Rice’s Program in Jewish Studies, Shepherd School receive $4.1 million estate gift

Rice University has received a gift of more than $4.1 million from the estate of the late Samuel W. and Goldye Marian Spain to the university’s Program in Jewish Studies and the Shepherd School of Music.

Of the Spains’ gift, the Program in Jewish Studies in the School of Humanities will receive $3.6 million to support several areas: creation of a faculty chair, to be held by a senior faculty member; a postdoctoral fellow; and a wide range of outreach programs that will explore the entire field of Jewish studies. The Shepherd School will receive more than $500,000 to support teaching and production and to offer a hands-on experience in opera performance, including coaching in voice and stagecraft, as well as scholarships to students who show interest and talent in music and performance.

Matthias Henze

Matthias Henze

Goldye Marian Spain died in 2014 several years after her husband’s death. A Houston resident, she made plans to donate funds to her favorite institutions in town, including Rice.

“Ms. Spain lived a somewhat secluded life,” said Matthias Henze, the Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies, professor in religion and director of the Program in Jewish Studies. “She was Jewish, but to the best of my knowledge, she was not a member of any of the synagogues. My understanding is that she had a high regard for Rice University. I think the idea of educating Rice students in Judaism was very appealing to her.”

Her gift will have a significant impact on the Program in Jewish Studies, which was launched in 2009, Henze said. “The gift is a complete game-changer,” he said. “It’s by far the largest gift we’ve ever received. It consists of three gifts, all three of which are crucially important.”

Robert Yekovich

Robert Yekovich

“Ms. Spain’s gift substantially augments the types of comprehensive, career-readying opportunities that the Shepherd School offers through its Opera Studies Program,” said Shepherd School Dean Robert Yekovich. “Her benevolence allows us to engage today’s foremost guest artists, diction coaches and stage directors to work with our students, while attracting new talent to the Opera Studies Program through scholarship support. The Shepherd School is a deeply grateful beneficiary of Ms. Spain’s belief in Rice University as a premier educator in the arts and humanities.”

Henze said Jewish studies is an interdisciplinary field that crosses traditional boundaries between academic fields and departments. Courses in Jewish studies allow students to learn about Judaism as it has evolved from an ancient set of shared religious practices into the pluralistic religion and culture that it is today, he said. In both the humanities and social sciences, Jewish studies broadly examine the texts, history, languages, philosophy, literature and culture of the Jewish people from the ancient to the modern.

“The study of Jewish life and culture provides an opportunity to explore the continuities and diversity of Judaism as it has been lived and practiced for over three millennia all over the world,” Henze said. “The Spains’ gift will support this exploration for many years to come.”

To view a video about Rice’s Program in Jewish Studies, see https://youtu.be/UF_cAaddJcw.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.