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MILWAUKEE _ A new online program offers a convenient way to study Jewish culture and history and Hebrew, a unique opportunity for people looking to learn another language, research their heritage or change careers.

Students in the new online Jewish Studies undergraduate degree program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will be eligible for scholarships rarely offered to distance learners. Online students living outside Wisconsin also can take advantage of special pricing that allows them to pay a fee that keeps the cost similar to in-state tuition.

It is the first time that a public university or college in the United States has offered a major or minor in Jewish Studies entirely online. 

“We want to help people looking to learn for personal enrichment, or who see a Jewish Studies major as a way to enhance their resumes to advance their careers or change jobs,” said Joel Berkowitz, director of the Sam & Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies at UW-Milwaukee.

“For others, it might simply be an interest in different cultures or religions,” added Berkowitz, a professor of foreign languages and literature. “We’re excited to help satisfy that curiosity.”

Previous students have gone on to study at Christian seminaries and medical and graduate schools, and to work at nonprofits, museums and Holocaust organizations.

UWM offers four semesters of Hebrew online, which could be attractive to older or non-traditional students thinking about learning another language. Those classes are led by Yael Gal-Ben Yitschak, an award-winning lecturer known for pioneering use of technology in teaching Hebrew.

Students also can take advantage of UWM’s partnerships with universities in Israel to study abroad. A new Certificate in Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Studies is expected to be available to students later this year.

Bobbie Krueger, a double major in Jewish Studies and history, said she chose the program in part to learn more about the Holocaust and Jewish people overall. A single mother with three daughters, Krueger plans to graduate in May.

“I absolutely love what I am learning and the flexibility,” Krueger said. “So far, majoring in Jewish studies has been such a great learning experience.” 

The Jewish Studies major at UWM offers two tracks: Jewish Cultural Studies and Hebrew. The program traces its roots to a 1960 visit to Milwaukee by then-Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir, who grew up in the city. UW-Milwaukee Provost J. Martin Klotsche announced at a reception in Meir’s honor that the university would establish a Hebrew Studies program in fall 1961.

Meir became prime minister of Israel in 1969, the first woman to lead the country.

Born in Ukraine, Meir moved to Milwaukee with her family as a child. She attended the Milwaukee Normal School, which would later become UWM.

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