$500,000 gift boosts Jewish studies at UC Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz campus of the University of California has announced a $500,000 gift to further enhance its reputation as a leading center for Jewish and Holocaust studies in northern California.

The gift by the Helen Diller Family will go toward the establishment of the Murray Baumgarten Chair in Jewish Studies and comes on top of an earlier $1.5 million endowment by the family foundation, which led to the creation of the UCSC Center for Jewish Studies in 1997.

Curently, an average of 1,000 students enroll annually in Jewish studies at Santa Cruz. In July of this year, the campus lauched an online course on the Holocaust, which has drawn 18,000 subscribers from 58 countries.

Helen Diller, a San Francisco native and daughter of Polish immigants, met her future husband, Sanford Diller, when both were undergraduates at UC Berkeley. A lawyer who shuns publicity, he later established a successful real estate development and management company.

Through its latest $500,000 gift, the Diller family honors the accomplishments of Murray Baumgarten, Distinguished Professor of English and Contemporary Literature, who has guided Jewish studies on campus for nearly three decades.

Baumgarten also leads the online course on “The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry,” together with history professor Peter Kenez.

Over the past 14 years, the Helen Diller Family Foudation has supported and lent its name to the Teen Tikun Olam Awards, endowment for a visiting Israeli scholar at UC Berkeley, awards for excellence in Jewish education, and a preschool at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco.

The foundation has also been active in supporting medical research and the arts, including a $35 million gift to the Comprehensive Cancer Center at UC San Francisco, and support for a lecture series on Israeli antiquities. The foundation’s total grants so far come to more than $200 million.  

In a statement, UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal noted, “[The Dillers] new gift celebrates the legacy they helped to create and assures the future vitality of our Center for Jewish Studies.”