Mark Yudof, the soon-to-retire president of the University of California system, was born in Philadelphia, the son of an electrician, and during a distinguished career as head of the Universities of Minnesota, Texas and California multicampus systems, has never quite lost his taste for the blue-collar lifestyle, especially when it comes to food.
In an interview earlier in his tenure, he had alluded to his dogged search for the perfect pancake, and the Journal asked him to report on his progress.
“It is an endless quest, somewhat like the search for truth,” he responded, “but the journey continues.”
After a tough day contending with legislators in Sacramento or with campus protesters, Yudof likes to reward himself by ordering a hamburger, fries and a soda at In-N-Out Burger. “I feel I deserve it,” he said.
His wife, Judy, agrees that he is entitled to his comfort food and shares his enjoyment of pancakes, though without the syrup and toppings.
At home, however, she is the one who initiated a kosher kitchen, and, in general, her husband credits her with intensifying his Jewish observance and connections.
Judy Yudof leads by example. She has just completed a six-year stint on the council of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the nation’s capital, and her resume includes such posts as international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, representing 760 synagogues. She is the first woman to hold the post in the organization’s nearly 100-year history.
Currently, she is involved on the local, regional or national levels with the Jewish Community Centers, American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Hillel. In addition, as Mark Yudof notes with mock exasperation, his wife frequently “volunteers” him as speaker for national and local Jewish organizations.
Mark and Judy Yudof have been married for 47 years and have two children, Seth and Samara. The couple attends services at B’nai Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Walnut Creek, which draws its membership of some 300 households from East Bay cities, including Oakland.
Aderet Drucker, B’nai Shalom’s rabbi, describes the Yudofs as “incredibly supportive,” both of herself when she took over the pulpit last year, and of the congregation as a whole.
Recently, the couple hosted one of the congregation’s regular parlor meetings at their home, allowing some 15 members to discuss their ideas and concerns in a small, intimate setting.
Mark Yudof has met a number of times with Hillel rabbis on the various UC campuses, including Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA, who noted that while Jewish university presidents are no longer a rarity, Yudof represented a new breed among his peers.
“In previous generations, high-level administrators felt it necessary to de-ethnicize their Jewishness,” Seidler-Feller said, while Yudof, by contrast, was equally forthright in his public and Jewish personas.
Yudof is also an unabashed supporter of Israel. During his UC tenure, he has led two Project Interchange missions of university heads to Israel, sponsored by the AJC, to encourage a deeper understanding of higher education in both countries.
He also played a key role in reinstating the study abroad program at Israeli universities for UC students, specifically with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
After he leaves the UC presidency, Yudof will resume his former teaching career by becoming a law professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law. “I’ll have to do a lot of reading to catch up,” he noted.
He also plans to return to his longtime study and lectures on Moses Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish philosopher, also known as the Rambam.“I am fascinated by the Golden Age of medieval Jewry in Spain and one day hope to visit Cordoba, Maimonides’ birthplace, and view his statue there,” Yudof said.
The Yudofs plan to continue living in the East Bay. “My hairdresser is there,” he said, pointing to his bald pate, adding, “and there are some really good cheesecake places there.”