UC Berkeley Jewish law institute receives grant to expand resources

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The UC Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israeli Law, Economy and Society has won a grant that will allow it to augment the resources it provides to the campus.

The $2.85 million grant is composed of contributions from four California-based foundations that focus on issues ranging from Israeli economics to public health. The grant will be used to help the small institute expand. The institute was established within UC Berkeley School of Law in 2011.

With the grant, the institute hopes to create unspecified new programs, expand course offerings, support research and hold year-round public events. It also hopes to increase engagement with undergraduates.

“We’re always looking for ways to fund engaging Jewish academic opportunities,” said Dawne Bear-Novicoff, senior program officer at the Jim Joseph foundation, one of the grant’s contributors. “It’s really about (the students’) own exploration and helping them connect with Jewish culture and life.”

When the institute was created two years ago, students had very limited opportunities in Jewish studies. The only courses available  focused mostly on Jewish literature and history but not law, thought, identity or society, said Ken Bamberger, director of the institute.

The institute was created to serve the larger campus community interested in more centralized Jewish studies and to provide a hub for undergraduate and graduate students, he said.

“It’s this incredible opportunity to be able to study religious law at a very high level here at Cal,” said David Kasher, a graduate fellow at the institute.

Since its founding, the institute has increased its cooperation with international universities and professors. Each semester, the institute brings in visiting lecturers from Israel to teach special courses and seminars on different topics, which range from society and culture to constitutional law.

“(The institute) has built a very robust community and has very successfully served students,” Bamberger said. “(These grants) are a real vote of confidence for the achievements we’ve had so far and for the additions and expansions we’ve made to the Cal landscape.”

The grant will help the institute host more speakers and events. The institute is planning an international conference on the environment that scheduled to take place in March.

“These (grants) are really extraordinary in terms of the ability to plan ahead,” Bamberger said. “The ability to move from a startup into a phase in which the institute is really integrated on campus is very exciting.”

Claire Chiara covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected].