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A Landscape Transformed Orthodoxy and America’s Elite Universities


Princeton University

Princeton University

After all this assistance from the Jewish Educational Center community in Elizabeth, I was upset when the New York Times ran an article about kosher dining at Princeton and quoted the Hillel rabbi who had given us grief. My father advised looking at the upside; since he had taken credit, that rabbi could no longer work against the Yavneh House.

* * * * *

Many colleges today provide kosher food; they welcome yeshiva high school graduates who are used to working hard at a double curriculum and who most often graduate within four years. Hewitt Hall, the dormitory at Barnard that was built to exclude Jewish students, now has a kosher kitchen and reserves one dining room on Friday night and Saturday for Shabbat meals. The Kraft Center is filled with minyanim, shiurim, and activities for all Jewish students at Barnard and Columbia.

Fast forward to this month – February 12 – and the Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration of Jewish dining at Princeton, held in the Center for Jewish Life, which was built on campus in 1993.

One hundred eighty guests came to the event. The brainpower of the graduates and of the current students could light up the world. I enjoyed hearing how Marilyn Berger, in the first female cohort admitted to Princeton, asked a member of the Fortunoff family, based on their forebears having owned neighboring stores in Brooklyn, to donate the silverware for Stevenson Hall in 1971. He did – and donated a second time when they needed more.

Today students benefit from the presence of Rabbi David and Sara Wolkenfeld, the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus couple at Princeton. (Visit www.JLIC.online.org to see the range of services provided by Torah-educated young marrieds who live near campus; Rabbi Menachem Schrader initiated the program, which is now supported by the Seif family through the OU.)

Avital Hazony, president of Princeton Yavneh, told me the students were fascinated that all these people worked for others without personal benefit or a thought of recognition.

I remembered back in the 1970s the Nakash family would send Jordache jeans to my father to give to people in need in Russia. My father was born in Latvia, my mother in the United States; the Nakash brothers came from Israel, but I believe their family emigrated from yet another country. The sale of a pair of Jordache jeans at that time in Russia could support a family for months. Without knowing who the recipients would be, one family sent assistance with a couple who also did not know in advance who needed help, because kol Yisrael areivin zeh ba’zeh (Shavuot 39a) – we are all responsible for one another.

I told the students the saying I heard as a child: “Think for yourself; do for others.”

Point to ponder: Princeton reaps important dividends from its association with the Institute for Advanced Study. The institute was Jewish from its inception, founded in 1930 by the Bamberger siblings, Louis and Carrie Fuld, who had made their fortune with the stores that bore the family name. They asked Abraham Flexner, who had revolutionized medical education in the United States with a report he wrote in 1910, to head it. Flexner made it a center for intellectual growth with Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Erwin Panofsky, and other brilliant members, some of them saved from the Holocaust through Flexner’s invitation.

In recent years, noteworthy mathematicians who were observant Jews and who earned degrees or worked in Princeton include Leon Ehrenpreis, a”h, (for whom the Malgrange-Ehrenpreis Theorem is named); Hillel Furstenberg (for whom the Furstenberg Boundary is named); and Saul Kripke, the greatest mind in symbolic logic in the last half-century.

 

Dr. Rivkah Blau teaches English at Fairleigh Dickinson University. A member of the editorial board of Tradition, she is the author of “Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah” and the editor of “Gender Relationships: In Marriage and Out.”

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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“Rabbi, did you ever think you would see this day?”

It was 1971, and the university official who asked this question was inviting the rabbi to the dedication of the kosher dining room in Stevenson Hall on the campus of Princeton University.

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