Spotlight: Gary and Dana Shapiro, Cal Alumni, Friends of the Helen Diller Institute

The 10th Anniversary Spotlight Series highlights alumni, faculty, students and friends of the Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies who are agents of change in their communities and careers and have contributed to the vibrancy of the Institute.


Gary and Dana Shaprio, long time supporters of the Helen Diller Institute, met while pursuing their degrees at Cal in the 1960s. Gary graduated from the Haas School of Business in 1963 and from Berkeley Law in 1966. Dana graduated from the College of Letters & Science in 1965 and from the School of Education in 1966. Gary and Dana reside in San Francisco and have been involved with the Institute since 2011.


How did you first come to know about the Institute?

Gary: I’ve always had a very strong desire to support Berkeley Law. When I went to law school in the early 60’s, I only paid about $120 a semester. Because I received a great education for so little money, Dana and I have always considered it a priority to support the law school and the University. I was connected to the Institute by former Dean Chris Edley. Shortly after the Institute was founded, via Dean Edley, Professor Ken Bamberger and I connected and spoke about the Institute’s mission and vision—to provide a hub of academic engagement on Israel and Jewish topics for students and faculty. That is something that really resonated with Dana and me.

Dana: We also feel a connection to Cal because we both graduated with two degrees back in the 60s. After our undergraduate education, Gary went to law school and I got my teaching credential at the School of Education. I then taught in the Oakland public school district. 


Why does the mission of the Institute speak to you? Why is it important for you to support the Institute? 

Dana: While we were at Cal, there wasn’t much opportunity for Jewish involvement. There was Hillel and there were Jewish fraternities and sororities, but no avenue to interact with Jewish thought in an academic context. We are very proud to be among the first supporters of the Institute, as it provides an opportunity to students that we never had ourselves.  

Gary: We also found it important to address the antisemitism that is on college campuses nowadays. I know that for some students, it can be a delicate balance to be committed Jews while also being part of a campus community, especially if they picture themselves as progressives. We wanted to help ensure a place on the Berkeley campus where Jewish students would feel comfortable and supported. 


What is it like for you to see the growth of the Institute over the past decade?

Gary: We are so proud to have been able to make a contribution at a time when it was really important for the Institute to have community support. To see how it has grown and to what it has accomplished is gratifying. Of all the organizations we support, we are pleased to be able to say that we were one of the original supporters of the Institute and will continue to be.


How do you feel when you see Institute affiliated students participate in programs and events knowing that you have in-part supported this programming?

Gary: When I was in school, college was more of a means to an end. I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in 1963, leaving Cal just as the Free Speech Movement was starting. For me, the college years were just a time to get an education so that I could move on to Law school, pass the Bar exam, and get a well paying job. It wasn’t the social and political awakening that it is today, and I regret that I didn’t seize more of those types of opportunities. In our opinion, the opportunities at UC Berkeley for the students of today are absolutely breathtaking. It has been wonderful to see the students in the Undergraduate Fellowship program of the Institute really take the time to enjoy their college experience and get involved in matters of interest to them.


What are your hopes for the Institute in the future at Cal?

Gary: My hope is that the Institute continues growing and doing exactly what it’s doing now. I’d love to see the Institute reach out to other universities and other campuses to show them what they can do with similar commitment and leadership. I think that this is an example that other schools can emulate. We have worked very hard to build something that is unique, and it would be wonderful to be able to spread it around the country and encourage other schools to try to duplicate it.

The Helen Diller Institute houses two core programs, the Program on Israel Studies, a nationally-recognized initiative for the study of Israel, and the Program on Jewish Law, Thought and Identity, the only program of its type in the western United States.

Together the Institute’s programs promote student and faculty engagement by developing opportunities for research, programming, and mentorship; by bringing visiting faculty and scholars to UC Berkeley; and by organizing colloquia, programs, and classes to strengthen academic inquiry and discourse across the Berkeley campus.

The Institute was launched in 2011, and draws its 22-member faculty committee from Political Science, Sociology, Economics, History, Jewish Studies, Music, as well as the Schools of Law, Journalism, and Business.

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