Ben Brinner and John Efron


The Magnes Collection’s Benjamin Brinner Set to Retire and John Efron Appointed as Faculty Director

June 29, 2021

UC Berkeley’s The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life’s Esther and Jacques Reutlinger Director Ben Brinner is retiring as of June 29, 2021 and Koret Professor of Jewish History and Faculty Director of the Center for Jewish Studies, John Efron, will be stepping in to a one-year appointment as the new Faculty Director.

Before joining The Magnes in 2020, Brinner was the Faculty Director of the Center for Jewish Studies from 2015-2020, having begun his tenure at UC Berkeley as a professor in 1989. “Ben has brought both tremendous scholarship and a deep knowledge of how the University works to The Magnes. This will leave a lasting legacy.” Magnes curator Francesco Spagnolo stated.

“Ben has been a real asset to The Magnes Collection. While he was certainly aware of the work and supportive of The Magnes prior to his assuming the responsibility of Faculty Director, in the relatively short period of his engagement and management once becoming the director, his efforts have been integral and significant to the advancement of the institution. Ben’s proverbial mark on The Magnes Collection has been made and the institution is better for it.” stated Barry Cohn, Chair of The Magnes Museum Foundation. “I will miss having him actively involved. I will miss his calm strength, dedication to the cause, knowledge of the subject matter, capability of navigating the University system and ability to articulate the case. We were very fortunate to have him as part of the effort!”

Helen Fawcett Distinguished Professor Emeritus Thomas Laqueur said “Perhaps Ben Brinner was born to be the distinguished scholar, teacher, and servant, in a great many capacities, of the UC Berkeley community that he is. His father “Ze’ev” Brinner was, for more than three decades, a beloved and widely influential professor of Arabic literature and medieval Jewish-Islamic relations in our Department of Near Eastern Studies. His son has done him proud: as a musician leading the Berkeley Gamelan Orchestra; as department chair; as Director of The Center for Jewish Studies; and most recently as Director of The Magnes Collection. Few people have contributed as much to our community as he has.”

On his time at The Magnes, Brinner stated “I am fascinated by collections, archives, and museums but I don’t think I ever considered working in one before I landed at The Magnes. It has been a very educational year and a half. I am eager to see The Magnes open to the public again, hosting lectures and performances in addition to exhibitions. I’m particularly looking forward to the “Time Capsules” show in order to revisit items from exhibitions I saw over the last ten years and catch up on some exhibitions that I missed.”

In retirement, Ben plans to continue to teach the occasional course, conduct research, get back to work on his book manuscript, play more music, travel, spend time with family and friends, and continue co-directing UC Berkeley’s Javanese Gamelan orchestra as they prepare for a December 4th concert at Hertz Hall.

The Magnes Collection’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce the appointment of John Efron as its new Interim Faculty Director. As the Koret Professor of Jewish History and Faculty Director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Jewish Studies, John specializes in the cultural and social history of German Jewry and brings strong leadership and scholarship experience to The Magnes.

“As a scholar who specializes in Jewish history, the material treasures of the Jewish past are of particular importance and fascination to me and I am therefore very excited by the opportunity and honor that comes with being director of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life.” said John.

The Magnes family wishes Ben all the best in his retirement and extends a warm welcome to John as he steps into the role of Faculty Director.

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