In 1947, the University of Judaism (UJ) was founded in Los Angeles, based on the vision of Dr. Mordecai Kaplan, author of Judaism as a Civilization, who advocated the creation of an educational institution incorporating diverse elements of Jewish civilization and culture.
Six years earlier, BCI (the Brandeis Camp Institute) was founded by Dr. Shlomo Bardin to respond to assimilation of young American Jews by making “the great ethical heritage of Judaism” relevant to them. This effort was located for brief periods of time in Amherst, NH, Winterdale, PA and Hendersonville, NC before finding its home in 1947 in Simi Valley, California.
The UJ had several homes before moving to the Familian campus in Bel Air in 1977. Thanks to the foresight and leadership of the founding president, Dr. Simon Greenberg, his successor Dr. David Lieber, and first Chairman of the Board, Dore Schary, the UJ became well known early-on for its outstanding teacher training and adult education programs and highly regarded as a Jewish affiliated academic institution that welcomes students of different backgrounds and beliefs.
In 1979, an additional program was created to further the vision of Mordecai Kaplan, a master’s degree in Nonprofit Management. Initially the university awarded the MPMA (Master’s in Public Management and Administration). A few years later the degree awarded became an MBA, and the name of the school itself was changed to the Graduate School of Nonprofit Management.
In 1982 a four-year liberal arts college (initially known as Lee College and later as the College of Arts and Sciences) was opened, followed in 1986 by the establishment of the Fingerhut School of Education (now titled the Graduate Center for Jewish Education) and in 1996 by the creation of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, the first independent ordaining rabbinical school in the West.
Initially, the Brandeis Camp Institute was limited to a summer program for young adults age 18-26. In time, the Institute’s signature collegiate summer program was adapted for adults of all ages in the form of weekend retreats known as House of the Book Weekends. The summer camp, Camp Alonim, opened in 1953. The BBI facilities were also used - and continue to be used - year round for other youth and adult activities. Impressed and inspired by Dr. Bardin’s vision and educational philosophy, neighbor James Arness (star of “Gunsmoke”) gifted his entire adjoining ranch to the Institute, significantly increasing BBI’s total acreage and making it what is believed to be the largest parcel of land owned by a Jewish community organization outside the State of Israel.
These two dynamic institutions, which were running on parallel paths, were natural partners. When University of Judaism acquired the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in 2007, the American Jewish University was established, creating a thriving center of Jewish resources and talent built upon the values of Jewish Learning, Culture, Ethics, Leadership and Peoplehood.