By September 2017, the Simon and Riva Spatz visiting chair in Jewish Studies should be a reality at Dalhousie University.
Started about five years ago with a major donation by Jim Spatz, son of Simon and Riva, the $3-million chair will bring distinguished scholars from around the globe to Dalhousie University to contribute to teaching, research and do community outreach on Jewish and cultural themes.
The fundraising campaign is about two-thirds complete, said Dalhousie president Richard Florizone.
“The Spatz chair touches the core of what Dalhousie is all about,” he told an audience at a reception for donors, faculty members, and friends of Jim Spatz and of the university.
“We have a long history of inclusion and widespread educational pursuits. This stresses positively what we’re all about.”
Frank Harvey, dean of arts and social sciences, recognized Jim Spatz’s leadership, vision and commitment to honouring the courage, resilience and enduring legacy of his parents, Simon and Riva.
“The [senior] Spatzes lived through the horrific hardships experienced by so many during the Second World War, Riva surviving the war in the woods in Poland, and Simon escaping a labour camp a day before camp officials murdered its occupants.
“Their inspiring legacy speaks to the vision and mission of the visiting chair.”
Jim Spatz recently commissioned a book about his father, written by Halifax journalist and professor Michael Cobden, tracing Simon Spatz’s life from the tragedies of World War II eastern Europe to Halifax where, with the support and love of Riva, he started as a small grocer and became a well respected and wealthy apartment owner and real estate developer.
Jim graduated from Dalhousie’s school of medicine, practised in Halifax and Montreal for several years and then returned home to help his father run the family real estate business.
Frank Harvey said the visiting chair will deal with tolerance, compassion, empathy, multiculturalism, Jewish heritage and memory, Jewish communities and societies, Jewish diaspora, the role of Jewish literature and cultural expression, the effects of geopolitics on Jewish communities, the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, emerging threats to Israel, and a list of possible topics that is really endless, he said.
He added the chair will help students become enlightened world citizens, understand the complexities of global processes, raise critical questions, communicate views on complex social issues and help students gain a better understanding of themselves.
“Our goal is for the Simon and Riva Spatz visiting chair endowment to provide annual grants of $50,000 per academic year [or $25,000 for a single term] and up to $5,000 per term for research expenses and travel to professional conferences,” Harvey said.
“This amount would make the Spatz visiting chair more competitive than the Fulbright visiting chair program… and many other distinguished chair programs.”
Jim Spatz, chair of Dalhousie’s board of governors from 2000 to 2014, said the idea came from Dalhousie’s leadership. “When I heard of it, it was a natural fit for me to honour my parents. It will enrich Dalhousie and the Jewish and wider community. It’s been a long road [to assemble the funding], but we’re getting close. It’ll be in place by next fall.”
He noted there are already courses in Jewish studies, “but the presence of a visiting chair will create significant opportunities for Jewish and non-Jewish students to understand the Jewish world.”