Jewish studies grows with aid of ‘model donors’


By Clint Talbott

Richard and Eileen Greenberg made a significant donation through their family foundation, the Bender Family Foundation, to help insure that CUs Jewish Studies program remains excellent.

Richard and Eileen Greenberg made a significant donation through their family foundation, the Bender Family Foundation, to help ensure that CU's Jewish Studies program remains excellent.

Richard and Eileen Greenberg believe a major research university should maintain an excellent program in Jewish studies. So does David Shneer, an associate professor of history who runs the University of Colorado’s new Jewish Studies Program.

When the economy collapsed last year, CU’s fledgling Jewish Studies Program could have suffered a major budgetary blow. But the Greenbergs made a significant donation through their family foundation, the Bender Family Foundation, for developmental and operational needs.

Shneer, who moved from the University of Denver to build the Jewish Studies Program, has a strategic plan for Jewish Studies that the economic downturn threatened to derail. He characterizes the Greenbergs’ help as a godsend. “Without their gift, we could not have stayed on track.”

In the absence of their assistance, the program would have had fewer courses and would not have been able to grow as rapidly as it has, Shneer says. Last fall, the program had 15 students pursuing a certificate in Jewish Studies. By the end of May, the student ranks had grown to 62.

Shneer’s goal last school year was to win a new position for a tenured faculty member and to double the number of faculty connected with the program. He got the additional position; six new faculty members are connected with the program, and about a dozen new courses.

“We have met and exceeded all of our goals,” Shneer observes.

Both Shneer and the Greenbergs see the program as critical for the CU curriculum and to the CU mission. “To be a powerhouse research university in the United States, you have to have a Jewish studies program,” Shneer says.

In concurring, Greenberg laments the previous lack of a formal Jewish studies program here. “We always felt that Jewish Studies was missing at the University of Colorado,” Greenberg says. “When we found out that it was created and reinvigorated, we got involved.”

Besides supporting the program generally, the Greenbergs have made a personal donation to support a new course called “Jews Under Islam.”

Richard Greenberg hopes the course will help students understand some history of Jewish people who lived under Islamic rule. “I think most Jews and most Muslims don’t appreciate how similar the religions are, and for many years Jews lived in Islamic countries, perhaps as second-class citizens, but they enjoyed greater freedom and greater harmony” than they did in some Christian states.

Studying such histories can yield a broader view of the religions and their cultures, Greenberg adds. “With a greater understanding of how these cultures existed side by side for a long time and borrowed from one another for a long time, it could put current antagonisms in perspective.”

Could such understanding engender hope for greater amity among religions? Greenberg pauses, then suggests, “It doesn’t have to be like this. It’s not hard-wired.”

Greenberg, a retired attorney, is not a CU alumnus. But Eileen got her bachelor’s from CU in physical health in 1978. Their son Josh got his business degree from CU in 2002. Daughter Rachael graduated this year with degrees in sociology and communication. Son Daniel enters CU’s Leeds School of Business this fall.

“We love the institution,” Greenberg says. “We’re delighted that two of our kids went there and graduated.”

With respect to the Jewish Studies Program, “We’re just very excited at this development. We’re very excited that David Shneer has been recruited and is successful, and we’re happy to support it any way we can.”

Shneer reciprocates the compliment, saying: “The Greenbergs are model donors who just as easily talked about the philosophy of the Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza as about our business model for building Jewish Studies. And most important, they are supporting us by investing in our people and in student learning, the real mission of a university.”

For more information and to get involved, please contact Mary McGee, director of development, CU Foundation, at 303-541-1470 or via e-mail at mary.mcgee@cufund.org.

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