Student Marissa Gaston looks out over Jerusalem under a blue sky

Jewish Studies student Marissa Gaston looks out over Jerusalem during her year abroad at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

After a semester studying in the Overseas Student Program at Ben Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beersheba, Israel, UW undergraduate student Marissa Gaston planned to return home to continue her studies in political science, history, and classics. But as she thought about how her experience at BGU had helped her to find an international community, Gaston decided to extend her experience abroad through a full year.

Describing what compelled her to stay, Marissa says, “In a word: community. Coming to Israel hasn’t just allowed me to fulfill my original goals of exploring the faiths, histories, and cultures rooted here; it has also brought me into a kaleidoscope of international perspectives and learning. … In a spectacularly multi-faceted society, I found a home in perhaps an even more multi-faceted micro-community.”

Gaston’s deep connection to this community was made possible by funding she received from the Mitchell F. and Sophie Wise Ehrlich Student Support Fund in Jewish Studies. This endowment was established in 2007 by University of Washington alumna Arlene B. Ehrlich in honor of her parents, and provides support for academic experiences related to Jewish Studies, including study abroad, research travel, and academic conference attendance.

Supporting learning experiences near and far, and continuing study during COVID-19

Since 2013, the Ehrlich Student Support Fund has enabled students to participate in wide-ranging experiences related to Jewish Studies, building community around Jewish learning both locally and globally. Recipients of funding from the Support Fund have traveled across the world to study Jewish languages, experience life in Israel, and share research with peers.

Tess Seltzer rides in the back of an ambulance in a white and black medical uniform, medical equipment in bags at her feet.

Tess Seltzer volunteers in the back of an Israeli ambulance

In 2017, medical anthropology and global health major Tess Seltzer received funding that allowed her to participate in Tel Aviv University’s five-month “Voyage to Medicine” program, focused on work experiences in the Israeli medical system. In 2016, English Ph.D. student Denise Grollmus received Student Support funding, allowing her to present a paper at the “World Literatures and the New Totalitarianism” conference in London, explaining how modern-day Trumpian political rhetoric feeds anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Thanks to Student Support funding, political science major Mohammed Elias was able to study Yiddish at the YIVO Institute in New York City in 2018, while Germanics major Kendra Berry was able to travel to Poland to learn Yiddish and explore the history of Poland’s Jewish community through the Center for Yiddish Culture in Warsaw.

In response to urgent needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic, funding from the Mitchell F. and Sophie Wise Ehrlich Student Support Fund is also now being used to support students directly impacted by the pandemic, allowing dissertation work and summer study to continue uninterrupted. The Stroum Center is grateful to Arlene Ehrlich for making it possible to support Jewish Studies students’ continued academic excellence during a challenging time.

Honoring the legacy of parents and their values

Black-and-white photograph shows Mitchell Wise with glasses, tie, dress shirt and coat, next to Sophie, smiling, wearing a suit jacket

Mitchell and Sophie Ehrlich in 1945.

Community was a defining value in the life of Mitchell Ehrlich, Arlene’s father, and one that he passed on to his daughter. The entire Ehrlich family found a rich community of peers at the University of Washington, beginning when Mitchell enrolled in the UW’s pre-dental program. While Mitchell was studying pre-dentistry, he met Sophie Wise, and the pair later married. Sophie worked with her husband as a dental hygienist at his dental practice in Butte, Montana, until her untimely death in 1945.

Mitchell and Sophie’s passion for community and love of learning were deeply instilled in their daughter Arlene, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at the University of Washington in 1957 and a Master of Social Work in 1960. After completing her master’s, Arlene went on to work for Jewish Family and Child Service (now Jewish Family Service) in Seattle. She later served as an oncological social worker at the UW Medical Center, supporting cancer patients and their families as they coped with illness. Later in her career, Ehrlich also served as National Director of Service and Rehabilitation for the American Cancer Society.

Jewish Studies supporter Arlene Ehrlich talks with Director Noam Pianko at an event

UW alumna Arlene Ehrlich with Stroum Center Director Noam Pianko

Outside of her professional life, Ehrlich has pursued continuing education through the University of Washington’s Access Program for seniors, through which she has studied numerous topics, including Jewish Studies. Ehrlich has also been an active member of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies’ Advisory Board, and currently sits on its Honorary Board.

The creation of the Mitchell F. and Sophie Wise Ehrlich Student Support Fund in 2007 brought the Ehrlich family’s core values of community and education full circle. Mitchell Ehrlich had long wanted to honor the memory of his wife Sophie. When he passed away in 2005, Arlene Ehrlich decided to honor her parents’ memories, and their values, by creating an endowment to support students in Jewish Studies – providing meaningful learning opportunities and sparking new connections with Jewish learning for countless UW students for generations to come.

The Stroum Center for Jewish Studies is grateful to Arlene Ehrlich and all of the generous donors who provide funding for Jewish Studies students through endowed gifts. If you are interested in learning more about how you can also make an impact through giving, please contact Kate Killpack at for more information.

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⇒ Learn more about the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Washington, our Sephardic Studies Program, or our Israel Studies Program.
Note: The opinions expressed by faculty and students in our publications reflect the views of the individual writer only and not those of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.