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Top Scholar to Bolster Israel Studies, Contribute to Couple's Legacy
Photo courtesy of The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation

Top Scholar to Bolster Israel Studies, Contribute to Couple's Legacy

Search begins to fill UCLA academic chair endowed by The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation. The foundation invests in programs in the areas of College Access, Healthcare, and Israel.

Truthful information, good or bad, about contemporary Israel is extremely important to us and society in general.

Last month, after receiving approvals from the Academic Senate and the UC president's office, the UCLA International Institute formally opened its search for a leading scholar of contemporary Israel to fill The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Chair in Israel Studies. Eligible are distinguished scholars in any discipline in the humanities and social sciences, as well as related fields including law. In addition to being a $1 million boost for a nascent Israel Studies Program within the Institute, the endowed chair is a reflection of the legacy of the Gilberts. Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert were art collectors and philanthropists from Britain who adopted Los Angeles as home and committed their efforts to significant charitable endeavors and the future of the state of Israel while assembling one of the world’s preeminent decorative arts collections.

Arthur Gilbert is best known for the large decorative arts collection that he donated to Somerset House museum in London in 1996. Philanthropic work was just as important to the couple, according to Richard Ziman, co-director of the foundation. Ziman explains that they left a "very informal, non-binding list of preferences" for the foundation to pursue after the death in 2001 of Sir Arthur Gilbert, knighted late in his life by Queen Elizabeth II. Rosalinde had passed away in 1995.

Long-Term Aims, UC Ties

According to Janis Minton, Senior Advisor to the foundation, 2004 was a key year in its history. That was when the foundation adopted what she calls a "strategic" and "long-term" approach to its grantmaking by attending to such issues as detailed and ongoing evaluation of the grants' impact, the growth and sustainability of its grantees, and collaborations with other funders. Since then, the foundation has increased its giving in line with Rosalinde and Arthur Gilberts' preferences and the related interests of the foundation directors. The primary areas of concern in Israel are economic development, access to college, social services, and food programs. In United States, the foundation has a philanthropic investment in college access and retention programs for low-income students in Los Angeles, as well as prevention, treatment, and research to combat diseases—particularly two that struck the Gilberts: Alzheimer's and diabetes. Secondarily, the foundation funds arts education programs, cultural institutions, and Jewish programs in Los Angeles, and has an ongoing commitment to UCLA and UC-Berkeley.

As an example of the foundation's innovation in grantmaking, Minton cites its central role in the formation of the Southern California Collaborative for College Access, a coordinating body of 20 non-profit organizations that aim to see more low-income youths in Los Angeles County finish high school, go to four-year universities, and stay there long enough to earn degrees. The foundation provides ongoing support individually to most of the member organizations and to the collaborative as a group.

When the foundation's directors first attempted to tackle the problem of unequal access to college for LA youths, Minton says, they recognized that they had a lot to learn. So, instead of simply sending checks to organizations with an interest in one or another aspect of the issue, the foundation developed a grantmaking strategy to fund college access and retention. It brought together some 30 organizations, assembled two focus groups, and spent two years supporting forums and awareness-building activities for grantees. Results have included new efforts to engage parents, to define pathways to college, and to identify obstacles within public policy to attracting and retaining students from low-income and underrepresented groups. While current member organizations continue to enjoy the foundation's support, the collaborative is also open to non-grantee organizations. (For more information about the Southern California Collaborative for College Access, please contact Alison De Lucca at alisondelucca@mindspring.com.)

The UCLA College of Letters and Sciences administers one of the foundation's Access to College Initiative grants through the Vice Provost's Initiative for Pre-College Scholars (VIPS) in the UCLA Academic Advancement Program. An outreach effort, VIPS seeks to help more underserved Los Angeles and Pasadena high school students to become competitively eligible for college and to go on to graduate and professional schools. The foundation also supports the Pre-Collegiate Academy at UC-Berkeley, where low-income, Los Angeles high-school students with a record of achievement receive tutoring, exposure to leadership seminars and community service projects, and other preparation for college.

As part of its Healthy Schools Initiative, the foundation is currently exploring opportunities to fund the Healthy School Food Coalition and ensure that LAUSD students of all socio-economic backgrounds get safe, high-quality foods. The aim is to create a healthier learning environment while preventing Type II diabetes, according to Sarah Samuels, a consultant for the foundation who holds a doctorate in public health. For this project, the foundation is likely to join forces with The California Endowment and Kaiser Permanente, Samuels said. Funding from the three organizations would boost the coalition's broad efforts and support a full-time liaison between schools and the LAUSD board.

The Los Angeles–based foundation works toward similar goals inside of Israel, including equal access to education for poor students. In south Tel Aviv, it provides breakfast to needy kindergarten and first-grade students with cooperation from civic organizations and Strauss Dairies. Among other forays into advanced medical research, the foundation also funds stem-cell research at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

Emerging Field

The idea of endowing a chair in Israel studies, explains Ziman, is an outgrowth and extension of the Gilberts' "deep commitment" to "the survival of Israel in every way, shape, and form." According to Ziman, the Gilberts, who had Jewish family backgrounds, were not themselves religious. Arthur, who adopted his wife's surname, was the son of Polish Jews who had emigrated to London before the turn of the century. The Gilberts became "wholly committed" to the preservation of the Jewish state, Ziman said. They made Los Angeles their home in 1949.

The UCLA chair is also the latest concrete response to the more recent emergence of Israel studies as a distinct field of study. In 2003–04, the UCLA International Institute created the Israel Studies Program to pursue research, teaching, and outreach from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Historian Saul Friedlander, director of the now formalized Israel Studies Program, explains that the circumstances under which the state of Israel was created have lent it a cultural, societal, and political "specificity," making it a good candidate for separate academic consideration. A focus on Israel, he says, can lead to the development of perspectives not readily arrived at in Jewish studies, Near or Middle Eastern studies, or any other interdisciplinary rubric. The study of Israel embraces anthropology, economics, geography, history, literary and cultural studies, political science, and sociology. Friedlander holds UCLA's 1939 Club Chair in Holocaust Studies and was the recipient of a 1999 MacArthur Foundation Award, one of the nation's most prestigious creative and intellectual awards.

According to Martin Blank, co-director with Ziman of the foundation, the appointment of an eminent scholar of Israel will further the foundation's "important concern about Israel and its future." He adds that "truthful information, good or bad," about contemporary Israel "is extremely important to us and society in general."

Two recent gifts made by Los Angeles–area couples are expected to bring additional country-specific academic chairs to UCLA. Holders of those chairs will focus on contemporary Japan and the remarkable story of Christianity in Korea.

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