From the Director

As I reflect on nearly eight years directing UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, many thoughts come to mind. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet and work with so many extraordinary people–from faculty, staff, and students to community partners, religious leaders, philanthropists, elected officials, and members of the general public. It has been inspiring. I am proud of the efforts we have made to become a truly world-class center dedicated to the study of all aspects of Jewish culture, history, religion, and civilization.

As a center located at one of the leading public universities in the U.S. in one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, I feel that the Leve Center has a special mission to engage broadly with the diversity within our own community as well as with the diversity beyond our community. As such, we are committed not only to first-rate academic scholarship, but also to a core set of democratic values that inform our mission to educate the next generation of leaders and to address the many complex issues of the day with historical perspective, cross-cultural understanding, reasoned nuance, and moral clarity.

Through our programmatic and outreach efforts, the Leve Center has engaged thoughtfully with contemporary issues, ranging from the local to the global. We study the past because it shapes the texture of the present and helps us imagine a more just future.

Our exhibition, From Brooklyn Avenue to Cesar Chavez: Jewish Histories in Multiethnic Boyle Heights, will remain up at the Breed Street Shul through the end of November. If you haven’t already, I very much hope you will be able to see it. Organized around the interlocking themes of education, religious institutions, political activism, language, and arts, the exhibition traces the history of Boyle Heights over more than 100 years, situating Jewish culture within one of Los Angeles’ most diverse neighborhoods.

This past May, the exhibition’s timeline was featured at City Hall as part of the Los Angeles City Council’s first ceremony marking Jewish History month. It was an honor to be invited by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to participate and address the Mayor and Council Members alongside our Chief Curator, Caroline Luce. This past year, Dr. Luce organized three events in East Los Angeles including the exhibition’s opening at the Breed Street Shul, collaborating with the Boyle Heights Arts Conservancy, Boyle Heights Historical Society, the Garment Workers Center, Libros Schmibros, Los Angeles Jewish Historical Society, Yiddishkayt, the UCLA Labor Center, and the Workman’s Circle (Arbeter Ring)—all with the goal of developing new models for public engagement with Jewish studies.

Funded in part by the UC Humanities Research Council, all three events in East LA involved participation by current residents of the neighborhoods and sought to illuminate historical parallels between Jews and the struggles facing other immigrant groups. The resonance with current events is, of course, unmistakable, hence the theme of this year’s at the Center, Jewish Studies in the Public Sphere. We look forward to screening we are in it, a new documentary film about refugees in Houston, Texas, by UCLA alumnus Dr. Yehuda Sharim on October 26.

The year will culminate with a major symposium on May 6 called Primo Levi for the Public, which examines the significance of Levi’s life and work, with a particular focus on how it speaks to contemporary, public issues. Cosponsored by the Primo Levi Center in New York City, the symposium will involve a broad range of scholars, including literary critics, philosophers, artists, and political commentators.

I am also pleased to announce that the Mapping Jewish LA project continues to grow and add new digital exhibitions, which can be seen at: www.MappingJewishLA.org, including upcoming exhibitions about the Fairfax neighborhood and composer Walter Arlen. Professor Sarah A. Stein’s Sephardic Archive Initiative is building an interactive digital platform and continuing to reach out to local Sephardic communities in a concerted collecting effort. This major initiative has garnered additional support from the Maurice Amado Foundation and UC Humanities Research Council.

I hope to see you at our Inaugural Leve Award Celebration and Open House. We will honor Rabbi Elliot Dorff as the first recipient of the Leve Award for his exemplary leadership and service building bridges across and beyond the Jewish community. The Leve Award ceremony will take place on October 24 at 4pm in 314 Royce Hall.

I’m excited to welcome you to the 2017-18 academic year, and look forward to introducing the next director of the Leve Center before the end of the year.

Very sincerely yours,

Todd-Presner-Signature

Todd Samuel Presner
Sady and Ludwig Kahn Director, UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies
Professor, Germanic Languages and Comparative Literature
Chair, Digital Humanities Program

About CJS

UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, directed by Professor Todd Presner, is dedicated to advancing scholarship in all areas of Jewish culture and history; educating the next generation about the role of Judaism in world civilization; and serving as an exceptional public resource for Jewish life and learning.

The Center has 30 affiliated faculty from twelve disciplines, offering nearly 70 undergraduate and graduate courses in Jewish studies annually, enrolling more than 2,000 students. The Center sponsors more than 50 lectures, workshops and conferences each year, as well as supporting civic engagement and service learning programs that address wide-ranging policy, community, and social justice issues. In this way, the Center is actively preparing the next generation of leaders and encouraging real-world advances by marshalling the riches of Jewish thought, ethics, intellectual history, and culture.

In 1994 Provost Brian Copenhaver of the UCLA College of Letters and Science established the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies in the Humanities Division, under the administration and support of Dean Pauline Yu. Through the leadership of its founding director, Professor Arnold J. Band, its two subsequent Directors, Kenneth Reinhard and David N. Myers, Acting Director Carol Bakhos, and current Director Todd Presner, the Center has developed into an exceptionally productive scholarly resource  with an impressive roster of affiliated faculty, a steady stream of distinguished visitors, and a world famous library collection.

$5 million gift will ensure UCLA Center for Jewish Studies remains among the best in U.S.

Donation from alumnus Alan Leve honors the legacy of his family

Leve_RoyceHallA $5 million gift from Alan Leve, a UCLA alumnus and the founder and president of Culver City, California-based Ohmega Technologies, will establish several endowments at the UCLA College’s Center for Jewish Studies. Leve said he hopes the gift, which will benefit students, faculty and the community, will honor his family’s legacy of giving — one that started with his late grandmother, Hinda Schonfeld.

Leve still vividly remembers the cold and rainy day in 1941 when he left the Breed Street Shul in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood for his grandmother’s funeral. He was amazed at the sight outside the car window: rows of mourners standing shoulder to shoulder for three city blocks on each side of the street, umbrellas over their heads, to pay their last respects.
“It’s a memory indelibly etched in my mind,” said Leve, now 87. “It was a revelation to me. My grandmother had no fame, no material assets of any value; but everyone gravitated to her because of her warmth and generosity of spirit. I realized then that who you are is more important than what you have.”

His grandmother’s legacy of generosity has lived on through her grandson. In recognition of his gift, the center, which is among the world’s most prestigious Jewish studies centers, will be renamed the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies.

“The Jewish presence in academic, social and cultural life on the UCLA campus is strong, and Alan Leve’s generosity helps to ensure its continued vitality,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “We are proud of the role that the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and UCLA — through many other research centers, faculty members, students and public programing — play in the international, national and local dialogue about Judaism.”

Todd Presner, the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Director of the center, said, “Alan Leve’s gift will enable us to launch a vibrant public history initiative, support undergraduate and graduate students working in all fields of Jewish studies, initiate programs supporting Jewish life on campus, attract international scholars to UCLA and provide vital research and teaching support to our faculty. This gift will secure UCLA’s standing as a preeminent center for the study of Jewish history, culture and civilization.”
The gift will be divided into several endowments.

  • The Alan D. Leve Endowment for Student Excellence will be used to fund graduate and undergraduate students engaged in fields related to Jewish studies at UCLA, including graduate fellowships, undergraduate awards and stipends for student travel and summer research projects.
  • The Alan D. Leve Endowment for Teaching Innovation will support teaching and curricular innovation in Jewish studies. It also will establish the Etta and Milton Leve Scholar-in-Residence program, which will bring academics from across the world to UCLA and foster international collaborations.
  • The Alan D. Leve Endowment for Research Innovation will support faculty and graduate student research and provide travel and research grants and conference support.
  • The Alan D. Leve Endowment for Public History and Community Outreach will support the Leve Center’s public programs, courses and community collaborations in Los Angeles.  This endowment will also establish the biennial Leve Award, which will recognize an outstanding leader working within or impacting the Jewish community. 

Leve, who was born in Boyle Heights at a time when the neighborhood was the focal point of Jewish culture in Los Angeles, has also made sure that scholars won’t forget that history, nor his grandmother’s sense of community. A portion of the gift will establish the Hinda and Jacob Schonfeld Boyle Heights Collection, which, in collaboration with the UCLA Library, will include archival materials and artifacts related to the history of Boyle Heights.

Through the Schonfeld Boyle Heights Collection, the center also will establish a public history program that will include lectures, exhibitions, tours and courses addressing the history of Jewish Los Angeles.

“My parents lived in Boyle Heights from the late 1920s to the mid 1930s and my grandparents from the late 1920s to their passing in the early 1940s, and they were members of the Breed Street Shul,” said Leve, who has 13 family members from three generations of his family who have graduated from UCLA: his daughter, Laura Leve Cohen, two nieces and their husbands, and eight cousins.

“We lived two blocks away on St. Louis Street, just south of Brooklyn Avenue, at a place and time when the majority of the Jewish population of Los Angeles lived there,” he said. “That period of Jewish presence in Boyle Heights is history now. I’m proud that the center plans to keep it alive through its commitment to programming around public history.”
David Schaberg, dean of humanities, said that Leve’s gift will allow the center to expand its research and outreach into a community that helped shape Los Angeles.

“The mission of the humanities is to explore the rich legacy of human creativity and thought,” he said. “Alan’s philanthropic leadership will allow us to study and teach Jewish history and culture in innovative ways so that our students graduate with the ability to thrive as global citizens.”

Founded in 1994, the center is the leading research hub for the study of Jewish culture and civilization on the West Coast and one of the largest and most active centers in the world. It is dedicated to advancing scholarship in Jewish culture and history, educating the next generation about the role of Judaism in world civilization and serving as an exceptional public resource for Jewish life and learning.

Leve, who still occasionally visits Boyle Heights to show relatives where the family roots began, can only imagine what his grandmother — whose dying words to her daughter were “give $2 to the poor” — would have said about his generosity.

“We came from very modest means,” he said. “I don’t think my grandparents or my parents could’ve conceived of such a gift. For me, this gift fulfills a number of personal aspirations on many levels — supporting my alma mater, investing in education, honoring my Jewish heritage by investing in its future, honoring the memory of my parents and grandparents, and establishing an enduring family legacy.”

Resources

UCLA RESOURCES

UCLA Gateway
UCLA Library
UCLA Near Eastern Languages and Cultures
UCLA Center for European and Eurasian Studies
UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies
UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies 
UCLA Center for the Study of Religion 
UCLA Department of History 
UCLA Department of Germanic Languages


COMMUNITY PARTNERS

The 1939 Society  
The California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language  
Chabad House at UCLA
Hillel at UCLA 
Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
The Maurice Amado Foundation
Skirball Cultural Center
Western States Jewish History
Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust
The Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
The Maurice Amado Foundation
Yiddishkayt
Ha’Am, UCLA’s Jewish Newsmagazine


CAMPUS PARTNERS

UCLA Center for the Study of Religion
UCLA Department of English
UCLA Department of Italian
UCLA Library
Mickey Katz Chair in Jewish Music at UCLA
UCLA Department of Comparative Literature
UCLA Department of Germanic Languages
UCLA Department of History
UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures
UCLA Digital Humanities Program
UCLA Maurice Amado Program for Sephardic Studies
Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at UCLA
UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
Von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA
Ralph J Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA
UCLA Institute for Digital Research and Education
UCLA Department of Anthropology’s “Culture, Power, Social Change” Group
UCLA Department of Spanish & Portuguese
UCLA Slavic, East European Languages & Cultures
UCLA Department of Art History


JEWISH STUDIES RESOURCES

American Academy of Religion
American Historical Association
Association for Jewish Studies
H-Judaic (Jewish Studies Network)
Primo Levi Center

Middle East Studies Association

Society of Biblical Literature

The UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies' policy on programs and participants

  • The Center does not support an academic or cultural boycott of Israel. We believe that such a boycott directly contravenes the spirit of openness and intellectual inquiry at the heart of the university.
  • In that same spirit, the Center supports academic freedom in the fullest sense of the word and does not censor speakers. We do not evaluate outside speakers, affiliated faculty members, students, or members of the general public with regard to their political beliefs, affiliations, or positions.  The political positions of speakers/faculty members/ students/members of the general public are theirs alone and not those of the Center.