By Rachel Gross Weinstein
The goal of the Jewish and Israel Studies Program at the University of North Texas is simple — to educate students, faculty and the overall community about the religion, culture, politics and history of the Jewish people and Israel.
Formerly known as the UNT Jewish Studies Program, the new name, which added Israel Studies to it, took effect Jan. 1. The name change had been in the works for three years and was officially approved by UNT provost Warren Burggren.
“The name change reflects the reality of the enterprise we have going in terms of Jewish studies programs in the area,” he said. “It goes beyond Judaism as a religion, and goes in to sociological, political and geographical aspects of the subject. It seemed logical to include Israel studies. We are excited to see this continue developing and I believe it will lead to a broader recognition in the DFW Metroplex and beyond.”
The Jewish Studies Program was established in 2000 and UNT is the only university in the DFW area with a Jewish and Israel Studies Program. It includes 46 courses (13 on the State of Israel) taught by 24 faculty members in 10 departments in four of UNT’s colleges, has seven scholarship programs for both undergraduate and graduate students and offers a minor in Jewish and Israel Studies.
Howard Watt, chair of the Jewish Studies Advisory Board, said this name is a unique opportunity for UNT and the community.
“We recognized that there was a need in North Texas for an intellectual home for the study of Israel and it’s important for matters of Israel to be discussed in an academic setting,” Watt said. “We had the infrastructure set up with the Jewish studies, so the next logical step was adding Israel studies. There is a thriving Jewish community in the Metroplex, so this program is great for Jews who want to learn more about Judaism and Israel, and for non-Jews who are interested in learning more. This is really exciting for us.”
The name change is beneficial for various reasons, according to program director Richard Golden. Not only will both Jews and non-Jews be educated about Israel and Judaism on a deeper level, but it will allow for more activities within the program — like visiting professors, educational programs to Israel for faculty and cooperation with Israeli universities.
Golden said the overall goal is for this to become one of the top five Jewish and Israel Studies programs in the United States. Only 14 other universities in the country have similar programs.
In the next five years, UNT hopes to offer 15 courses on Israel and have 700 students taking Jewish and Israel Studies classes each academic year. Other visions are to establish certificates in Jewish and Israel Studies, sponsor educational tours to Israel, create a speakers bureau featuring UNT faculty at synagogues, churches and schools, student stipends for research and travel to Israel and more.
“The Israeli studies part of the program will aim to present a more holistic view of Israel,” Golden said. “While people often focus on regional wars and the Arab-Israel conflict, this program will aim to demonstrate that there is much more to Israel than that. The country’s political culture, ethnic diversity (including non-Jewish minorities), unique economy, religious pluralism and its struggles to maintain democratic institutions while maintaining a constant state of war are all deserving of study.”
Golden believes these characteristics are crucial to understanding both Israel’s role in modern Jewish identity, and the country’s relations with its neighbors in the Middle East.
Guy Chet grew up in Israel, so he knows firsthand the importance of people learning about the country. He is teaching a class this semester in the Jewish and Israel Studies Program called “Rome’s Jewish Wars and the Roman Near East.”
He said people will now see UNT as a leader when it comes to Israel Studies.
“Adding Israel Studies gives a more accurate representation of the direction of the program,” Chet said. “This sets UNT apart and this will hopefully attract more people to our program, when before, we would have been one of many on a list.”
Ilan Troen, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University and the newest member of the UNT Jewish Studies advisory board, agreed that the name change now gives UNT national recognition.
He noted that there were more than 400 courses on Israel taught at American universities last year and UNT is at the forefront of that.
“What Richard [Golden] has done with the program at UNT is amazing and it is one of the more significant Jewish and Israel studies programs in the country,” he said. “UNT’s program recognizes Israel as the major Jewish community in the history of the Jewish people. This is a real gift to UNT and the Dallas area.”
“This broadens the program and better reflects [the program’s] academic standards,” added Art Goven, dean of the UNT College of Arts and Sciences, where the Jewish and Israel Studies Program is housed. “It’s hard to study Jews and Judaism without looking at Israel, and this gives us a chance to touch on the country’s culture, diversity in the region and its unique economy.”
For more information on the Jewish and Israel Studies Program, contact Golden at 940-369-8933 or Richard.Golden@unt.edu, or visit www.jewishstudies.unt.edu.