Nostalgia Sunday – Hebrew U’s 86th
This past Friday, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem celebrated its 86th anniversary. Founded in 1925, Hebrew U. (also known familiarly as HUJI) over the years, it has developed into a world center of research, ranked among the world’s leading universities by the Times of London’s Higher Education Supplement.
It’s also home to the One Year Program — but more about that in a minute. First, some history.
Part of the early Zionist vision was to establish a “University of the Jewish People” in Jerusalem. The Zionist Organization acquired the land from painter Lady Caroline Emily Hill and her husband, Sir John Gray Hill.
The Gray Hills were great Middle East aficionados and, having acquired a tract of land on Mt. Scopus, and building an estate and artist’s studio there, used it as a home base for their travels.
According to a 1976 research paper, Caroline Emily Gray Hill: The Orientalist painter from Mount Scopus, “The couple was adamant about improving the quality of the environment in Jerusalem, especially in the areas of home construction, landscaping, gardening, and water supply, citing the garden suburbs built for workers around Liverpool as an example worthy of imitation.
“When they decided to sell their home in Jerusalem, Caroline Emily and Sir John Gray Hill preferred to sell it to the Zionist Organization rather than to other prospective purchasers, because they believed that the house would serve as the core for a university to be built for the ‘Hebrew race’”.
The cornerstone for the university was laid in 1918 and seven years later, on April 1, 1925, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was opened at a festive ceremony. According to the HUJI website, in attendance, were world Jewish leaders “including the University’s founding father, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, distinguished academics and communal leaders of the Yishuv, and British dignitaries including Lord Balfour, Viscount Allenby and Sir Herbert Samuel. Also in attendance were Chief Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, the poet Haim Nahman Bialik and many others.”
“The First Board of Governors of the University, chaired by Dr. Weizmann, included such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Martin Buber, Haim Nahman Bialik, Asher Ginsberg (Ahad Ha’am), Dr. Judah Leib Magnes, James Rothschild, Sir Alfred Mond, Nahum Sokolov, Harry Sacher and Felix M. Warburg.”
In 1931, the University awarded its first degrees, the Master of Arts, to 13 graduates. By 1947, student enrollment exceeded 1,000 and there were some 200 faculty members.
“The War of Independence in 1948 left the University campus cut off from Israeli west Jerusalem, and alternative facilities were found throughout the city. In 1953, construction began on a new main campus at Givat Ram in the heart of Jerusalem. A few years later work began on a health sciences campus in Ein Kerem in southwest Jerusalem, in partnership with the Hadassah Medical Organization. By the beginning of 1967, the number of faculties and schools had been greatly expanded, and enrollment exceeded 12,500.”
“With the reunification of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of June 1967, work began on restoring and expanding the Mount Scopus campus. In 1981, the historical Mount Scopus campus again became the main home of the University.”
Which brings me to the One Year Program of 1981-2, where I was a student. The Program got underway in 1955 but was formalized in 1971. And in 1981 (that year again), it was officially renamed the Rothberg International School. The Program has played an important role in creating and strengthening bonds between Diaspora Jewish students and Israel. And HUJI recently realized the importance of that bond, and established an Alumni Association that, among other benefits, entitles its members to a “Hebrew University Alumni” card.
Bizarrely enough, even though it was a very important year in my life, I don’t think I have a single photo from then! (Well, I was too busy running the Rachel Neiman off-campus hostel for wayward youth. More on that another time). If anyone has any pix (of me or anyone else) you can post them on our Facebook page.
By the way, today the are 23,500 students enrolled at HUJI, including 11,700 undergraduates, 6,900 master’s degree students, 2,700 doctoral candidates, and 2,200 other students. There are 1,200 tenured academic faculty, 1,500 full-time administrative and technical staff working at four campuses: Mount Scopus, Givat Ram, and Hadassah-Ein Kerem in Jerusalem, and the agricultural school in Rehovot.
Hebrew University has a great YouTube channel, by the way, where you can enjoy lectures by faculty and catch up on their latest research.