i For 35 years helping
people with disabilities •
be fully included in
A Jewish Studies Champion
s undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury under President
watch, the Jewish Studies program has helped counter assimi-
Reagan, M. Peter McPherson worked with the Israeli
lation and apathy by deepening Jewish identity among partici-
government and U.S. Jewish leaders to cut the interest
pating Jewish students.
rate on Israel's debt from 13 to 6 percent, saving the Jewish
The evening of Dec. 15 was cold and snowy, but I was
state $1 billion.
determined to attend a farewell reception for Joanne and Peter
As president of Michigan State University, McPherson guid-
McPherson hosted by metro Detroit alumni at the Bloomfield
ed the largest building boom in the 150-year history of the
Hills home of Rhonda and Gary Ran.
East Lansing campus, launched a $1.2 billion Capital
"One of my proudest activities has been to help the MSU
Campaign, shaped the study abroad program into a national
Jewish Studies program become firmly established in our cur-
model, added a law school, and saw Jewish enrollment climb
riculum both intellectually and fiscally," McPherson said,
to nearly 3,000 — 43 percent of the nearly 7,000 Jewish stu-
causing a swell of approval to cascade through the crowd.
dents at the University of Michigan in Ann
"Much of the progress in Jewish education at MSU, all that
has been accomplished with the Jewish Studies program,
After the second Gill f War, President Bush
including the new Hillel House, could not have happened
tapped McPherson to rebuild Iraq's currency
without the support and leadership of President McPherson
and banking system and to bring foreign
and First Lady Joanne," Serling said. "It is a wonder that he
investment to the former anti-Zionist dicta-
would have had the time to work so closely with the Jewish
torship of Saddam Hussein.
Retiring on Dec. 31 after 11 years at the
McPherson understood having a strong base of Jewish stu-
helm of MSU, McPherson, 64, is moving
dents from Michigan and elsewhere, just as MSU had when
ROBERT A. with his wife, Joanne, to Arlington, Va. He'll
he was a student 45 years earlier. Such a base not only pro-
concentrate on the Partnership to Cut
vides diversity, but also draws more Jewish students, who col-
Hunger in Africa, which he co-
lectively are high achievers, campus leaders and
founded, and he'll advise Congress
caring alumni. Affirmation of this understanding
on overseas study programs. MSU, for example,
came in 1999 when, during the genocide arising
hopes to again grant financial aid and scholarships
in the former Yugoslavia, McPherson invited
for study in Israel by 2006; such study ended when
Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor,
Palestinian terror broke out in 2001.
to be MSU commencement speaker. For her part,
McPherson, who is Christian, jump-started the
Joanne McPherson has been a regular visitor and
Jewish Studies program at MSU in 1998 when he
participant at Hillel House.
created a lay advisory board and authorized the first
I was touched when Serling told the 71 guests
two staff positions — for American Jewish History
at the Rans' home about Peter McPherson's heart-
and Culture, and Hebrew Language and
felt support of Israel. Serling, his wife, Elaine, and
Literature. Up to 800 students, some not Jewish,
friends have endowed a chair for Israel Studies at
now enroll each year in Jewish Studies courses,
M Peter McPherson MSU. Bloomfield Hills philanthropist Ed Levy Jr.
which are spread over eight departments and three
has endowed a scholarship fund for study in Israel.
colleges. The courses wisely focus on Jewish life in
Serling told how McPherson, while waiting for a
North America and Israel; European Jewry would not offer
ride to Amman as he ended his four-month stay as part of the
the same resonance.
coalition reconstruction team in Iraq, spoke by audio feed to a
Students can't major in Jewish Studies, but they can special-
largely non-Jewish crowd back at MSU. Yet he didn't hesitate
ize in it. I applaud all four directors over the years — Barry
to say, "I have a vision of Iraq as a free, democratic country
Gross, Steve Weiland, Keely Stauter-Halsted and now Ken
with a growing, successful capitalistic economy like Israel."
Waltzer. A new initiative is the East European Jewish Studies
Serling applauded McPherson's foresight. "Through the
summer study at Jagiellonian University in Krakow.
seed that you planted," Serling said, "we have now
raised nearly $4 million for Jewish Studies and
have much to show for it."
A Strong Supporter
Retirement aside, McPherson put the call out
Beyond anchoring Jewish Studies, McPherson has
for another $3 million to enrich Jewish Studies,
spoken up against anti-Zionism and Jew hating.
including a fourth staff position: Jewish Religious
Shortly after arriving at MSU in 1993,
and Philosophical Thought. "We will continue to
McPherson was aghast when a brick was thrown at
strengthen Jewish Studies as an academic initia-
a window at Hillel House. He said MSU would not
tive, raise its national visibility and expand its
tolerate anti-Semitic or racist acts on the 45,000-
impact," McPherson said. "President Designate
Lou Anna Simon shares my commitment."
At the 2002 opening of the new Hillel, he
Rabbi Jason Miller, assistant director of the U-
renounced protests around the country calling for
M Hillel, graduated from MSU in 1998 with a
universities to divest of their investments in Israel.
degree in international relations. "I owe much of
For the past five years, McPherson made it a
my motivation to become a rabbi to the professors
point to include the Detroit Jewish News as a stop on his annu- in the Jewish Studies program," he told me on Sunday.
al Oakland County visit with Jewish alumni. I felt proud to
"There has certainly been a concerted effort to enhance and
be a Jew as he spoke of building Jewish Studies from scratch
augment the state of Jewish life on the MSU campus," he
with the help of an active advisory board led by Birmingham
added, "and the Jewish Studies program has led the way along
attorney Michael Serling.
Michigan Jewry owes McPherson, a gentle giant of acade-
The Jewish Studies program will forever be an integral corn-
mia, a sincere yasher koach for a deed well done! Under his
ponent of Peter McPherson's MSU legacy. II
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