Helen and Sanford Diller Family Endowment for Jewish Studies

With a gift of $1.5 million, San Francisco Bay Area couple Helen and Sanford established an endowment for Jewish studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The gift is the largest private donation ever received by the campus's Humanities Division. Named the Helen and Sanford Diller Family Endowment in Jewish Studies, the donation was made with the intention of supporting and substantially expanding UCSC's interdisciplinary program, which focuses on modern Jewish history, life, and cultures. Additionally, the endowment established a visiting professorship, entitled the Helen and Stanford Diller Visiting Professorship in Jewish Studies. The Helen Diller Family Foundation also established and supports the Helen and Sanford Diller Visiting Lecturer Series in Jewish Studies.

We are honored that the Dillers selected UCSC as the home for this endowment," said former UCSC Chancellor M.R.C. Greenwood. "Their generous gift constitutes the cornerstone of a major effort to build Jewish studies at UCSC. Because of this endowment we will be able to offer expanded and ongoing courses, graduate study and research opportunities, and other academic and public activities in Jewish studies."

Through the endowment, UCSC will be able to bring a series of distinguished visiting professors to campus for up to a full academic year," explained Jorge Hankamer, former dean of UCSC's Humanities Division. "These visiting scholars will round out UCSC's current offerings in Jewish studies by teaching both foundation courses in modern Jewish cultures and courses focused on a wide variety of topics, including Judaism as a religious civilization, Judaism in the modern world, ancient Judaism, the Sephardic world, sects and messianic traditions, and Jewish culture in the non-Western world."

The Dillers' gift was made through the Jewish Community Endowment Fund (JCEF) of the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation. Based in San Francisco, the JCEF is a granting agency that houses philanthropic funds and a number of supporting organizations.

I'm pleased that we could bring to the attention of the Dillers this opportunity to support the Jewish studies program at UCSC," says JCEF executive director Phyllis Cook. "The Dillers have a strong commitment to supporting the intellectual and cultural understanding of Jewish traditions. At the same time, UCSC is poised to expand what is already recognized as a high-quality program."

In the past few years, UCSC has been making a concerted effort to expand its Jewish studies programs. Through the Dillers' grant, the campus is able to put in place the first major phase of the expansion. When additional funding is available, the next steps in the expansion process will be to establish a permanent faculty position in Jewish studies and increase course offerings in Hebrew.

A committee was formed to direct Jewish studies and recommend use of the Diller endowment funds. The committee, chaired by professor of English and comparative literature Murray Baumgarten, is comprised of faculty from the Divisions of Arts, Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences. A minor in Jewish studies is already in place at UCSC. The committee plans to enhance the minor through endowment-supported academic conferences, workshops, film and arts festivals, and public lectures.

UCSC is poised to become a vital center for Jewish studies," Baumgarten said. "And the first major step in that direction is now possible thanks to the Dillers."

Baumgarten is co-chair of UCSC's Neufeld-Levin Holocaust Endowed Chair. One of just a handful of chairs in Holocaust studies in the U.S., the Neufeld-Levin Chair is jointly held by Baumgarten (who is also editor of the journal Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought) and professor of history Peter Kenez. The chair was established in 1995 by Anne Neufeld Levin, former president of the UC Santa Cruz Foundation Board of Trustees and a Santa Cruz resident.

Helen and Sanford Diller are longtime Bay Area residents, who both have connections to the University of California (both attended UC Berkeley).

Helen Diller says that the couple chose to establish the endowment at UCSC for several reasons. "We think UCSC is an outstanding and innovative school, which is gaining deserved recognition for its academic excellence. We are confident that this partnership with the UCSC faculty and administration will result in an exciting and vital Jewish studies program. We are also pleased to be able to support what we see as a very active and dynamic Jewish student community on campus.

Along with their gift to UCSC, the Dillers support a number of other nonprofit charities, including the Diller Teen Fellow Program, an innovative leadership social action and love of Israel program for selected junior or senior high school students that includes retreats, seminars, and culminates in a month in Israel. Helen Diller has also been active in a number of charitable organizations, serving as current chair of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and former regional president of the American Friends of the Hebrew University. Her work also includes advocacy for Chai House Assisted Living in San Jose.

According to Baumgarten, "Santa Cruz is developing its program as part of a concerted effort to cooperate and collaborate with other northern California colleges and universities with Jewish studies programs, an effort coordinated by the Academic Consortium for Bay Area Jewish Studies." The consortium is funded and staffed by the JCEF and chaired by William Brinner, professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at UC Berkeley.

Since its inception in 1999, the generous Helen and Sanford Diller Family Endowment in Jewish Studies has rapidly expanded this campus program, which focuses on Jewish history, life, and cultures. “We think UCSC is an outstanding and innovative school, which is gaining deserved recognition for its academic excellence,” Helen Diller noted in explaining her selection of the campus. Under the direction of Professor Murray Baumgarten, coholder of the Neufeld Levin Holocaust Endowed Chair, the Jewish studies program has thrived. Courses taught by faculty from across the campus encourage students to use UC Santa Cruz’s significant library resources, which include classic Jewish texts and materials on the Holocaust and Jewish art. In sponsoring research, lectures, and film presentations on Jewish topics, the program illuminates the Judeo-Christian tradition and facilitates greater understanding of today’s Middle East conflict.