Prof. Gregg Gardner has held the Diamond Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics at the University of British Columbia since 2011. (photo from UBC Media Relations)
Gregg Gardner conveys an infectious exuberance when speaking of the $1 million donation from the Diamond Foundation to the University of British Columbia this September.
“None of this would have been possible in terms of Jewish studies at UBC without the Diamond family,” Gardner, an associate UBC professor, told the Independent. “Their sense of giving is felt not just here but throughout the broader community.”
The Diamond Foundation’s most recent gift to the school will build on achievements of the Diamond Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics at UBC to date, with a particular focus on the expansion of Jewish studies programming both in the classroom and beyond the UBC campus.
“The gift is part of a larger initiative which will really go a long way in helping to create and augment programming, assist in having students travel to Israel, bring in new speakers and assist in new research,” said Gardner, current holder of the Diamond Chair.
He plans to invite an array of speakers during the 2020 and 2021 academic years.
“The money from the Diamonds can be used to bring in authorities in various aspects of Jewish research to Vancouver. Once here, they can speak at the university as well as at synagogues, retirement homes or cultural centres in town,” he said.
Gardner also hopes the new funds can serve as a stepping stone towards such things as creating a centre for Jewish studies at UBC and, ultimately, bringing the field of Jewish research at the institution to a level commensurate with that of other universities in North America.
Students at UBC, he said, have shown a widespread interest in Jewish studies, and this interest extends well beyond their own personal background.
The Diamond Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics was established in 2001. Gardner has held the position since 2011, with his research concentrating largely on the history of Jewish thought. At UBC, his classes focus on the history of religions, together with exploring Jewish history, texts and traditions.
In 2018, he teamed up with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to lead a group of UBC students in an archeological field school at Horvat Midras in Israel, a site that may have been developed by King Herod. There, they helped excavate a pyramid that marked a tomb from the first century and an elaborate underground system of tunnels and caves that served as hideouts for Jewish rebels against Rome in the second century.
The Diamond gift will additionally allow Gardner himself to present more lectures locally and internationally. Heretofore, he has given has public talks at Hillel BC (UBC) and academic lectures at Oxford, Cambridge and Yale universities.
Gardner has authored several academic papers and books, including The Origins of Organized Charity in Rabbinic Judaism (Cambridge University Press, 2015), which examines foundational rabbinic texts and places their discourses on giving within their historical – second- and third-century – contexts.
The Diamonds are equally enthusiastic about the results their donations have brought and will bring.
“We wanted to enhance the current chair and enable Dr. Gardner to play a pivotal role in generating sophisticated research and understanding of Jews and Judaism,” said Leslie Diamond. “He has inspired students and the community by enriching their knowledge of Judaism through his courses, public talks and events with visiting scholars.”
She added, “I am very proud with what our funding of the Jewish Chair in Ethics and Jewish Law has accomplished.”
The Diamond Foundation has long played a pivotal and prominent role in Vancouver philanthropy. Created by Jack, z’l, and Gordon Diamond in 1984, its mission is to improve the quality of life for people in the communities in which the Diamonds live and do business. It donates to organizations throughout the Greater Vancouver area, including schools, hospitals and numerous Jewish organizations. The foundation seeks investments in organizations and issues that strengthen Jewish community life throughout the city and its environs. At age 25, family members are invited to become directors of the foundation.
Jack Diamond arrived in British Columbia as a near-penniless refugee from Poland in 1927 and went on to create the province’s largest meat-packing firm, Pacific Meats. He is credited with setting up Vancouver’s first kosher butcher shop and was instrumental in building the Schara Tzedeck Synagogue, among countless other endeavours.
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.