History

BRIEF HISTORY
OF THE SWIG PROGRAM IN JEWISH STUDIES AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

I am a firm exponent and adherent of any cause which extends the hand of                                          salvation to the living in time of distress; which, instead of waiting until a man is down,                      prevents him from sinking.— Melvin M. Swig                             

In 1977, Melvin M. Swig and several friends saw the need to establish a Jewish Studies program in the San Francisco Bay Area. The University of San Francisco, a premiere Jesuit Catholic institution of higher learning, was the natural home. Not only was this the first endowed chair or Jewish Studies program at any college or university in the Bay Area, but Swig and USF had actually broken ground on a global scale: It was the first Jewish Studies chair or program at a Catholic university anywhere in the world.

The founding program director, and the first individual to hold the chair, was Rabbi David Davis, renowned at the time for his interfaith work, teaching such on-campus courses as “Jesus the Jew.” In 1997, the History Department’s Andrew Heinze took over the program. Under Davis and Heinze, notable speakers brought to campus included Saul Bellow, Erik Erikson, Chaim Potok, and Elie Wiesel. Along with Hebrew language professor, Esti Skloot, Heinze also established the summer intensive Hebrew language program, “Ulpan.”

In 2007, Aaron Hahn Tapper became the third person to direct the program, and, like Davis, to also hold the endowed chair.

In 2008, Hahn Tapper relaunched the program with a new name, the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice. (Formerly it was called the Swig Judaic Studies Program.) Once again, USF and the program broke historical ground, this time in becoming the first academic program worldwide to formally link Jewish Studies with Social Justice.

Including a minor in this leading-edge field, “In the Classroom” the program offers a wide range of significant Jewish Studies courses not found in other educational settings, as well as an annual intensive Hebrew language summer program called Hebrew San Francisco—Ulpan (2019 was our 22nd consecutive summer).

Over the past 40 years, literally tens of thousands of students have taken our Jewish Studies courses; hundreds are enrolled each year (In 2017–18 and 2018-19 we averaged 1,000 students per year in our Jewish Studies classes).

“Beyond the Classroom,” the program offers extraordinary events that are free and open to the public, which thousands have attended, including:

    • Annual Human Rights Lecture
    • Annual Social Justice Lecture
    • Annual Speaker Series on Diversity of Jewish Identities
    • Annual Social Justice Passover Seder
    • “Open Doors” Sukkot program
    • Events and classes focused on Holocaust and Genocide
    • Events and classes focused on Israel/Palestine