From Erwin Kelen's office on the 49th floor of the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis, the city stretches out across landmarks, rivers, and just to the east, the University of Minnesota campus.
For Kelen, the city and the campus are inseparable. Here he has had a successful career as a businessman and venture investor. And here is where he earned a graduate degree after coming to the University as a refugee from Hungary.
“I had no papers to prove I had a degree," he says, though indeed he had graduated from the Technical University of Budapest. “The University accepted me, telling me that we'd just see if I could do the work."
The graduate degree Kelen earned at the U laid the foundation for his successful career—and he never forgot that. Wanting to give something back a few years ago, he settled on the idea of endowing a professorship.
In the meantime, the College of Liberal Arts had hoped for a long time to fund a position in modern Jewish history.
'We have had colleagues who have sometimes taught courses in this area, but we have never before had a scholar on the faculty who was trained in Jewish history and whose entire research, writing, teaching, and public outreach has been about Jewish history," says Eric Weitz, history department chair. “ So this is a very exciting new departure for the department and for CLA."
Kelen was not only enthusiastic about the possibility, but he also knew that others would be as well. In fact, if this chair is about anything, it is about the power of committed people coming together for a cause in which they believe. By the fall of 2007, the contributions of a number of donors had created the Deinard Chair in Modern Jewish History, housed in and initiated by the Center for Jewish Studies.
Why “the Deinard Chair"? Amos Deinard, a founder of the Leonard, Street, and Deinard law firm was also a philanthropist, a lifelong activist on behalf of the oppressed—and Erwin Kelen's father-in-law. It seemed only fitting to name the chair after him.
This fall, Daniel Schroeter, a scholar recruited from the Univeristy of California-Irvine, arrived on campus to fill the position.
“Daniel Schroeter is an ideal scholar and teacher for us because his work intersects with so many other initiatives and programs in CLA," Weitz says. “His research has been
primarily on the Jews of Morocco, so he connects with our burgeoning courses and programs on the Middle East. He will be part of the Mediterranean Initiative, especially the new program in Islamic Societies and Cultures. And as someone whose work concentrates on North Africa, he also intersects with our renowned program in African History.
“In short, he is someone with distinguished accomplishments in his area of specialization, but whose work and interests branch out far beyond that. E-mails and letters have poured into us from scholars around the world—in Morocco, Israel, France, Britain, Canada, and the U.S. —congratulating us on making a superb hire."
And for that superb hire, credit goes to those who made it possible in the first place. Other donors to the chair were Richard and Beverly Fink; Lyle Berman; Steve and Sheila Lieberman; Lawrence and Linda Perlman Foundation; and Frank and Carol Trestman.