Date November 8, 2016
Media Contact

In wake of gift, University renames Judaic studies building

With support from a Class of 1971 graduate and his wife, the department will pursue improvements in support of its scholarship on Jewish history, literature, language, politics and religions.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] —A new sign on a familiar brick building on campus points to exciting possibilities for the home of the University’s Program in Judaic Studies.

The building at 163 George Street, which dates to 1908, is now known as Hirschfeld House in recognition of a $3.5 million gift made by Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld to support the renovation and ongoing maintenance of the home for Judaic studies at Brown.

“Judaic studies has been at the heart of my nearly 50-year relationship with Brown University,” said Elie Hirschfeld, a trustee emeritus and 1971 graduate who studied math and economics as well as religious studies at Brown. “It is my hope that our gift will allow many future classes of students to have the same deeply enriching experience that I did with Judaic studies at Brown.”

"Elie Hirschfeld’s gift, which will come in stages, allows the Judaic studies faculty to envision and then inhabit the kind of home they need to continue their outstanding work,” said Maud Mandel, dean of the college and professor of history and Judaic studies. “It also permanently supports a vibrant space for creative reflection, engaged teaching and research vitality, further bolstering an area of study that reaches back many decades in Brown’s history.”

A portion of the gift will fund a renovation of the Hirschfeld House in the coming years. The remainder will be a bequest that will create an endowed fund to provide resources in perpetuity for the upkeep of Hirschfeld House. While potential renovations are in the early planning stages and new needs or arrangements may present themselves down the line, the funding has allowed Judaic studies faculty to consider what sort of modifications or updates could support the work of the program.

“We are very excited about the gift,” said Saul M. Olyan-Schockaert, the Samuel Ungerleider Jr. Professor of Judaic Studies and director of the program. Among the ideas for renovation the faculty has begun to talk about, he said, are full accessibility for at least the ground floor of the building, an up-to-date seminar room and additional office space.

Currently, Olyan-Schockaert said, the program has exhausted all of its office space within the building. With updates, Hirschfeld House could accommodate more faculty and visiting scholars, and an improved seminar room could enhance the program’s full lecture and seminar series, which this fall includes discussions of Hasidic literature and the role of Jews in the French Revolution, given by Brown faculty and visiting faculty.

As an interdisciplinary concentration, Judaic studies encompasses the study of Jewish history, literature, language, politics and religions. It places particular importance on studying the interactions of Jews and non-Jews in both ancient and modern periods as well as the history and culture of the State of Israel and its place in the Middle East.