Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Robert D. Farber Archives and Special Collections
In July 1969, the astronauts of Apollo 11 walked on the moon. It was, in Neil Armstrong's words, "one giant leap for mankind." That same year, the Hornstein Program opened at Brandeis University. It marked, we believe, a giant step forward for the American Jewish community.
The Hornstein Program traces its roots back to 1965 when Philip W. Lown, a prime benefactor of Judaica at Brandeis, made possible the establishment of the Lown Center for Contemporary Jewish Studies. "The Center aspired to provide academic training for men and women who would enter the field of Jewish communal service," Leon A. Jick, its first director, recalled. "The commitment grew out of the conviction that the Jewish community was sorely in need of professional leadership who combined intellectual insights with technical skills, who possessed not only an understanding of group dynamics and management technique but who also combined an awareness of the problems of contemporary Jewish life with a commitment to Jewish survival."
Jick and Bernard Reisman, who at the time was completing his doctorate at the Florence Heller Graduate School for Advance Studies in Social Welfare (now the Heller School for Social Policy and Management), began developing an outline for an expanded graduate program. Their audacious goal was to train a new type of professional: men and women who were at one and the same time technically proficient, Jewishly competent and ideologically committed to Jewish continuity.
Benjamin S. Hornstein of Palm Beach was attracted to Brandeis University and to the vision that Jick and Reisman laid out. Indeed, the idea so intoxicated him that he made available the financial support to start the program, which has been named for him ever since.
Under the dynamic and creative leadership of Bernard Reisman, who directed the program for 30 years, Hornstein became the preeminent program of its kind.
Reisman was succeeded by distinguished professors Joseph Reimer, Susan Shevitz, Jonathan D. Sarna and Leonard Saxe. In 2011, Jonathan D. Sarna took over the role of program chair and Ellen Smith as director. In 2018, Jonathan D. Sarna stepped down to take the directorship of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies. He was replaced by Leonard Saxe, director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute, from 2018 to 2020. On July 1, 2020, Rabbi Shirley Idelson assumed the position of leadership as the new Leon A. Jick Director of the Hornstein Program.
To date, the program has graduated 730+ students — professional Jewish leaders who serve Jewish communities across North America, in Israel and throughout the world.
Transcript of Interview with Benjamin S. Hornstein by Dr. Haviva D. Langenauer. Oral History Project. Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, Palm Beach, FL, May 18, 1982. Link by permission of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida.
"The Transformation of Jewish Social Work: Bernard Reisman and the Hornstein Program at Brandeis University," Leon A. Jick. In Journal of Jewish Communal Service. 75 (Winter/Spring 1998/99), pp. 114-120.