The academic study of Jewish history, literature, and culture goes back to the early years of the College. In 1973, a group of students helped to organize one of the earliest college course on the Holocaust, "Thinking the Unthinkable."
Alumni of that course went on to further study of the Jewish experience, upon which they have based their careers: co-organizer Aaron Lansky founded the National Yiddish Book Center; Margo Bloom, now director of the Sol Goldman YM-YWHA of the Educational Alliance (also known as the 14th Street Y) in New York and former director of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, founded the organization Facing History and Ourselves; and Hampshire College professor of history Aaron Berman did his doctoral dissertation at Columbia University on the history of American Zionism.
In recent years, the pursuit of Jewish studies at Hampshire has been made possible through the generosity of the Jeremiah Kaplan Family Foundation, which has funded undergraduate grants, a postdoctoral fellowship in modern Jewish studies, and a visiting assistant professorship in American Jewish literature.
In conjunction with the National Yiddish Book Center, the Kaplan Foundation also provided support for on-campus conferences on Rethinking the Holocaust, in 1998, and Contemporary Jewish Creativity, in 2000. Recent visiting lecturers on campus have included Eric Sundquist and E.L. Doctorow. In 2006, Jewish studies joined several other programs at Hampshire and in the Five Colleges in creating an interdisciplinary series of lectures and discussions entitled "Art, Exile, Memory."
Beginning in the 2007-2008 academic year, Hampshire College has been awarded a grant from the Posen Foundation's Center for Cultural Judaism for the development of courses and programs in the study of secular Jewish history and cultures.
Courses in Jewish Studies at Hampshire vary from semester to semester, but are generally offered through the Schools of Critical Social Inquiry (CSI) and Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies (HACU).
Courses are listed online via TheHub, Hampshire's online registration system.
Jewish life at the Five Colleges is diverse. Hillel Foundation operates on three campuses in the valley (Smith College, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts). At Hampshire (as well as at Mount Holyoke), students have organized an independent Jewish Students Union. There is a Kosher kitchen on campus that is organized and maintained by observant students, and Kosher facilities are also available on other campuses.
Jewish Student Union at Hampshire College
Spiritual Life Office