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Judaic Studies curriculum established

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 31 - May 22, 1997

The Malcolm and Diane Rosenberg Endowed Program in Judaic Studies has been established at Virginia Tech with a gift of $250,000 from the Rosenbergs, who reside in Roanoke.

Malcolm Rosenberg, who has long been involved in Jewish activities, both in Virginia and in Israel, feels the establishment of such a program will help foster greater understanding between the Jewish and non-Jewish students at Virginia Tech and in Southwest Virginia in general. "The Judaic Studies curriculum," he said, "will be particularly instrumental for the more than 700 Jewish students enrolled at Virginia Tech by enabling them to gain extensive knowledge about their heritage and cultural identity. Additionally, a Judaic Studies program is particularly timely because of the focus on the ever-changing events in the Middle East."

The program was three years in the making, according to David Barzilai, acting director of the program, which is one of Virginia's first comprehensive programs dedicated solely to Judaic Studies. The program is designed to meet the area's need for an institute of learning and scholarship in the various aspects of Judaic studies and to allow Virginia Tech students to obtain a substantial familiarity with the Jewish heritage and culture during their undergraduate years, Barzilai said.

For the past three years, Barzilai has been offering courses on the Holocaust, on the Jewish heritage and culture, and on the politics and history of Israel. In addition to the Rosenbergs' support during the years, Barzilai credits, among others, the Blacksburg and Roanoke Jewish Community for the spiritual encouragement and material support they gave the initiative in that time.

"During these years, the program served a growing number of students," he said. "This year, more than 100 students benefitted from these courses."

In the next few months, Barzilai, with the help of the program's advisory committee, will complete the curriculum and establish the procedures for offering a minor in Judaic Studies.

"We plan, as well, to enrich the quality of life for the students at Virginia Tech with spiritual, cultural, and intellectual events," Barzilai said. "In this spirit, we started with an evening of Jewish music, a forum of guest lecturers, and commemorations of the Kristallnact and the Holocaust."

Events already held include a talk on "Auschwitz; A Survivor's Story" by John Marek and "Songs and Lives: The Art of Spiritual Resistance," an evening featuring the Audubon Quartet and friends. That program included performances of music composed by people in concentration camps, particularly Theresienstadt, presentations of poetry written by children and adults in those camps, and the telling of stories of lives transcending the Holocaust.

The new Judaic Studies program will include continued organized visits to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

"Finally," Barzilai said, "we plan a student-exchange program with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem." He hopes the first delegation from Virginia Tech will travel to Jerusalem in the summer of 1998.