For 35 years, an extraordinary bond has existed between USC and its nearest academic neighbor, Hebrew Union College-Jewish
Institute of Religion. Thousands of shared students and joint-degree alumni are living proof that amazing things can happen when
a secular research university and a small religious college decide to embrace each other's differences.
Judaic Treasures of Troy
By Diane Krieger
You Could Say Lindy Davidson is leading worship, only it looks a lot like dance improv. Her acolytes - a mix of USC
actors, dancers, singers and performance artists - sit in a circle on the Scene Dock stage.
"Adonai sifatai tiftach ufi yagid tehilatecha," she articulates carefully, pacing barefoot in leotards around the circle. It means: "God, open my lips that my mouth may speak your praise." The devotion Davidson has selected to demonstrate her unique approach to midrash (liturgical exegesis) is actually a preparatory supplication - an invocation of the pious muse.
Davidson prompts the participants, who appear to be a multifaith crowd, to mime selected words: first Adonai (God); then sifatai (my lips); next tiftach (open); and finally, tehilatecha (your praise). Before long the artists' backs begin to arch, mouths gape, palms spread, arms strain skyward.
"Now weave your movements together," Davidson instructs.
And behold: a dozen devotional dances in miniature, each unique and personal, illustrating a prayer Jews have been reciting mornings, afternoons and evenings through the millennia.
No, Davidson isn't proselytizing. Her exercise is one of two dozen student presentations at a creativity workshop led by world-famous choreographer Twyla Tharp. Nor is Davidson trying to jump-start a career in choreography. Her dual master's degrees, when she graduated in May from USC and Hebrew Union College, were in public art studies and Jewish communal service, respectively. Where her journey will take her even Davidson can't tell. "All I know is I want to continue to use art as a way to help inspire the community," she says. Someday participants in her prayer-movement improv circle may be her own young Torah scholars: Davidson is currently in Jerusalem, beginning her first year of rabbinical training.
Much has been written about USC's efforts to promote unlikely cross-fertilizations between disciplines. It is at these unexpected margins, so the theory goes, that the next wave of intellectual and creative breakthroughs will emerge. But less has been said about a partnership of more than 35 years' standing that truly embodies this philosophy. The partnership in question is between USC and its closest geographical neighbor in higher education, the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Two schools different as night and day, yet close as brothers.
Graduate students from HUC have been crossing Jefferson Boulevard for decades to take classes in social work, public administration, gerontology and religion and social ethics. More recently, they've been coming over to study communications management, public art and business administration. On the horizon, there's talk of cooperative programs in sacred music, classics and Jewish filmmaking.
At the same time, USC undergraduates have been crossing the street in the other direction to take courses in religious literature and philosophy, Holocaust studies, modern Hebrew, Jewish- American history and a host of other topics taught by HUC's distinguished faculty of 24 Judaic scholars.
The two institutions have bent over backward to find intersections. And students have taken that good will and run with it, turning the resources of both schools to their educational advantage. Davidson is just one of more than 300 joint USC-HUC graduate alumni. Many have amazing stories: like second-year student Gosia Szymanska, who came all the way from Poland to train in Jewish community service and public administration, skill sets that are virtually unknown and sorely needed in her homeland. Or like gerontologist Beverly Engel MS '86, who has developed adult daycare programs for Jewish and non- Jewish seniors in Ohio, Mississippi and Florida. Or Deborah Mohile MPA '94, former White House public liaison with Jewish organizations, now communications director for a nonprofit that ferries tens of thousands of young Jews from around the globe to experience the promised land.
None of these cross-fertilizations would have been possible were it not for the unwavering spirit of collaborative goodwill on both sides of Jefferson Boulevard.
"The relationship between USC and HUC is unique in this country," says USC President Steven B. Sample. "Perhaps no other seminary and secular research universities in the nation can boast of closer ties."
Across the way, the feeling is mutual. "It's an extraordinary relationship in higher education," says HUC dean Lewis Barth, chief executive of the Los Angeles campus at 32nd and Hoover.