Moment of Inspiration: Leah Hochman, Ph.D

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Leah Hochman, Ph.D.,
Director, Louchheim School of Judaic Studies

In July 1972, three brothers gathered at the newly dedicated Los Angeles campus of HUC-JIR to celebrate the legacy of their father, Jerome H. Louchheim, in whose honor and memory they had named an academic program in Jewish studies. Spearheaded by William (Bill) Louchheim, who had carefully managed the construction of HUC-JIR’s new building, the brothers Jerome, Jr., Bill, and Henry dedicated their name to a remarkable partnership between HUC-JIR and the University of Southern California.

For 50 years, the Jerome H. Louchheim School of Judaic Studies has deepened and expanded. Through the determined perseverance of Rabbi Dr. William Cutter, the Louchheim School’s first director, and Rabbi Dr. Lewis Barth, dean of the campus at the time, what began as a few classes—Jewish History, The Holocaust, Contemporary Hebrew—developed into a course of study that complemented USC’s general education curriculum and fostered opportunities for HUC-JIR students to serve as teaching and research assistants. More classes were added under the respective stewardships of Rabbi Dr. David Ellenson, Rabbi Dr. Reuven Firestone, and Dr. Joshua Holo. Those early classes have blossomed into a full Bachelors of Art curriculum with two tracks and a broad reach across 14 of USC’s undergraduate colleges. Furthermore, dual degree programs housed in HUC-JIR’s Zelikow School for Jewish NonProfit Management allow HUC-JIR students to pursue Master’s degrees in Social Work, Communication, Public Policy, or Business at USC.

It has been an unique experience teaching in all four of HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles based programs. Teaching in the Louchheim School requires a different focus than teaching within a seminary. As an academic discipline, Jewish studies offers undergraduate students a chance to connect with aspects of their culture and background in ways they most often have not had. I see them—Jewish and non-Jewish students alike—connecting various dots, opening their perspectives, questioning ideas to which they did not realize they felt attached. For Jewish students, some of whom take a Jewish studies class because they think it will be “easy” for them, exploring the complex, expansive, and unexpected experience of Jewish life before the 21st century can have a powerful effect on their self-understanding. For non-Jewish students, some of whom wait semesters to take specific classes taught by our exceptional faculty, learning about the contexts in and out of which Jewish history, literature, culture, and language developed is a formative and eye-opening experience. In exploring Jewish studies, students become aware of the many ways learning about a different culture can reflect back into one’s own tradition. In truth, the interactions between students make all the grading worthwhile.

The extension of the partnership between HUC-JIR and USC for 25 years solidifies not only the mutual benefit of the institutional relationship but reinforces those possibilities for critical engagement, cultural exchange, and broadening of horizons. It is a distinct privilege to be a part of it.