The Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies announced a $10 million endowment gift from the Helen Diller Family Foundation on Tuesday, which led to the renaming of the institute.
The gift will go toward supporting visitors and funding the undergraduate fellows program, broadening overall “reach and presence” and expanding courses and programs of the institute, according to Phyllis Cook, philanthropic consultant to the Helen Diller Family Foundation.
The money will also go toward creating programs for students to study and intern in Israel, as well as establishing an Israel studies minor, according to Ron Hassner, chancellor’s professor of political science and Helen Diller Family chair in Israel studies.
“The mission of the institute is to offer students the opportunity to study Israel in a nuanced, complex and diverse way, across fields, with a variety of disciplines and methodologies,” Hassner said.
The gift will help cement the institute as a “leading academic institution” for Israel studies and the study of Jewish law, according to José Rodríguez, editorial director of university development and alumni relations. Rodríguez said the gift will place the institution among comparable programs at UCLA, Harvard, Columbia, Brandeis and others.
Hassner added that UC Berkeley has become a “national leader” and a “magnet” for those who want to study Israel.
“The Berkeley campus was not always known as a place where you could hear authentic and varied and reliable opinions about Israel,” Hassner said. “Now, they have a place where they can do that in a safe environment that encourages disagreement and conversation that doesn’t shy away from provocative issues.”
Cook said the timing of the gift — on the institute’s 10-year anniversary — is because the institute has “proven itself.” She added that it is in great demand from students.
According to Hassner, the institute has grown significantly since its inception. Where there were originally only one or two undergraduate fellows, there are now about 20. Hassner added that the institute reached approximately 45 students in its early stages and now reaches about 500. The institute has also brought in approximately 40 visitors, many of whom are professors from Israel.
The institute sponsors classes in departments across campus, such as political science, history, sociology, disability studies, gender studies, Middle Eastern studies, journalism and more. Most students who take classes sponsored by the institute are not Jewish or Israeli, Hassner added.
The Helen Diller Family Foundation is a “vehicle” to make philanthropic grants, particularly in the Bay Area, though it also funds programs nationally and overseas, according to Cook. The largest philanthropic aims of the foundation are to support education and health, with UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco receiving the most shares of funding.
“This gift really means that the institute is going to be around forever,” Hassner said. “It gives us permanence.”