Director's Message

Jeffrey Kopstein

Jewish learning starts with questions.  At the Center for Jewish Studies we provide a robust environment for meaningful understanding of the multiple ways in which Judaism and the Jewish people have shaped, and are shaping, human experience in all its facets—past, present, and future.  Here scholars and students explore the diverse range of lived experiences and textual traditions of Jews as they are articulated in various regions throughout the world. Our faculty and students come from cross campus and many different Departments, including History, English Comparative Literature, Political Science, Spanish & Portuguese, Philosophy, European Studies, and Classics. 

My own questions started with a reading of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s moving essay on Jewish life before the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. He tells of a pogrom wave in 1917 where “a certain town directly in the path of the passing hordes had in the various pogrom waves been persistently spared.” His account suggests divine intervention.  I confess that as a social scientist and historian Rabbi Heschel’s account never brought my mind to rest. Why was this town spared? This question gnawed at me for a long time and ultimately provided a window on an entire world of Jewish learning.  A simple question generated a lifetime of learning. Who are the Jews? What is their relationship to their texts? What are the different ways they have sought physical security and acceptance? Why do ethnic minorities find safety and prosperity in some places and not in others? Questions generate more questions and deeper and deeper learning. That’s what we do at the Center for Jewish Studies.

 In the upcoming year, we will have exciting courses and public events that will deepen our understanding of antisemitism, Jewish literature and music, and modern Israel.

 I’m thrilled to invite you to ask your own questions and make your own way into the noble 3,000 year old Jewish tradition. Our goal is to make UCI a global seat of Jewish learning. Join the conversation!


Jeffrey Kopstein
Director, Center for Jewish Studies
Professor, Political Science

Jewish Studies at UCI

Our Mission

The mission of the Center for Jewish Studies is to serve as the hub for the interdisciplinary and comparative study of Jewish and Israeli culture and society at UCI and in Orange County; to engage the wider community through public programs and lectures; to support cutting-edge research and to inspire undergraduate scholarship in Jewish and Israel studies; to cultivate ties with Israeli academic institutions; and to promote tolerance and appreciation of cultural and religious pluralism on the UCI campus.