It was only two years ago, in 2008, that two Long Beach Jewish community members made a significant contribution to the Jewish Studies Program at California State University Long Beach and to Jewish life. Barbara and Ray Alpert were given an opportunity to endow a chair in the program in order “to help students of all backgrounds understand the heritage and rich culture of Jewish life,” Ray Alpert remarked, adding that he and his wife hoped “with this donation, the program will be able to further enhance the understanding of our history, especially the Holocaust and its implications, as well as the study of language, ethics,” and other related Jewish experience over the last four millennia.
Beginning the fall 2010 semester, the university announced the recipient of the Alpert Endowed Chair for Jewish Studies, Dr. Jeffrey Blutinger. This is one of only three endowed chairs in the entire university. His charge is to “promote and enhance academic vitality and fiscal security essential to keeping the program functioning,” and, in addition, required to provide students with an array of opportunities for studying the entire Jewish milieu through the more than 20 courses each year. On a broader scope, the program hosts a speaker’s series held each year at the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach, brings guests lecturers into the classroom, participates in various university forums, and organizes campus symposia. The program connects the university with local Jewish organizations, synagogues, and other religious and cultural groups. It was recently a co-host with other local Jewish organizations for the 5th Long Beach Jewish Film Festival.
The program – which is based within the History Department — offers a minor in Jewish Studies with students free to tailor the program to suit their interests. There is only one required course, History 141, and the rest of the wide range of subjects is elective. Here is an interdisciplinary experience to whet the appetite of any student, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, who wants to discover a whole new world. According to Dr. Blutinger, among the more than 300 students who have studied in the program, there are more non-Jews than Jews. He also noted that financial support, including Jewish Studies scholarships, is available.
Blutinger, a San Diego native, received his doctorate from UCLA, and his master’s and bachelor’s degrees from the same university. He earned his juris doctor from UCLA’s School of Law and is the recipient of 13 honors and awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship and Order of the Coif (from UCLA’s law school). In conjunction with others, he has authored two books and has had 10 articles published. Proficient in Hebrew, he has traveled widely and visited Israel four times, spending weeks and months studying, doing research and volunteering with each visit. In 1984 -1985 he was on an ulpan program — Sherut La’am – where he also served as a volunteer in a development town. Today, as head of the program at CSULB, “I hope to increase the number of majors and minors in our program,” he said. “We need to get our numbers up, so that we’ll be able to regularly … increase the number, range, and diversity of the classes we offer.” His third mission is “to move in the direction of teacher and professional training,” the core mission since the founding of the program. The first step was the Holocaust Teacher Training Workshop, he explained, but now “we are also looking at ways to pre-service teachers and recruit teachers for parochial schools.”