In the single largest donation pledge that UC Irvine has received for studies on Jewish history and culture, the university has been promised a $4 million matching gift to benefit its growing Center for Jewish Studies, university officials said Monday, Aug. 1.

The money, donated by local philanthropists and Anaheim Ducks owners Susan and Henry Samueli, “will catalyze community support for Jewish studies at UCI and help UCI become a model for tolerance and appreciation of cultural and religious pluralism,” UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman said in a statement.

The Samuelis will go dollar-for-dollar on contributions made to the center up to $4 million, said UCI spokesman Tom Vasich. University officials “are hoping the announcement of this match gift inspires an outpouring of gifts,” he added.

Part of the university’s School of Humanities, the Center for Jewish Studies was established in 2017 to explore Jewish history and Israeli society and politics.

The Samuelis have donated millions over the years to institutions like UCI, Chapman University, and UCLA. A child of two Holocaust survivors, Henry Samueli said the field of study their recent contribution will benefit “is an area that uniquely touches our hearts.”

Teaching about antisemitism is a focus of the center’s work. A recently launched fellowship program, led by UCI professor Matthias Lehmann, who is the director of the center, teaches the history of antisemitism and conducts campus outreach to bring awareness and study how to recognize it in everyday life.

Lehmann also helms an annual undergraduate lecture on the Holocaust that “fills to capacity” each year, reaching its 120-person limit, according to university officials.

The recent donation will help fund the center’s upcoming projects, including working with Israeli universities to coordinate scholar visits to UCI.

Lehmann said he plans to build a partnership between the center at UCI and Tel Aviv University’s School of Jewish Studies and Archeology, to create a fellowship that will bring to Irvine a junior scholar of Jewish Studies from Tel Aviv who would help with research as well as teaching.

The idea behind the initiative is “so that our students will benefit from a variety of different and new perspective(s),” Lehmann said.

School officials are also working to establish a program that supports kindergarten through high school teachers with lessons on the Holocaust.

With help from the UC Irvine History Project — which provides professional development for K-12 history teachers — Lehmann said the goal is to create an “educators initiative in Jewish Studies” to help teachers “develop their knowledge about Jewish and Israeli culture, about antisemitism, and in Holocaust Studies and to help teachers identify and confront instances of antisemitism and hate speech in the classroom.”

Lehmann noted the idea is in the “beginning stages” but said he believes it could be “transformative.”

Among the ideas that guide the mission of the Center for Jewish Studies is: “change starts at the bottom,” he said. “That is also true for fighting antisemitism. Therefore, we need to focus our energies on the students.”

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