Penn’s Katz Center: Working to cultivate the next generation of scholars

For three decades, the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies has fostered research on Jewish studies and shares it with the world.

When Galeet Dardashti sang during a concert celebrating the 30th anniversary of Penn’s Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, she performed a duet with her grandfather, Younes Dardashti. But he wasn’t on stage with her—he had passed away in the early 1990s. Rather, his melody came from one of the few remaining recordings of him performing Jewish prayer music.

Galeet Dardashti performing on stage.
Galeet Dardashti performing on stage for the 30th anniversary of Penn’s Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. (Image: Lisa J. Godfrey)

“My grandfather was one of the most famous singers of Persian classical music in Iran. He was also Jewish,” says Dardashti, an anthropologist, musician, composer, and member of the most recent class of Katz Center fellows. “It was during a period in the 1950s and ’60s when Jewish people could achieve the highest level of celebrity in Iran. And he was a celebrity.”

The concert, which also included a performance of Yiddish songs lost during World War II then rediscovered, took place in mid-April, capping off a year of music- and sound-focused scholarship by the fellows. It also marked an important milestone for the Katz Center: three decades as a hub for learning about Jewish culture and presenting that knowledge to the world.

“Penn has an excellent Jewish Studies program that offers courses for students. The Katz Center has a distinct mission,” says Steven Weitzman, Ella Darivoff Director of the Katz Center and Abraham M. Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literature in the Department of Religious Studies in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences. “Our sole purpose is to promote new research in Jewish studies and to share that research broadly. The main way we do that is through a fellowship program that brings around 20 scholars to Penn” annually.

There’s also the Jewish Quarterly Review, which the Center puts out, as well as an extensive library that houses a collection with hundreds of thousands of volumes. And this past semester, thanks to a gift from the Goldhirsh-Yellin Foundation, the Katz Center undertook a new initiative to support the understanding of antisemitism that included a free lecture series, “Jews and the University: Antisemitism, Admissions, Academic Freedom.”

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