USC, Hebrew Union College celebrate 50 years as partners — and look ahead

USC, Hebrew Union College celebrate 50 years as partners — and look ahead

Leaders of the two institutions note that the unique partnership is a national model.

September 12, 2022 David Medzerian

USC and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion on Monday celebrated their partnership that has spanned a half-century and marked their continued relationship – recently extended for at least another 25 years.

“It is an honor to be here today to celebrate the great vision that led to this partnership, the work of so many who have contributed to it over the years, our shared history and our continued responsibility to educate future generations in Jewish studies and to build a better and more just future,” USC President Carol L. Folt said during Monday’s celebration at USC’s Town and Gown facility.

Through the two schools’ partnership, HUC’s Louchheim School for Judaic Studies serves as USC’s undergraduate Jewish studies program, and a graduate certificate program allows USC doctoral candidates to enroll in for-credit courses at HUC. USC students also have access to HUC’s library of 700,000 volumes, one of the largest Jewish libraries in the country.

In turn, students in HUC’s Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management pursue a variety of dual graduate degrees at USC. HUC students also can participate in events through USC organizations including USC’s Casden Institute, USC Chabad, USC Hillel and USC Shoah Foundation, with its deep collection of Holocaust testimonies and extensive research on genocides worldwide.

There really isn’t anything else like it in this country.

Carol L. Folt, USC president

“There really isn’t anything else like it in this country,” Folt said.

USC today has a significant population of Jewish students — about 2,000 Jewish undergraduate and 1,500 graduate students, Folt said.

When the USC-HUC agreement began, Folt said, USC had just a handful of courses in Jewish studies. Today, the schools jointly offer one of the nation’s strongest Jewish studies programs, with hundreds of undergraduate students enrolling in courses every year.

The partnership between the two schools began in 1971 when HUC moved its Los Angeles campus from Hollywood to University Park.

Just a year later, anti-Jewish hatred stole international headlines as 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered by terrorists at the Munich Olympics.

“We have to remember our history,” Folt said. “It is our responsibility to teach our history to every generation.”

USC-Hebrew Union College: A ‘special relationship’

Joshua Holo, dean of the HUC campus just steps away from USC’s University Park Campus, compared the schools’ partnership to the “special relationship” the United States enjoys with the United Kingdom, in which the Atlantic Ocean unites rather than divides.

“Jefferson Boulevard has proven not a barrier, but a bridge,” Holo said. The partnership, Holo added, “embodies a fundamental shared goal: excellence in higher education.”

He also praised Folt’s support of USC’s Jewish students, especially during recent instances of anti-Semitism.

USC-Hebrew Union College: Andrew Rehfeld
Andrew Rehfeld, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, speaks during Monday’s event celebrating the college’s 50-year partnership with USC. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

In January, Folt created the Advisory Committee on Jewish Life at USC amid an increase in anti-Semitism in the United States and at campuses nationwide, including USC. She noted that several of the committee’s recommendations are already being implemented, including establishing a kosher kitchen; improving holiday policies; including Jewish voices in the university’s discussions of diversity, equity and inclusion; and providing training about anti-Semitism to students, faculty and staff.

During a discussion moderated by USC Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life Varun Soni, Folt and HUC President Andrew Rehfeld were asked how the two institutions can work together to fight growing sentiments of anti-Semitism. (“What happens in the world happens on campus,” Soni said.)

Rehfeld identified three steps to deal with such hate: Name it; condemn it; and do something about it. Folt said that, because of social media, it is often unclear where the remarks are coming from — or even how widespread those sentiments really are.

Developing leaders on both campuses

Folt also noted that society’s approach to developing leaders has changed dramatically.

“We used to think about leadership as something that happened to a person over time,” Folt said, and that some people are considered born leaders. Now, people realize that “there are so many aspects of leadership that can be taught, be mentored, be modeled,” she said.

In addition, she said students today equate leadership with impact, and that leaders must act with integrity, be open to difference of opinion and show humility.

Diversity and inclusion are not just moral values that we share. They are intellectual values.

Andrew Rehfeld, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Folt also mentioned USC’s new “student commitment” — introduced at last month’s new student convocation — as a blueprint for sharing Trojan Family values, including acting with integrity; embracing diversity, equity and inclusion; engaging in open communication; and being  accountable for one’s actions.

Rehfeld — who leads HUC’s system of four campuses in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, New York and Jerusalem — noted the two institutions’ shared moral and civic values.

“Diversity and inclusion are not just moral values that we share. They are intellectual values,” he said, adding, “Reason and science are driving our understanding of the world.”