HUC-JIR’s China Story: How the College-Institute Helped Launch and Sustain Jewish Studies

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dr. Steven Windmueller, the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Professor Emeritus of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR in Los Angeles, writes:

The Q&A session of Dr. Windmueller's lecture at Shandong University on the topic of “Diaspora: The Story of the Jewish People" 

Since the 1980s as the Jewish studies scene in China would begin to take form, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) would play a supportive and significant role in helping to grow these programs.  Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, the sixth president of the College-Institute, would be personally involved in seeking to advance Jewish learning in China. Beyond making three trips to China, Gottschalk would promote the Jewish studies programs at Nanjing and elsewhere by assisting Chinese campus officials to receive financial support from American donors.

Rabbi Gottschalk would invite Nanjing University Professor Xu Xin to come to HUC-JIR’s Cincinnati campus during the academic year 1995-96.  Beyond arranging for the professor to be exposed to HUC-JIR’s faculty, students, and library, Gottschalk would assist Professor Xu Xin in meeting with prominent Jewish funders and in speaking at congregations across the country and in having the opportunity to visit the Jerusalem campus.

Outside of the lecture hall at Nanjing University, where the University posted Dr. Windmueller's lecture topic, “Jews in the Psyche of America"

When Dr. Gottschalk was unable to visit China in 1996, he asked Richard J. Scheuer and his wife Joan to represent him.  Scheuer, who was Chairman Emeritus of HUC-JIR’s Board of Governors, would be so impressed by the work of the Center for Jewish Studies at Nanjing that he would offer is own financial support to advance its work and arranged to donate a portion of his personal library to the University’s Jewish collection.

In 1996, the American Jewish Archives would provide the Center with an exhibit on American Jewry that would be shared with thousands of campus and community visitors.

President Gottschalk would make his last visit to China in 2006 at which time he was invited to lecture at Nanjing University; during this trip his host, Xu Xin would arrange to introduce the former HUC-JIR President to key officials during their tour of the country. 

Dr. Gottschalk would stipulate in his estate that his personal library consisting of several thousand books be donated to the Center for Jewish and Israel Studies at Nanjing University.  Today, that collection is an important part of the Center’s significant Judaica holdings.  According to its Director, HUC-JIR has continued over the years to provide materials to the Center and its library. 

Inside the Library and Archives of Nanjing University, many of the volumes on display were orginally a part of Dr. Alfred Gottschalk’s personal collection

With the encouragement and support of President Gottschalk, various HUC-JIR faculty would come to China to teach, among the scholars who have had occasion to teach here included the current President of HUC-JIR, Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D.  While serving as the College’s President, Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D, assisted the Nanjing Center of Jewish Studies in securing financial support from several American foundations.

As I complete a twelve-day visit to the People's Republic involving five public lectures at three of this nation’s premier universities, including Nanjing, I have been reminded of the special relationship that has been developed by HUC-JIR with these growing and important centers of Jewish learning. I was asked to speak about American Jewry, the Israel-Diaspora Relationship, and my recent book, The Quest for Power. During my stay we had occasion to meet with more than one hundred graduate students, share meals with key faculty members at each of the host campuses, and tour major historic and cultural sites important to the Chinese.

As China expands its presence in the world, connections with this society will be of increasing importance for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.  HUC-JIR can hopefully continue to play an important role as a bridge in strengthening China’s Judaic resources and its understanding of the Jewish past and present.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.