Until a few months ago, the University of San Francisco didn't have much to celebrate at the 20th anniversary of its Judaic studies program.
When its first and only director retired in August 1996, classes were lined up for the fall and went ahead as planned.
But when spring arrived, the program still lacked a new director and no classes were scheduled.
"Nothing was going on. The program was essentially slipping into limbo," said Andrew Heinze, a USF associate professor of history who had taught one Jewish studies course.
Heinze, who was also faculty adviser to USF's Jewish Student Union, approached the dean of arts and sciences with his concerns and his ideas for the program. Soon after, the dean appointed Heinze as interim director.
As a result, the Swig Judaic studies program is up and running again this fall. Its 20th-anniversary celebration began earlier this week with a dinner and two talks. More public lectures are planned throughout the academic year.
Tucked in the middle of San Francisco, the Jesuit-run university has 7,800 students in its undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. About 200 students are Jewish.
USF's Jewish studies program was the first of its kind among Catholic colleges in America. Founded in 1977, it began as an ecumenical gesture to the Jewish community. Soon after, San Francisco's prominent Swig family and other community members created an endowment to help keep it going.
Rabbi David Davis worked as the program's director for 19 years, even after he became associate vice president of university relations. Davis, in fact, was synonymous with the Jewish studies program. When he retired, a top administrator acknowledged, the program lost momentum.
"Whenever there's a change, it always takes a little time to get things going again," said Gerardo Marin, associate dean of arts and sciences, who oversees the Jewish studies program. "When someone has been around for so long, it takes a while for the program to pick up again."
Heinze, whose appointment became permanent in midsummer, hopes to breathe new life into the program and solidify its academic standing.
He has reintroduced Hebrew and added several new courses. Instead of being listed only under theology, the courses will be cross-listed under literature, history or language.
The staples of the program, Introduction to Judaism and Jesus the Jew, will continue to be taught. The new courses include Hebrew I and II, 20th century American Jewish writers, Jewish history, Holocaust history and Yiddish literature-culture.
Heinze hopes to use more full-time professors, instead of relying primarily on part-time or visiting instructors.
"That will give it more stability and a little bit more depth," the 42-year-old professor said.
He also plans to create a certificate in Jewish studies, giving non-theology majors and minors an opportunity to specialize in this area. The university already offers similar certificates for Latin American, ethnic and women's studies programs.
Marin, who described Heinze as "very energetic and creative," supports such plans for the program.
"We don't just want isolated courses as in the past. We want a program that is coherent, that makes sense as a whole," Marin said.
Paul Bernadicou, chair of the theology department and a Catholic priest, also likes Heinze's interdisciplinary approach.
"You get a fuller view of what the tradition is about," he said. "And I think it has more appeal to students because you're coming from so many different angles."
Visiting lecturers, including four for this academic year, will also become a staple of the program. One of them will deliver the annual Swig Lecture, which will be printed and sent out to Jewish studies programs across the country.
"A lot of people don't know this program exists. This will help make it known," Heinze said.
Heinze himself discovered his interest in Judaism during college. Though he had a bar mitzvah, his family bounced between Reform and Conservative Judaism and observed few Jewish traditions.
Originally from New Jersey, Heinze came to U.C. Berkeley in 1978 to earn his master's degree and doctorate in history.
He ended up writing his doctoral dissertation on Jews. It later was published as a book, "Adapting to Abundance: Jewish Immigrants, Mass Consumption and the Search for American Identity."
A member of San Francisco's Congregation Beth Sholom, Heinze has been teaching the Conservative synagogue's conversion class for the past five years.
Heinze came to USF four years ago, after teaching at San Jose State University, U.C. Davis and U.C. Berkeley.
Michelle Goldfarb, who is currently taking Modern Jewish Thought, said she appreciates Heinze's efforts on campus.
Also president of the Jewish Student Union, Goldfarb said she likes the fact that USF students — both Jewish and non-Jewish — have the chance to enroll in such courses.
"I think what he's doing is actually amazing," said Goldfarb, a junior majoring in accounting. "It's great to have this sort of opportunity."