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C of I Judaic studies chair reaches $2.2 million goal

The College of Idaho will fill a new, fully endowed chair in Judaic studies – the first of its kind in the Intermountain West – thanks to the successful completion of a $2.2 million fundraising initiative.

A $400,000 gift from alumnus Ray Neilsen (’88) pushed the initiative to its fundraising goal, setting the stage for the new chair and an associated lecture series to promote greater understanding of Jewish traditions, culture and philosophy in Idaho and the West. The endowed chair will be named the Howard Berger-Ray Neilsen Chair in Judaic Studies in honor of Neilsen and the longtime C of I history professor who was an influential mentor to him.

“The Howard Berger-Ray Neilsen Chair in Judaic Studies will further strengthen The College of Idaho’s commitment to outstanding teaching,” said C of I President Marv Henberg. “Through the teaching and other work of this chair, future generations of C of I students and the public at large will gain a deeper understanding of diversity, human rights and interfaith awareness. These are critical issues facing our region and all societies in the 21st century.”

In addition to Neilsen’s most recent gift, the College also received a combined $350,000 gift from Neilsen and the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation in January 2012. The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded a $500,000 matching grant for the chair in 2010, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation provided $250,000 in 2011 and numerous other alumni and friends have supported the initiative.

“It is gratifying to see such strong support from alumni like Mr. Neilsen, who know first-hand how dedicated College of Idaho professors are to helping students succeed,” Henberg said. “We also are glad that the NEH recognized the impact this chair will make on campus and beyond in promoting greater understanding of the Jewish community and its culture.”

The endowed chair in Judaic studies has been the dream and brainchild of Berger, who joined the College’s faculty in 1982. Berger teaches Jewish history courses, hosts Passover Seders and involves the campus in other Jewish traditions throughout the school year.

In addition to establishing the endowed chair, the College has named an associated lecture series the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation Lectureship in Judaic Studies in honor of the foundation’s support for the initiative. The lecture series will continue to bring Jewish dignitaries and public figures to campus to speak about contemporary Jewish issues.

“The love of learning that Dr. Berger taught me continues to guide me today,” Neilsen said. “Helping to make this chair possible, and ensuring that future College of Idaho students will receive that same gift from outstanding faculty, is truly rewarding.”

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another ten Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit