Father Michael Engh thinks it's only natural that a Catholic university host the citywide commemoration of Kristallnacht, which is marked by many historians as the beginning of the Holocaust.
"We had a public Rosh Hashanah celebration in September; we observed Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust memorial day, and we hope to establish a Jewish studies program," said Engh, dean of the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts at Loyola Marymount University (LMU).
On Nov. 9, members of 11 co-sponsoring Jewish organizations and academic study centers will gather at the Jesuit-founded institution to remember the night and day in 1938 when Nazi gangs torched and ransacked hundreds of synagogues and destroyed 7,500 Jewish businesses in Germany. The keynote speaker will be Natan P.F. Kellerman, former director and chief psychologist of AMCHA, a social and psychological support organization for Holocaust survivors in Israel. He will speak on "Remembering the Holocaust: For Good and for Bad."
Engh said he was asked by his friend, Bill Elperin, president of the "1939" Club, a Los Angeles organization of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, whether LMU would host the commemoration. Engh agreed and noted that the university's ties to the Jewish community go back a long way.
Founded in 1911, LMU established a law school in 1920 that set no quotas on admitting Jewish students, which was in sharp contrast to most private universities at the time.
LMU's theological studies department traditionally has had a rabbi on its faculty, including such early luminaries as the late Rabbis Edgar F. Magnin and Alfred Wolf of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The addition of a Jewish studies program, incorporating existing courses on the Holocaust, is not an option but a necessity, observed Engh.
"You can't be a great university without a Jewish studies component," he noted, pointing to such programs at Boston College and the University of Notre Dame. "We are just trying to catch up with the modern world."
A Catholic alumnus has offered to endow a lecture series on Jewish topics at LMU, which is not supported by the Los Angeles Archdiocese but instead relies on tuition and private gifts.
Professor Arthur Gross-Schaefer, chairman of LMU's business law program, has taught at the university for 26 years and testifies to its welcoming atmosphere. In addition to his professional qualifications as a CPA, lawyer and teacher, Gross-Schaefer is also a rabbi and volunteer director for the campus Hillel chapter.
"In October, we even had a sukkah on campus," he said proudly.
Gross-Schaefer estimated that there are about 100 Jewish students among the 5,300 undergraduate and 1,997 graduate students on the Westchester campus, with a much higher Jewish proportion among faculty members.
In the classroom, Gross-Schaefer is not constrained by disciplinary boundaries. He teaches ethics and spirituality to business students, and recently, he and a nun jointly taught a course on the Book of Job.
Given such active Jewish programs at a Catholic university, wouldn't it be fair to teach aspects of Christianity at Jewish colleges?
Not necessarily, Gross-Schaefer said: "You see, Judaism is part of the Christian tradition, but Christianity is not part of the Jewish tradition."
The Kristallnacht commemoration will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 9 in the Roski Room of University Hall, followed by a dessert reception. Admission and parking are free, but reservations are required.