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December 22, 2014 / 30 Kislev, 5775
 
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A Landscape Transformed Orthodoxy and America’s Elite Universities


Princeton University

Princeton University

Some administrators in the 1950s thought the new cohort of students should be thankful that the quota system excluding Jews was being eased; they saw no reason to consider religious observance. Those who looked to the future realized yeshiva graduates could be a positive force on campus; they were serious about learning, were used to a double schedule of classes, and usually completed their degrees within four years of entering college.

* * * * *

Princeton, which had been a bastion of exclusion, accepted several observant Jewish students, among them Daniel Greer (now Rabbi Daniel Greer, rosh yeshiva of the Yeshiva of New Haven) and Abe Kaufman.

They formed a chapter of Yavneh, the National Religious Jewish Students Association. They decided to provide kosher food at Princeton, where social life revolves around eating clubs. They aimed for an opening at the beginning of the Autumn Term in 1960, but encountered obstacles: landlords did not want to rent to a student group; the Hillel rabbi opposed them; parents felt they were paying tuition and did not want to cover the expense of setting up a kitchen, buying appliances, furnishing a dining-room, and paying a cook.

Abe and Daniel knew how lonely it was to subsist on sandwiches eaten alone in a dorm room, with occasional meals together supplied by Mrs. Greer, but the parents of other students did not want the financial responsibility.

My father, Rabbi Teitz, was on Yavneh’s National Advisory Board. When he heard about the difficulties Daniel and Abe were facing, he told me he knew the person who would help them make kosher dining at Princeton a reality. He called Milton Levy, a”h, a member of the Elizabeth community who owned Levy Brothers, the largest department store in town.

Rabbi Teitz knew about Mr. Levy’s experience years earlier as a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. Twelve students had signed up to eat kosher dinners at the home of a woman who would cook for them. On the second night only two students came, and at the end of the year Mr. Levy was eating by himself. He transferred to NYU, but decided that whenever students would want kosher food on campus, he would help.

He and several friends committed themselves to work without fanfare for Jewish values; they wore small gold pins in their lapels that said “441,” the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word for “truth.” They financed the kosher kitchen at Cornell. Mr. Levy also underwrote the kosher facility at Stevens Institute of Technology.

He was happy to help the students at Princeton found the Yavneh House. At a meeting with parents at the Greers’ home in Manhattan, he did not have to persuade the hosts or the Kaufmans, but he could not get the other parents to pledge adequate sums. When he drove me home to Elizabeth that night he told me he was not discouraged; he thought these parents did not realize how important it was to have a place where their sons could eat together with other observant students.

He told me to consult with my mother in making up a list of everything that would be necessary for a kosher home and to bring the list to his store. When I came to his office, he handed me his charge plate and told me to go through the store and order everything on the list.

Where would it be delivered? Abe had found a house at 21 Olden Street, but the owner would not accept a student’s signature on the lease. My father signed it.

The house had bedrooms on the second floor that could be rented out. Mr. Levy supplied the furniture, in addition to the dining room table, chairs, refrigerator, freezer, dishes, silverware, pots and pans.

My father provided the Torah scroll, prayer books, chumashim, and everything else necessary for praying together. He arranged delivery of meat from a kosher slaughterhouse he supervised; when the students didn’t pay on time for the meat they were getting at a wholesale price, he paid the bill. He was involved in every detail, including talking to college administrators, hiring the cook, and arranging shiurim.

Daniel and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Moses Greer, a”h, were the dynamic initiators. Abe, who was in charge at the Princeton site, learned Yiddish in order to communicate with Mrs. Fleischer, the cook who came each weekday from Trenton. Abe was the menu-planner, residence manager, accountant, chief operating officer – it’s a tribute to his organizational abilities that he completed the school year. My brother, Rabbi Elazar Mayer Teitz, and my husband, Rabbi Yosef Blau, drove to Princeton to study Talmud with the Yavneh chapter.

Milton Levy supported the Yavneh House until he passed away. After the funeral, Leonard Diener, a”h, another member of the community who felt a responsibility for all students who wanted to keep kosher, told my father, “I know what Milton has been doing; I’ll take responsibility for Princeton now.”

About the Author: Dr. Rivkah Teitz Blau is a professor of English, an author, and a lecturer. She edited the volume on "Gender Relationships in Marriage and Out" for the Orthodox Forum.


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One Response to “A Landscape Transformed Orthodoxy and America’s Elite Universities”

  1. Dr. S. Perry Brickman says:

    I really enjoyed the article. I am currently researching a related subject. How can I communicate with Dr. Blau?

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