Exploring the Past, Discovering Today

The Judaic Studies Israel Archeological Dig

dessert sky over silhouette of archeological dig tent


icon of a calendarNovember 19, 2018

icon of a pencilBy Jen Hogan

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Ten years ago, Bernie and Nina Kent made a decision that changed the lives of many Oakland University students. The Kents established the Bernard and Nina Kent Judaic Studies Endowed Israel Travel Fund. This endowment made it possible for OU students to attend a summer archeological dig in Israel. Since then, more than 100 students have been afforded the opportunity to study abroad because of their generosity.

Bernie Kent is chairman and senior advisor of Schechter Investment Advisors in Birmingham. He is a 1971 alumnus of OU and was awarded the Oakland University Alumni Association Distinguished Service Award in 2013. He and Nina are pleased that they have been able to give back to OU to help students.

“We wanted to make a contribution that would make a difference,” says Bernie. “We created a fund for foreign travel because it’s important to give students the opportunity to see other parts of the world.”

Recently, the Kents resolved to do even more. The couple committed to a gift of $250,000 to increase their endowment, enabling even more students to participate in the annual trip.

The Kents also acknowledge the significant effort of Michael Pytlik, director of Judaic studies and assistant professor of anthropology, who leads the excursion to Israel. “Professor Pytlik is amazing,” says Nina. “The students work hard every day. It is not a vacation travel experience. They get up before sunrise and work past sunset. It is their opportunity to work with Professor Pytlik on his research and contribute to knowledge.”

“The program is very unique,” says Pytlik. “It’s a big deal for an undergraduate to have this type of archeological field experience. Plus, it is important for Americans to go abroad since we travel less than people from other countries. This program enables OU students to experience the world and be engaged in the work of discovery.”

The Kents have seen firsthand the impact the endowment has on both the academic and personal lives of students. “Many of the students who participate continue their studies in the area of archeology or Judaic studies as undergraduates and carry the experience through to graduate school,” says Bernie.

Every year, the Kents celebrate the conclusion of the expedition with an event at their home. This gathering raises money for the endowment to ensure future trips. The couple is dedicated to keeping this experience affordable for students. Donor funds provide approximately one-third of the trip’s funding, helping to keep participants’ out-of-pocket cost as low as possible.

At the event, students share their stories of discovery and thank guests for their support. “For some students, they have never been on a plane let alone traveled overseas,” says Nina. “Hearing their perspectives and how meaningful the experiences were, makes it all worthwhile.” This past summer marked the 10th

anniversary of the archaeology of Israel study abroad program. According to student participant Emileigh Megel, “This trip was absolutely amazing. Not only has it been the highlight of my summer, it has been the highlight of my life.”

Typically, most students on the trip have never visited Israel. “They come back with a much better understanding of Israel,” says Bernie. “Not just the Israel of biblical times, but also the vibrant country it is today.”

To learn more about the program and how you can help, contact Professor Pytlik at [email protected].

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