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About the Meyerhoff Center

The University of Maryland has offered Hebrew language instruction since the late 1940s.

The formal Jewish studies program was instituted only in 1974 when philanthropist Joseph Meyerhoff and the Associated Jewish Charities of Baltimore endowed the Louis L. Kaplan Chair in Jewish History.

As a result of increased undergraduate interest—especially thanks to the efforts of Stuart Weinblatt and Sid Schwarz, both now rabbis, who convened a Jewish studies committee with Dean Robert Schonberg to advance and enhance the offerings—the university created several faculty positions in Jewish studies. In 1980, a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a gift from Harvey M. Meyerhoff created the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Chair in Jewish History as well as the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies. The following year, Robert H. Smith, a Jewish philanthropist in the Washington area, endowed a third chair in Jewish studies. With three endowed professorships and several state-supported faculty lines, the Jewish studies program was in an excellent position to offer a full complement of courses.

Originally, the faculty organized Jewish studies as an interdisciplinary program rather than a separate department. Faculty received appointments in the academic departments that most closely matched their disciplines and taught courses in those departments, particularly in the Departments of History, Hebrew and East Asian Languages and Literatures, Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures, Women's Studies and English. Such an arrangement allowed faculty the opportunity for intellectual community with people in their own disciplines as well as with other scholars in Jewish studies.

Beginning in the 1990s, the members of the center took steps to become more visible on campus and to increase the center’s ability to self-govern and plan. Most recently (in 2007), the Meyerhoff Center became the Meyerhoff Program and Center, able to hold tenure lines and make appointment and tenure decisions. Nonetheless, the center is proud to have retained its interdisciplinary culture and intellectual profile.

In addition to building and expanding the curriculum, the center creates an intellectual community both on campus and in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area. The center sponsors regular conferences, seminars and lectures, which bring scholars from all over the world to engage in scholarly debate. These conferences and symposia have made the University of Maryland a center for intellectual inquiry about Jews and Judaism. The center also has enlarged the community of Jewish scholarship on campus by arranging for visiting scholars, faculty and fellows, and by appointing as affiliate members regular university faculty who sometimes do research on Jews and Jewish culture.

The Meyerhoff Center has been able to fulfill its scholarly mission because of the gracious bequests of prominent local philanthropists, many of whom have provided funds for faculty research and travel to scholarly conferences. Others have provided scholarships for students to study in Israel. Still others have provided funds to build a substantial Judaica collection in the library to meet teaching and research needs. In particular, the Joseph Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds in Baltimore has generously supported all of the programs of the center, providing it with another large endowment in 1992. The late Robert H. Smith was an early supporter of the center, and his generosity provided the seed funds for Israel Studies. The honorable Joseph B. and Alma Gildenhorn have made it possible to create the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies, and Mr. Jack Kay provided the funds to create the Abraham S. and Jack Kay Chair in Israel Studies.