applying social science methods to them. Earlier this year he published Politics, violence, memory: the new social science of the Shoahbased on research presented at a conference held at UCI.

Recently, Kopstein completed a year-long fellowship as the Ina Levine Invitational Scholar at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. He also received a Fulbright US Senior Scholar Award – which he postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic – to conduct research in Hebrew. University of Jerusalem, where he has been a periodic visiting scholar over the past decade. As director of UCI’s Center for Jewish Studies, Kopstein aims to expand existing ties between the campus and Israeli universities, building on examples such as the partnership between the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at UCI and Tel Aviv University and The recent Paul Merage School of Business student trip to Israel.

As a principal investigator on a grant from the Anti-Defamation League, Kopstein is currently working on research aimed at measuring anti-Semitic sentiments among students at the University of California. A pilot study he conducted in 2017-2018 found that the level of anti-Semitism at UCI mirrored that of the general population, suggesting that students might be an accurate representation of society as a whole.

Expand education

UCI students, from diverse cultures and backgrounds, demonstrate a thirst for learning about Jewish culture, history and anti-Semitism. Kopstein’s political science course on anti-Semitism and the history department’s course on the Holocaust are still full. They constitute, among others, the minor in Jewish studies, which introduces students to the many facets of Jewish culture through the study of history, philosophy, art, literature, languages ​​and social and political institutions of the Jews from ancient to modern times. .

These courses give students the opportunity to not only learn about Jewish history, but also become familiar with respectful arguments. One of Kopstein’s favorite aspects of Judaism is its adoption of argumentation as a form of teaching. The Talmud – one of the longest texts in existence – is made up of millions of words in the form of arguments intended to educate.

“What I like about the Jewish tradition is that you can argue, even with God,” Kopstein says. “This is a crucial part of our heritage, and students can only be enriched by engaging with it. »

This year, Daniella Farah, adjunct assistant professor of history and Jewish studies, will teach two additional courses: one on the Jews of the modern Middle East and North Africa and another on the minorities of modern Iran , including Jews. The Center for Jewish Studies plans to organize a conference in the spring related to its research.

To further expand research and academic offerings in Jewish Studies, a matching gift from community leaders Susan and Henry Samueli will help fund two new endowed chairs in contemporary anti-Semitism and Israeli studies.

The Samuelis’ gift will also help foster a greater connection between the Center for Jewish Studies and the broader community, particularly through K-12 education. In collaboration with the UCI History Projectthe center is helping develop Holocaust curriculum that Orange County history and social studies teachers can use in their classrooms.

Engaging events

The Center for Jewish Studies has assembled a dynamic roster of speakers representing a variety of disciplines and perspectives for the 2023-24 academic year.

On October 12 at the UCI Libraries, Kopstein will be joined by Wolf Gruner, founding director of the USC Dornsife Center for Advanced Genocide Research and the Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies, to discuss the role played by ordinary people during the Holocaust, at both harming and helping their Jews. neighbors. The event marks the kickoff of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s traveling exhibit, “Some Were Neighbors,” which will be on display at the Langson Library through November.

Also this fall, two UCI alumni will give lectures on their recently published works of fiction. On October 25, Rebecca Sacks, MFA ’19, will read an excerpt from The lover (HarperCollins, 2023), their second novel set in modern-day Israel, which addresses the personal effects of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Literature is an extraordinary tool for understanding the perspectives that lead people to hostility,” explains Julia Lupton, UCI Distinguished Professor of English and founding member of the center’s steering committee. “Rebecca approaches politics and history from the very personal perspective of the people who experience them, approaching their life experiences with real empathy and imagination.”

In November, Elana K. Arnold ’96, a National Book Award finalist who has written more than 20 books for children and young adults, will visit us to discuss her latest novel. The years of blood (HarperCollins, 2023) is based on his grandmother’s life in Romania during the Holocaust.

Then, in February 2024, Wayne State University historian and professor Andrew Port will come to UCI to discuss his new book. Never again (Harvard University Press, 2023), which explores how modern Germany deals with current issues of genocide, human rights, and refugees entering Europe through the lens of its own history of genocide.

These events – and more will be added to the calendar – represent the kind of engaging and evocative discussions that Kopstein hopes will foster connections and conversations between the campus and the broader community, serving as an example to others.

“UCI is one of the greatest universities in the world,” he says. “And there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have one of the greatest centers of Jewish learning in the world.” »

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