Joining a select group of universities in the world with an endowed faculty chair in Israel Studies, the University of California, Berkeley, a hotbed of anti-Semitism, announced the creation of the Helen Diller Family Chair in Israel Studies.
The chair is the university’s first in the field. It will serve to endow courses, research and programs of the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies.
Made possible by a $5 million grant from the Helen Diller Foundation, the position will be held by Ron Hassner, the Berkeley institute’s faculty co-director and an international relations expert on the relationship between religion and conflict.
Hassner is an associate professor of political science whose courses regularly draw hundreds of students.
“I am moved and humbled by the generosity of the Helen Diller Foundation,” he said. “The foundation recognized the urgency of teaching Israel in an even-handed and professional manner on the Berkeley campus and sprang into action. Their gift allows us to address our students’ growing thirst for bold discussions in this flourishing, provocative and crucial academic field.”
The Dillers’ connections to Berkeley were deep, going back to the early 1950s, when the two met as undergraduates. They went on to become prominent Bay Area business leaders and philanthropists in medicine, the arts and Jewish affairs. Helen Diller passed away in January 2015, and Sanford Diller in June 2017.
In 2002, the Diller family made endowment gifts totaling $5 million to Berkeley, which currently provide funding for the campus’s Center for Jewish Studies and support its director, faculty research funds, and graduate student fellowship and research funds.
The campus’s architecture for Jewish and Israel Studies has coalesced in the past decade to encompass the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies, founded in 2011, the Center for Jewish Studies, established in 2013, and the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, acquired by the campus in 2010.
“This is an extraordinary gift for many reasons, not the least of which is that it lays a cornerstone at Berkeley for future support of these programs,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ. “It signals great faith in the work we have done to build Jewish and Israel Studies at Berkeley, and helps launch, in a very robust way, a campaign to ensure that our ‘startup’ efforts will be institutionalized for generations of students to come.”