Marvin Weintraub: Starting a Judaic Studies Department at UBC
Date:Monday, May 3, 2010
ID:Digital audio recording #: 20.10-09
MW: Now, how this started...Sid Zbarsky and I very often met at lunch time, we would bring bag lunch and then go for a walk through the trails at UBC, it was safe then and there weren’t huge developments of high rises and low rises and condominiums and so on, it was really wooded and we really enjoyed walking there. And one day Sid said to me, “Do you know I just noticed that a little university in Windsor has just started a Judaic Studies department.”
BN: What year was that?
MW: 1973 in the fall. “And they’re popping up all over the United States and Canada and we don’t have a thing here.” So I said, “Well Sid, why don’t we start one.” So that was the beginning [laughing]. It took quite a while. The two of us started to approach the university, I believe it was then Dean Will, no they came later, I can’t remember who it was we first talked to, they said, “Well, see where you can put a program and then we’ll talk.” So we visited a number of departments, the History department. They were very much interested but at that time they were looking for one or two positions in intellectual history and they said that when we’ve filled those, come and talk to us. Well we weren’t going to wait, we went to the Philosophy department and although the head of the department was very, very interested he was very democratic and he called all the faculty together and Sid and I made a presentation, or it’s possible by that time Rob Krell who was a professor of Psychiatry at UBC had joined us, he had heard we were starting this and he wanted to help out so the three of us probably talked to the Philosophy department and it was the faculty that said no such thing as Jewish philosophy...that, by the way, was a Jewish professor. Talk about ignorance, anyway we were pretty upset. Then I got a phone call from Professor Bill Nicholls who had not too long before that time, this was ’73, had been made head of a Department of Religious Studies which he founded, he was the first head of that department and he said, “I hear you’re looking for a home for a Judaic Studies program, what’s the matter with Religious Studies?” Well we knew about Religious Studies but we had decided not to pursue that because we didn’t know, it was such a young department, we didn’t know what academic and scholarly credibility it had. However we were desperate and so we met with Bill Nicholls and he was absolutely...he was just so enthusiastic about the idea of having a professor of Judaic Studies on his faculty, in his department.