American Jewish University announced this week that it has begun an exploratory process to identify a strategic partner to make use of underutilized space at its Sunny & Isadore Familian Campus, the 35-acre property in Los Angeles’ Bel Air neighborhood that has housed the university’s administration and academic facilities for more than four decades.
AJU President Dr. Jeffrey Herbst notified the community on Thursday morning of the formation of the exploratory committee, writing in a prepared statement that brokering a relationship with a partner that shares the university’s values will be a critical step in helping to “enhance the vibrancy of the Familian campus.” Herbst noted that other organizations across the country were also conducting similar reviews.
AJU, previously known as the University of Judaism, moved to the Familian Campus, an expansive hilltop facility that overlooks the San Fernando Valley and Santa Monica Mountains, in 1977. Situated in one of Los Angeles’s most desirable locations, the campus houses the university’s Ostrow and Burton Libraries, two of the largest repositories of Jewish wisdom on the West Coast, as well as a raft of dormitories, administrative offices and lecture halls.
The university operates a second facility in Simi Valley — the 2,200-acre Brandeis-Bardin Campus — which will not be included in the scope of the review, Herbst’s statement noted. The verdant Brandeis-Bardin Campus hosts the Brandeis Collegiate Institute and Camp Alonim.
Herbst said that the decision to reevaluate AJU’s land use and facility holdings is part of the university’s “strategic planning to envision the post-COVID future,” as AJU is seeking to implement a suite of online and in-person educational offerings. In initiating this review, the university’s board hopes to “both navigate the pandemic and effectively position AJU for the future long after the pandemic recedes,” Herbst wrote.
Herbst said that the decision to reevaluate AJU’s land use and facility holdings is part of the university’s “strategic planning to envision the post-COVID future.”
“The Board of Directors believes that it is important to explore whether we could better allocate resources to serve our mission, as we continue to invest in our educational programs and grow our digital capabilities,” he wrote in Thursday’s statement. “AJU is at the beginning of this exploration and no decisions have been made.”
Since the onset of the pandemic last March, the university has invested in a number of innovative platforms and curricula to continue to offer students — and the wider Los Angeles Jewish community — high-quality educational content that elevates Jewish life and advances Jewish wisdom, Herbst said.
B’Yachad Together, the university’s virtual platform for conversations centered on Jewish thought and culture, is among AJU’s most significant new programs. Since its launch in the opening weeks of the pandemic, B’Yachad Together has reached thousands of viewers in the Jewish community, hosting conversations between AJU leaders and political and cultural luminaries like writer Bari Weiss, Ambassador Michael Oren and Rabbi Steve Leder.
The university also invested significantly in the relaunch of its business school. Under the leadership of Dean David Groshoff, AJU’s School of Enterprise Management and Social Impact (SEMSI) was revamped last fall to better equip students for the post-pandemic business sphere.
These programs, Herbst’s statement maintained, are complemented by the university’s ongoing efforts to bolster its engagement in the Jewish community through the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and the newly launched Maas Center for Jewish Journeys, a program tailored to the needs of those “at the periphery of Jewish life” and funded by one of the largest donations in the school’s history.
“Over the past year, we have seen the profound and wide-ranging ways that AJU is uniquely positioned to meet the needs of the 21st Century Jewish community,” read Herbst’s statement. “We look forward to continuing our work to advance Jewish wisdom and elevate Jewish life across North America.”
Benjamin Raziel is an Israeli journalist and novelist based in Tel Aviv.