FIU museum to lure scholars of Judaism
By Laura Stace
Miami Beach is known as a spot to soak up the sun, but soon hundreds of the region's scholars of Jewish studies will be descending on the area in pursuit of intellectual stimulation rather than the perfect tan.
While a merger between Florida International University and the Jewish Museum of Florida was a long time in the making, it is full steam ahead for the newly named Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU with a successful first joint lecture under their belt and classes scheduled to commence on site in January.
In June, FIU's Board of Trustees approved the gift of the museum — two adjacent Art Deco buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places — the museum's historical collections, research library, endowment and other assets. And just a few weeks ago, the Florida Board of Governors approved the Jewish Museum of Florida to be a special purpose center of FIU.
Located on Miami Beach, the museum becomes part of the College of Arts and Sciences and raises the university's museum tally to three.
In its proposal to the Board of Governors, FIU outlined that it expected more than 300 students to take courses on site the first year and 1,000 to be enrolled at the museum in the fifth year.
Howard Lipman, senior vice president for university advancement, said the institution was very fortunate to have the museum join the FIU family as it will be a valuable resource in academic endeavors.
The museum's value has been estimated at $20 million to $30 million, Mr. Lipman said.
FIU assumes the museum's mortgage of $706,000, he said, and will make payments of $50,000 a year for the next three years. He said the original congregation had deferred the balance for the past 95 years.
In the proposal, FIU projected net revenue to grow from $5,467 in the first year to $233,714 by the fifth — an estimate that Mr. Lipman said is still current.
Now the museum and the university are readying for exciting times ahead in a partnership that took some time to build.
Executive Director and Chief Curator Jo Ann Arnowitz said the museum started exploring an affiliation with FIU about three years ago and approached the university a year and a half ago.
Founding executive director Marcia Jo Zerivitz, who retired last September, felt it was the way to expand the outreach and academic offerings of the museum, Mrs. Arnowitz said.
Museum employees will become employees of FIU, she said, but the museum won't change its primary function.
Mrs. Arnowitz said the museum will still continue to collect the Jewish history of Floridians and be available to schools, students, scholars and the public.
While FIU will be basing its Jewish studies program at the museum, Mrs. Arnowitz said she had received inquiries from professors of other disciplines wanting to use the facility in their teachings.
"There are all sorts of ways it is going to cross many, many curricula at the university," she said.
The museum presents research and teaching opportunities for FIU students and faculty in Judaic studies, Sephardic studies, ethnicity studies, public administration, history and other interdisciplinary programs involving departments and centers both in the school of international and public affairs and in the college of arts and sciences generally, FIU officials wrote in the proposal.
Mrs. Arnowitz said about 100 people attended the first lecture, entitled "Vilna: Past, Present and Future," in the museum's joint programming on Sunday.
While courses held at the museum will still be offered on FIU campuses and potentially online, the museum academic director, Nathan Katz, said holding the class on site would create an "atmosphere that could not be matched on campus."
Dr. Katz will be co-teaching the inaugural class at the museum, Jews in Africa and Asia. He said it will be open to students on an audit basis through Center for Advancement for Jewish Education and be simulcast to students on FIU's Biscayne Bay and Modesto A. Maidique campuses.
"We hope," he said, "it will be a happening place on the Beach for people who are interested in intellectual pursuits."
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