A Legacy of Continuity and Transformation

Enhancing Jewish studies and student life on CMU's campus

By Amanda S.F. Hartle

A $5 million investment by the Jack Buncher Foundation and the Jack G. Buncher Charitable Fund for Carnegie Mellon will significantly expand CMU’s efforts to grow Jewish learning and student life on campus while also deepening ties between the university and a noted global organization.

The gift ensures Jewish student life at CMU flourishes in the future through an endowed directorship at CMU-Hillel and sustains new research, scholarship and connections with an endowed professorship at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“With this gift, Carnegie Mellon University can significantly advance scholarship related to Jewish history and culture, while also ensuring an enriching educational experience for all CMU students as they explore and expand their knowledge of the Jewish faith,” says CMU Provost and Chief Academic Officer James H. Garrett, Jr. (E 1982, 1983, 1986).

The gift was championed by Bernita Buncher, chair of the foundation that bears her late father’s name.

“I’m thrilled to continue our long-standing relationship with Carnegie Mellon in such an auspicious way as we work together to positively impact Jewish student life and learning for many years to come,” Miss Buncher says.

“This professorship allows the history department to create wonderful educational programs and stimulate new research on the study of Jewish life. We could not be more excited and more grateful.” Richard Scheines, Bess Family Dean of Dietrich College

Visiting Assistant Professor Michal Friedman in Baker Hall

Exploring a Rich History

The Jack Buncher Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies will provide CMU students and faculty with a path to deepen their understanding of Jewish history by catalyzing interdisciplinary collaborations that will transform how stories of European Jewish communities and their legacy are told around the world.

Michal Friedman, a visiting assistant professor of history at Dietrich College, will be the inaugural recipient. The new professorship is closely connected with Centropa, an archive of photos and oral histories that document Jewish life in Europe throughout the 20th century held by the Centropa Central Europe Center for Research and Documentation.

“The Jack Buncher Foundation has made it possible for Dietrich College to jump a level in what we can offer in Jewish studies and history,” says Bess Family Dean of Dietrich College Richard Scheines. “This professorship allows the history department to create wonderful educational programs and stimulate new research on the study of Jewish life. We could not be more excited and more grateful.”

Friedman will partner with Centropa, faculty and students at CMU and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the wider Pittsburgh community, to craft innovative educational experiences and exhibitions as well as conferences and publications for use by students and educators around the world expanding knowledge and appreciation of Jewish communities, lives and traditions.

Friedman says she views this opportunity “as a unique challenge to the way we approach history itself, as something that can be engaged publicly and dynamically.”

Combining Carnegie Mellon’s noted programs with Centropa’s resources could result in collaborations across fields as varied as data science, computer science and fine arts that connect cultures and languages around the world.

“Working with and for CMU’s Jewish students every day, I personally know how much this gift means to them as it allows us to continue providing resources, services and support to every Jewish student at CMU.” Alex Zissman, Jack Buncher Director of Jewish Student Life

Alex Zissman stands with arms folded

Expanding the Student Experience

CMU-Hillel staff members foster authentic relationships with the university’s Jewish student community, and the Jack Buncher Director of Jewish Student Life will play a vital role in those efforts.

Alex Zissman, who has been the director of Jewish student life for nearly four years, will be the first Buncher director. In this role, he will continue to work closely with the university’s Student Affairs team as a key resource for CMU’s hundreds of Jewish students in addressing their cultural, social and religious needs.

“It’s a privilege for me to serve and support CMU’s thriving Jewish community,” Zissman says. “Working with and for CMU’s Jewish students every day, I personally know how much this gift means to them as it allows us to continue providing resources, services and support to every Jewish student at CMU.”

From grabbing coffee with individual students to holiday observances like Passover Seders to integrating CMU students within Pittsburgh’s larger Jewish community, CMU-Hillel promotes a sense of community for the university’s Jewish students.

This engagement starts before the first day of classes with a first-year orientation for Jewish students who are new to CMU and grows with students through a leadership enrichment program for upper-class students in the HiLA, Hillel’s Leadership Accelerator.

Students also access social events, guest speakers and programs that connect them with their heritage in Israel by touring the country as part of “Birthright Israel” or taking part in eight-week internships with noted companies as part of “Onward Israel.”

Participation by students in these offerings has grown over the years, according to Daniel Marcus, CEO and executive director at the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh where CMU-Hillel is housed.

“Having done without a dedicated director for CMU students in the past, we understand the importance and value of this gift now,” Marcus says. “The transformative Buncher gift ensures that CMU-Hillel will continue to flourish as an integral part of the wider CMU community and provides sustainability and continuity for this essential position.”

“The opportunity to create communities and programming for Jewish students on CMU’s campus is only limited now by the imaginations of our students.”

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