February 6, 2023

Chancellor Howard Gillman's Remarks at the US. Holocaust Memorial Museum Orange County Community Lecture Series

Good evening, and welcome to the US. Holocaust Memorial Museum Orange County Community Lecture Series.  We are so delighted that you could join us this evening for this inaugural event, “America & the Holocaust:  Immigration, Isolationism and Antisemitism”.  We have an extraordinary panel of distinguished experts who will enlighten us on the cultural forces that influenced America’s responses to Nazism and the widespread ambivalence towards victims of the Holocaust.

This discussion follows on an exhibition UCI hosted in February 2022UCI Libraries was one of 50 U.S. libraries selected to host Americans and the Holocaust, a traveling exhibition from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  During that time, I had a conversation with Marla Abraham about creating a community lecture series in partnership with Orange County’s leading academic institutions.

I would like to recognize and thank our partners for their enthusiastic collaboration and support:

First and foremost, Marla Abraham, director of the western region for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Dr. Erik Ludwig, president & CEO of the Jewish Federation of Orange County.

From the Chapman University Fish Interfaith Center & Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education:

  • Gail Stearns, the Irvin C. and Edy Chapman Dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel and associate professor of religious studies; and
  • Marilyn Harran, director of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education and holder of the Stern Chair in Holocaust Education.

And from Cal State University, Fullerton - Dr. David Forgues, vice president of human resources, diversity and inclusion.

To kick off the evening, please join me in welcoming two extraordinary students from an important community partner, Aaron Zhu and his sister Celine are members of Youth Ambassadors for Recovered Voices, a program created and launched by Maestro James Conlon, music director of the Los Angeles Opera, to promote awareness and performances of music by composers whose lives were tragically disrupted and cut short during the Nazi regime in Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Aaron Zhu and Celine Zhu.


Let’s give Aaron and Celine another round of applause.  

Aaron and Celine are shining examples of the importance of educating our next generation so that the brilliant lives, stories, and lessons of the past are never forgotten.  And this is what brings us together tonight.

As educational institutions, we work very hard to give our amazing students an education worthy of their talents and ambitions, to enable and empower them to go out into the world and pursue their dreams, to equip them with the knowledge and character to contribute to the betterment of society.

The world they are joining is a troubled one.  The Anti-Defamation League which tracks antisemitic behavior nationwide cited a 34 percent rise in incidents in 2021.  Acts that once were unheard of are becoming commonplace.  Violence and extremism are largely political problems that ultimately must be solved by the will of the people, but prejudice is learned, and thus can be ameliorated through education. 

At UCI, we are committed to a substantive expansion of our efforts to combat antisemitism, both on our own campus and in the broader community around us.

UCI’s Center for Jewish Studies, part of the School of Humanities, serves as the hub for 11 affiliated faculty in eight departments for interdisciplinary and comparative studies in modern Jewish history and literature, Holocaust studies, and Israeli studies and culture.  Matthias Lehmann, the center’s director, and Jeffrey Kopstein, professor of political science and the moderator of our discussion this evening, play an integral part of our efforts.

Additionally, I would also like to recognize UCI’s Office of Inclusive Excellence, which collaborates with the center on the study of antisemitism through its Confronting Extremism initiative.  These efforts aim to promote tolerance and appreciation of cultural and religious pluralism on UCI’s campus.

Now we have the opportunity and the vision to expand our efforts on a large scale and to make a significant impact thanks to our good friends, Susan and Henry Samueli, who have generously committed to match at least $4 million in gifts pledged in support of this important initiative.  We are delighted to have Lindsey Spindle, president of the Samueli Family Philanthropies and chief operating officer of H&S Ventures, with us this evening.

Briefly, our goals include:

  1. To build a Jewish Studies curriculum and professorships in the study of Anti-Semitism and Israel Studies, which includes two endowed chairs.
  2. To educate the next generations of scholars and to create a vibrant student life on campus.
  3. To establish international partnerships with Israeli universities for research and graduate students.
  4. And finally, to create community outreach programs and partnerships such as tonight’s program.

We need and welcome the support and collaboration of the community to help us succeed in this endeavor.  I want to thank you all for being here this evening.

As I conclude my remarks, I would like to recognize that today is Tu B’Shevat, a Jewish “Arbor Day” holiday that is often celebrated through the planting of trees.  Early Zionist settlers to Israel began planting new trees not only to restore the ecology of Israel, but as a symbol of renewed growth of the Jewish people returning to their homeland. 

There’s a parable in the Talmud (Ta’anit 23a) that says:

While walking along a road, a sage saw a man planting a carob tree.  He asked him: “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?”  “Seventy years,” replied the man.  The sage then asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?”  The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me.  Likewise, I am planting for my children.”

As we come together as a community, let us never forget the sacrifice and suffering that others have endured so we can enjoy freedom and prosperity, and let us commit to each other to plant and nurture the “trees” for the next generation.

And now it is my pleasure and my privilege to introduce Marla Eglash Abraham, the director of the western region for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Marla oversees the ten-state region of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. 

Spanning a career of more than 35 years in academia and the nonprofit sector, Marla is a published researcher, scholar, and author.  In addition, she serves as a facilitator and consultant for the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, Jewish Federations of North America, and Hillel International, among many others.

Marla received an honorary doctorate and a master of arts degree in Jewish communal service from Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion.  She holds a master of social work in community organization, planning and administration from the University of Southern California; and a bachelor of arts in Spanish and linguistics from UCLA.

Please welcome Marla Abraham.