2016-02-03 / Voice at the Shore

Stockton president is “extraordinarily grateful” for Jewish community support


Harvey Kesselman, Stockton’s new president, is pictured at a recent Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center Executive Committee Meeting when the leadership of the Center was recognized. Pictured, from left, is Kesselman, Rona Kaplan, Susan Lang, Jane Stark, Marsha Grossman, Jack Gorny, and Leo Schoffer. Harvey Kesselman, Stockton’s new president, is pictured at a recent Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center Executive Committee Meeting when the leadership of the Center was recognized. Pictured, from left, is Kesselman, Rona Kaplan, Susan Lang, Jane Stark, Marsha Grossman, Jack Gorny, and Leo Schoffer. Dr. Harvey Kesselman, Stockton University’s new president, recently spoke with Voice shore correspondent Ellen Weisman Strenger about matters of concern to the local Jewish community.

VOICE: Stockton’s Hillel recently did a joint program with the Muslim Student Association focusing on ethnic foods. What is it about Stockton’s culture that fosters a collaborative attitude between these groups, rather than the hostility that exists between those same groups on many other college campuses?

KESSELMAN: This collaborative attitude is not new here. Stockton has always had a commitment to ensuring that all groups feel at home—that they have the opportunity to grow and be part of the larger community, and yet can also be their own community. Part has to do with how we were started—in 1971—at the height of the peace movement. People here with clear passions have always felt free and comfortable to express those passions and to also sit down at the table with people with different views. We celebrate different cultures throughout the year. This is part of our DNA and we attract people with like minds. There is a sense of community here that you can feel here.

VOICE: How were you involved in the creation of the Holocaust Resource Center at Stockton?

KESSELMAN: I was the vice president of student affairs. Arguably, I was the mentee of Dr. Vera Farris, who was president of Stockton at the time. Dr. Farris had a deep commitment to Holocaust education and genocide prevention, and she was very close to the Jewish population. She knew there were big pockets of survivors in our community, and that their stories needed to be told.

She herself grew up in Atlantic City and came from a disadvantaged background. Because of that, she was sensitive to the conditions that lead to holocaust and genocide. She wanted to establish something at Stockton so that no one would forget what had happened and what could be done by educated people.

I worked closely behind the scenes with Vera Farris to assist in the formation of the Holocaust Resource Center, but my role was insignificant compared to that of the many community and other faculty members who were instrumental in making it happen, including Marsha Grossman, Hon. Gerald and Claire Weinstein, Gail Rosenthal and G. Jan Colijn. My role was to overcome barriers, make space, and make sure people supported the concept of the center. I never foresaw it would grow into what it is now! I never thought it would be so well known in New Jersey, nationally and internationally.

VOICE: How important is the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center to the university?

KESSELMAN: The Holocaust Resource Center is now interwoven into the fabric of our educational offerings. It is integrally a part of who we are. The Holocaust Resource Center enables Stockton to make a difference on many levels. You don’t have to be a Stockton student to experience how this center makes a difference in the lives of everyone it touches— including students, community members, and educators. We have a number of centers and institutes here, but I don’t think any have as much passion and community support as the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center. The community has a sense of ownership of the center, and we’re thrilled that they do.

Every year, our Holocaust Resource Center helps us draw students and scholars to the Stockton campus. Stockton’s Ida E. King endowed chair in Holocaust Studies [named after Dr. Farris’ mother] has drawn some of the most pre-eminent scholars in the world to our campus. We now offer more classes in Holocaust and Genocide studies than just about anywhere in the world. We have an incredible commitment to this program.

We have also just established an online Genocide Prevention Certification Program. What’s revolutionary about this is the fact that it’s online. This enables us to expand the reach of what we’re doing here [with Holocaust and Genocide Studies.] What we did was design a certificate program that allows students to pick and choose courses they can apply to their world without having to get the full master’s degree. The program is pretty unique. Typically, everything we’ve done in this area has been groundbreaking.

VOICE: Are there plans in the works to do anything more with Stockton’s Azeez Center in Cape May County?

KESSELMAN: At Stockton, we absolutely love the Azeez Center, with its combination of museum and classroom space. We also appreciate the Azeez family, which is wonderfully supportive of Stockton. [The Azeez Foundation and the museum itself donated $5 million to Stockton in 2011.] The greatest challenge is the center’s location—it’s relatively isolated and students have a difficult time getting back and forth. So at this point, we mostly offer continuing education programs for teachers there. .

Return to top