Northwestern’s Crown Center developing new Israel Studies Program

Katherine Stein, Reporter

Administrators have finalized goals to use a donation to add an Israel Studies program to the former Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies.

University officials announced in November 2012 that Lester and Renee Crown, long-time Northwestern supporters, made a donation designated to establish the program. This resulted in a change of the center’s name to the Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies.

The donation will fund new classes, adjunct professorships and community-wide events, said Prof. Elie Rekhess, Visiting Crown Chair and history professor in Middle East and Jewish Studies.

“It’s a great thing,” said Candace Mittel, a Weinberg senior minoring in Jewish Studies. “You can’t really study Jewish Studies without Israel Studies.”

Historically, Jewish Studies and Israel Studies are closely related. Following World War I, what is now Israel became the de facto Jewish state. In 1948, it declared itself an independent nation.

Israel Studies focuses on Israel’s religious origins, as well as contemporary issues such as international relations, the economy and the role of women in society, Rekhess said. Jewish Studies explores the history, tradition and culture of the Jewish religion.

“Current events and historical background are related,” said Rekhess. “Northwestern students … are looking into the historical background, the social background and the economic background, and not only focusing on the relatively narrow current events spectrum.”

Rekhess said new courses in the Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies will be interdisciplinary. Topics may include sociology, anthropology, economic studies, philosophy, law and current events. New faculty positions will be added to the two post-doctorate positions already sponsored by the center.

Administrators also hope the expanded center will guide and support students studying in Israel, Rekhess said. Three Israel programs will be available fall 2013, according to a press release issued by the University in October.

Mittel, who studied in Israel last year through Hillel, said the University didn’t offer many classes to prepare her to study abroad.

“I would have loved to have had additional classes to choose from,” Mittel said. “You have to bring in professors so you can hear it from a person who knows it, studies it, lives it.”

Sammie Offsay, a Weinberg senior active at Hillel, said she hopes the expansion will provide opportunities “to explore Israel from different angles,” both through classes and through events such as guest lectures.

“Northwestern has a really strong Jewish community,” Offsay said. “But one place that people have been looking to connect more is through Israel.”

The Crown Center currently offers four named lectures each year, as well as a variety of other events, lectures and programs open to both the general public and NU students. The donated funds that have not yet been allocated may be used to pay for additional guest lectures, conferences or roundtable discussions.

“Universities are all about deepening the human knowledge,” Rekhess said. “The first target (of the expansion) is … the student community, but by all means, Chicagoland should benefit.”

Rekhess said Prof. Barry Wimpfheimer, director of the Crown Center, is working with administrators to finalize a timeline for implementing new programs.