Cis Maisel Center for Judaic Studies and Community Engagement launches

Laurel Kraus, Managing Editor

Detroit is the 26th largest American Jewish community as of 2018, according to the Berman Jewish Databank.

On Monday, April 8, Oakland University’s Jewish Studies Department launched the Cis Maisel Center for Judaic Studies and Community Engagement.

“We’ve been working toward this for a number of years,” said Michael Pytlik, director of both the Jewish studies program at OU and the Cis Maisel center. “We’ve been searching for a way to increase our enrollment in our classes and to showcase any number of lectures or lecture series, and Cis Maisel stepped up and helped us to underwrite this endeavor.”

Cis Maisel, a community leader in Southeastern Michigan who was instrumental in the creation of the Seminars for Adult Jewish Enrichment (SAJE), was made aware of the opportunity by Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz and became the principal underwriter and donor of the center.

“Our center [SAJE] has worked with Wayne State and the University of Michigan, but they have not done much with Oakland, and it was a puzzlement to me why they were never included in things,” Maisel said. “I feel there should be a connection.”

The Cis Maisel Center will showcase a number of topics that involve Judaism and the Jewish tradition through the presentation of lectures, displays such as artifacts and texts, projects of film or performance, and discussions in the community.

“We see this as a prism to look into these other topics, so it’s meant to be broad, and it’s meant to engage people to think about problems, life rituals, life issues, politics, history, religion, any number of things,” Pytlik said.

The Cis Maisel Center does not have a physical location at this point but is housed within the Jewish studies program at OU.

Lectures could take place at OU or at other places within the community, which would engage other institutions. This could include the Holocaust Memorial Center, the Jewish Federation, the Jewish Community Center, synagogues, churches, mosques and more.

“Hopefully we can be able to add to the discussion in the community and have the support of our local Jewish institutions and non-Jewish institutions,” Pytlik said.

Monday night’s official kick off of the center invited local dignitaries, students and the public to honor Cis Maisel and to listen to speaker Annabelle Gurwitch as the center’s first lecturer.

“[She’s] been on a number of TV programs, she’s written a number of books, tells stories, she’s a humorist, and she also will help us kick this off in sort of a celebratory way,” Pytlik said.

“There’s a number of things we’d like to do, starting probably next fall, we’ll start rolling out smaller projects and once the funding grows a little bit more, we’ll be able to do bigger things,” Pytlik said. “I’m excited to bring in some scholars and to engage the community in topics about equality, economic justice, anything we can apply to a religious value of some sort or to the tradition of Judaism.”

As far as this impacting the potential of a Hebrew language minor at OU, Pytlik reported there are no talks of that at this time due to the current lack in numbers of interested students.