UC Berkeley creates endowed faculty chair in Israel studies

Berkeley Law School
Michael Drummond/File

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UC Berkeley announced the creation of the Helen Diller Family Chair in Israel Studies on May 2 in response to a $5 million grant from the Helen Diller Family Foundation.

The endowed faculty chair will be held by Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies faculty co-director and associate professor of political science Ron Hassner, according to a Thursday press release from José Rodríguez, spokesperson for the campus University Development and Alumni Relations office. Hassner is also a recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award.

According to Hassner, the endowment will be used in a variety of ways.

“Our Israel Institute will harness this generous gift to offer even more classes, lectures, seminars and conferences about Israeli law, society, economics, history, culture, art, technology, and politics,” Hassner said in an email.

UC Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies faculty co-director and law professor Kenneth Bamberger added that the funding will contribute to enhancing and institutionalizing programs, courses, student research and faculty mentoring on campus.

According to Hassner, the endowment comes at an important time for Jewish and Israel studies, when students have a “thirst” for provocative, nuanced, balanced and professional conversations about these topics.

“Berkeley has experienced an amazing renaissance in the study of Israel in the last decade, exemplified by the flourishing of Berkeley’s Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies,” Hassner said in an email. “Students are now choosing to study at Berkeley in part because they want to take great classes from the best Israel scholars worldwide.”

According to Bamberger, the Helen Diller Family Foundation is “extraordinarily committed to the whole UC system.” Almost 20 years ago, the foundation gave a $5 million endowment grant to UC Berkeley’s Center for Jewish Studies.

Bamberger said Hassner’s classes routinely draw hundreds of students. According to the press release, Hassner pioneered the first regular course on conflict in the Middle East at UC Berkeley.

“He has really been a leader on campus in the study of the Middle East and the study of Israel,” Bamberger said. “He is an extraordinary professor and mentor for students.”

According to Bamberger, the Center for Jewish Studies, the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies and the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life have launched a campaign to institutionalize and create endowments for Jewish and Israel studies on campus. Bamberger said he is hopeful that this endowment will give the campaign momentum.

In response to the endowment, the institute received a $1 million grant from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation and an anonymous donation for Israel studies programs, according to the press release.

“The creation of this position showed real momentum and commitment to institutionalizing Israel and Jewish studies and that it can reach its full potential on campus,” Bamberger said. “This is a transformative gift.”

Contact Maya Akkaraju at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maya_akkaraju.