On the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, brown-shirted storm troopers torched and looted hundreds of synagogues and destroyed 7,500 Jewish businesses throughout Germany and Austria in what is known as Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass.”
On Nov. 8, Loyola Marymount University (LMU), founded by Jesuits, will host its annual citywide commemoration of the Nazi pogrom, which many historians mark as the beginning of the Holocaust. At LMU’s Westchester campus, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin will give an address titled “Why the Jews? Ethical, Spiritual and Historical Lessons.”
This is the sixth year that LMU has sponsored a Kristallnacht commemoration, part of the Catholic university’s long-standing ties with the Jewish community and its scholarly interest in Jewish studies.
Among the initiators of the commemoration was William Elperin, president of The “1939” Club, an organization of Holocaust survivors and their descendants that is underwriting the event.
“It seemed to me then, and even more now, that it is really important to teach the Holocaust to non-Jewish students at a non-Jewish university,” Elperin said. “It is really not productive to preach only to the choir.”
Indicative of the LMU leadership’s philo-Judaic outlook is its support of a full-scale Jewish studies program, under the direction of professor Holli Levitsky, and the recent appointment of the first full-time rabbi, Ilana Schachter, as campus coordinator of Jewish Student Life and Hillel rabbi.
Levitsky regularly leads her mostly non-Jewish students in her course “Holocaust in Poland” on a summer trip to key Polish cities and Auschwitz. Two student projects that grew out of this past summer’s trip, a creative dance and an original composition, will be performed at the Kristallnacht commemoration.
Following will be the talk by Telushkin, author of a dozen books on ethics, Jewish history, humor and mysteries. Cantor Sam Radwine will open the ceremony, Cantor Leopold Szneer will conclude it, and a kosher reception will follow.
LMU’s friendly relationship with the Jewish community goes back a long way. Founded in 1911, LMU established a law school in 1920, which set no quotas on admitting Jewish students, in sharp contrast to most private universities at the time.
Currently, enrollment of Jewish students on the Westchester campus runs 250 to 300, or roughly 2.5 to 3 percent of the total number of 9,852 undergraduate and graduate students.
Because only students who specifically register as “Jewish” are counted as such, it is a fair guess that there are more than the official count reflects, Schachter said.
No exact figures are available for Jewish faculty members at LMU, or for Jewish student enrollment at the affiliated downtown Loyola Law School, but the general assumption is that the percentages are considerably higher.
Schachter, 28 and a graduate of the local Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said in an interview that the Catholic majority at the university shares the Jewish values of social justice and devotion to learning, and joins in the celebration of Jewish events.
“There is an advantage to being at a relatively small college, where we tend to share things,” Schachter said. “For instance, celebrations of Jewish holidays are sponsored by the general Student Union, and during Sukkot, we had our Sukkah right in the middle of the campus.”
Much of extracurricular life at LMU revolves around service organizations, in which students of all faiths work together, such as this Friday’s Shabbat, devoted to fighting global hunger.
In return, Schachter officiates as chaplain at one of the Catholic service groups and said she enjoys “learning about Catholic tradition.”
LMU also has a sizable Muslim student population, but there have been no anti-Israel demonstrations on campus, in contrast to what has taken place at a number of California public universities.
“We’re not a politically active campus,” Schachter said. “I am sure that feelings about Israel vary, but we have had no confrontations.”
Levitsky and Schachter jointly administer, and are equally excited by, a project tackling a frustrating problem shared by Jewish activists at every university — how to get uninvolved Jewish students to become more involved in Jewish programs.
Underwriting the effort is a $10,000 Student Engagement Fellowship Grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
Goals of the program are to determine the needs of unaffiliated Jewish students and on that basis develop accessible and relevant Jewish campus experiences and events attractive to those students.
The Kristallnacht commemoration on Nov. 8 will start at 7 p.m. in the Roski Dining Room of University Hall. For parking, enter the LMU campus at the main entrance off Lincoln Boulevard.
The public is invited, and there is no admission charge, but reservations are required.
For more information, visit lmu.edu.