The UI Foundation announced Sept. 19 a $7.2 million gift commitment to the Jewish studies programs at the Urbana-Champaign and Chicago campuses.
The gifts of Sheldon and Anita Drobny of Highland Park, Ill., and his partners at Chicago-based Paradigm Group, L.L.C., will make possible a permanent Jewish studies program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Urbana-Champaign and will greatly strengthen the Jewish Studies Program at UIC, according to UI President James J. Stukel.
A $5 million endowment that creates the Sheldon and Anita Drobny Interdisciplinary Program for the Study of Jewish Culture and Society at the Urbana-Champaign campus launches a comprehensive program across several disciplines, Stukel said. The Jewish studies program at the Urbana-Champaign campus is unique compared to offerings at other institutions because of its interdisciplinary approach. Fields of study include history, sociology, linguistics, art, literature, economics, religious studies, music, political science and cinema studies.
The gift will fund one endowed chair and three endowed professorships. It also will support scholarly publications and enhance library collections in the fields of Judaica and Holocaust studies.
A $1 million endowment created for UIC's Jewish Studies Program will give the Chicago campus the opportunity to invite visiting scholars to the university and to seek world-renowned Jewish scholars, statesmen and artists to reside on campus. It also will increase substantially the number of volumes of Judaic books and journals at UIC's Richard J. Daley Library.
Since 1878, the importance of the Jewish heritage and of matters pertaining to Judaism has been recognized at the UI. For the last 10 years on the Urbana-Champaign campus, an ad hoc Committee on Jewish Culture and Society has provided a nucleus for the establishment of a permanent program.
"The gift from Anita and Shelly Drobny and the Paradigm Group secures the future of Jewish Studies at the UI in perpetuity," said Jesse Delia, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "It affords us an opportunity to integrate the study of Judaism across the curriculum and to provide for administrative support and library resources as well. Current and future generations of students and faculty members will benefit from their generosity and vision."
For several years, the Drobnys have been involved in efforts to locate and to preserve Judaica hidden during the Holocaust. Their involvement with the R'fa- aye-nu Society, whose honorary chairman was the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, led them to the UI.
"The reason we decided to give a major gift to the UI was because we were very interested in the university's Jewish studies program," said Anita Drobny.
"I have an abiding faith in the survival of man through education," said Sheldon Drobny. "For me it's very important to understand the meaning of the Holocaust.
"It's not going to solve anything to remain angry. You have to get the word out, to get the message out," he said. "That's why I like the UI's program, to educate the Christian world, the Moslem world, the black Christian world and the black Moslem world."
Sheldon and Anita Drobny have personal links to the Holocaust. Both of Sheldon's parents had come to the United
States from Poland before World War II, but some relatives died in the Holocaust. Anita's parents also came to the United States from Europe, after first traveling to Cuba.
The new endowed chair as well as the new professorships and funds will be named after the Drobnys' own family members and Paradigm partners. The UI was a logical choice to carry on the work of Cardinal Bernardin, Sheldon Drobny said. From 1963 to 1965, he attended the UI campus at Navy Pier before transferring to Roosevelt University. He and Anita also were impressed with the UI's interdisciplinary approach and with its national reputation within higher education.
To establish the campus programs, the Drobnys and Paradigm Group also are providing $1.2 million over the next four years to initiate the academic-position search process, enabling the campus to make appointments by fall 1998.
"It's very important that we do this somewhere as a start, as a model," Sheldon Drobny noted. "If we continue the process, we can take away the insecurity and depravity going on in the world. Certainly this is a good start."
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