1979 was a big year for many different reasons. Pink Floyd debuted their live version of “The Wall” in Los Angeles, the United States and China opened up diplomatic relations, US Voyager 1 showed that Jupiter has rings, and the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life at the University of Connecticut was founded under the direction of Sociology Professor Arnold Dashefsky. Less than a year later, UConn Stamford appointed Professor Nehama Aschkenasy as Director of the Center for Judaic and Middle Eastern Studies.
Our community outreach grew in those first few years with the advent of the Faculty Forum Luncheon Lecture Series in 1979 and the Yiddish Tish in 1982, both of which continue to this day. Our Israel Study program also began the same year as the Yiddish Tish, so that our students could experience study abroad tailored to their work in Judaic Studies. Our Sepphoris archaeological digs, led by the Center’s Academic Director Stuart Miller, expanded our study abroad programs in 1988.
The Center for Judaic Studies was first housed in Manchester Hall, but it relocated to the Thomas J. Dodd Archives and Research Center in 1995 after President Bill Clinton’s dedication of that new facility. We launched our MA in Judaic Studies in 1999; and to this day, UConn remains one of only thirteen public institutions in the United States to offer this degree.
Our outreach continued to grow in the early 2000s with the establishment of the Mittelman Endowed Lecture (2000), which now sponsors our Faculty Colloquium series, and the Fierberg Endowed Lecture (2003), which sponsors our annual Holocaust Convocation. The Center also played an important role in the establishment of the Morris N. Trachten Kosher Dining Facility, which opened in 2003 and continues to be a popular dining option at UConn’s Storrs campus.
The Mandell L. Berman Institute-North American Jewish Data Bank moved from Brandeis University in 2004 to UConn, also under the direction of Professor Arnold Dashefsky. Professor Nechama Tec’s book Defiance, about the Bielski partisans during World War II, gained national recognition after being turned into a major motion picture in 2008, starring Daniel Craig and directed by Edward Zwick.
2009 was another big year for the Center with the creation of the Doris and Simon Konover chair of Judaic Studies; Professor Dashefsky was the first to hold the position. Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel returned to UConn after receiving his honorary doctorate in 1988 to deliver a special lecture in honor of the establishment of this chair. In 2013, Professor Jeffrey Shoulson succeeded Arnold Dashefsky to become the Director and Konover Chair of Judaic Studies, and in 2017, Professor Sebastian Wogenstein became Interim Director of the Center.
Nowadays, the Center keeps busy. We have working relationships with several institutions of higher learning in Israel, such as the University of Haifa, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the University of Tel Aviv. The Center also supports the Judaic Studies Road show, which offers lectures from UConn’s world-class faculty on a wide variety of topics in Judaic Studies to synagogues, JCCs, high schools, libraries and other community institutions across the state of Connecticut. The Center continues to provide support to facilitate the production of the American Jewish Year Book, a reference work published yearly since 1899. We are also proud of our partnership with the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford to provide cultural and educational events.
In addition to the MA and an undergraduate minor in Judaic Studies, we now also offer a major in Hebrew and Judaic Studies (HEJS) and, in tandem with the department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, support a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Jewish literature and culture.