UC Santa Cruz launches Murray Baumgarten Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies

Over 150 donors commit nearly $1 million to support research, teaching, and public events

Murray Baumgarten addresses the crowd (Photos by Steve Kurtz)
Murray Baumgarten addresses the crowd (Photos by Steve Kurtz)
From left: Alice Yang, Noriko Aso, and Murray Baumgarten
Nathaniel Deutsch

Nathaniel Deutsch is the inaugural chair holder of the new Murray Baumgarten Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies

UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal
"Murray is a campus treasure," noted UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal
Dean of Humanities Tyler Stovall
Dean of Humanities Tyler Stovall welcomes the audience
Murray Baumgarten

UC Santa Cruz has established an endowed chair to honor the person most responsible for the thriving Jewish Studies program that exists on the campus today.

Over 150 donors have committed a combined total of $977,130 to establish the new Murray Baumgarten Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies in the Center for Jewish Studies, located in the UC Santa Cruz Institute for Humanities Research.  

The purpose of the chair is to promote research, teaching, and public outreach activities in the area of Jewish Studies.

"Murray Baumgarten is truly one of the finest, most decent people I've ever known," noted UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal.

"Wherever he goes, Murray builds community. He nurtured the Jewish Studies program, helped launch our Jewish Studies major, and teamed up with Peter Kenez to teach a legendary class about the Holocaust, the online version of which has reached more than 20,000 people in 60 countries. Murray is a campus treasure."

Nathaniel Deutsch, director of the Center for Jewish Studies, was honored as the inaugural chair holder at an investiture ceremony held yesterday on campus at College Nine and Ten.

A professor of history, Deutsch is also director of the Institute for Humanities Research at UC Santa Cruz and the chair of the University of California Consortium of Humanities Centers.

"Murray has been a mentor, teacher, and friend to me,” said Deutsch. “I am tremendously honored and humbled to be the first holder of the Baumgarten Chair in Jewish Studies.”

“The fact that so many people—former students, community members, and others whose lives Murray has touched over the years—contributed to the Baumgarten Chair speaks to the tremendous impact that he has had, and through his legacy, will continue to have at the university," Deutsch added.

Now a distinguished professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at UC Santa Cruz, Baumgarten was born on a boat traveling from Europe to Panama on the eve of World War II.

In an essay titled “My Panama,” he recalled the circumstances of his birth:

“Not that it was any of my doing: running from the Nazis, we were penniless, frightened, wearing out. In the terror of flight, and confusion, I came early from my mother’s womb, popping out on the ship that was taking us to Panama. Was it a premonition that mine was not to be the ease of a citizen relaxed in the amniotic fluid of home?”

After spending time in the refugee Jewish community of Colon, Panama, Baumgarten immigrated to America, where he earned degrees from Columbia University and UC Berkeley before coming to the newly created UC Santa Cruz in 1967.

Hired as a scholar of 19th century British literature, he helped co-found the world renowned Dickens Project. 

Although the new university did not have a program in Jewish Studies, Baumgarten and a few colleagues decided to create courses in Jewish history and culture to fill the void. Eventually, with the help of a grant from the Helen Diller Family Foundation, Baumgarten founded the Jewish Studies program and created an undergraduate major.

"Jewish culture has responded to--and been shaped by--interactions with the major cultural, political, and social movements since ancient times, and has had a role in shaping them," Baumgarten observed after UC Santa Cruz approved the major.

"Our program builds bridges between Jewish culture and the many other cultures that exist in today's world, and illuminates what it takes to navigate in a diverse world," he added.

The Campaign for UC Santa Cruz supports excellence across the university through increased private investment in the people and ideas shaping the future. It is bringing critical new resources to the student experience, excellence in research, and the campus commitment to environmental and social justice.