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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Rivkah Blau’

A Landscape Transformed Orthodoxy and America’s Elite Universities

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

“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.

In light of the anti-Semitism that had prevailed at elite schools until the 1950s, the official was right. But the rabbi he invited was Rav Mordechai Pinchas Teitz, zt”l, who would indeed have imagined this moment could come.

Rabbi Teitz called America “golus [exile], but the best golus the Jewish nation has experienced.” He thought President Harry Truman, Senator Hubert Humphrey, and Governor Thomas Kean represented the best qualities of America: a commitment to fairness with a generosity of spirit.

True, these qualities had not always been evident in the Ivy League and Seven Sisters colleges.

Barnard College, for example, had been founded and supported by Annie Nathan Meyer, and later received large donations from Jacob Schiff, both of whom were Jewish. But when Virginia Gildersleeve became the head of Barnard in 1911, her spirit of anti-Semitism prevailed.

In 1916 Schiff gave half a million dollars for the construction of the main building, which was called Students’ Hall. In 1926, after Schiff’s death, the building was named Barnard Hall rather than for the donor. Annie Nathan Meyer protested the blatant anti-Semitism and the pain caused to the Schiff family, but Gildersleeve – who had the support of Columbia’s Nicholas Murray Butler in her approach – did not retreat.

The sole memorial of Schiff’s generosity is a marble plaque set in the floor of the Barnard Hall lobby; when I was a student there we referred to meeting in the lobby as meeting “on Jake,” but we did not know the story behind this.

Gildersleeve and Butler were also perturbed by the number of Jews enrolling in their schools, particularly those whose families had come from Eastern Europe and had excelled in high school here.

Before World War I, forty percent of Columbia’s students were Jewish, and Barnard in the 1920s was heading toward the same percentage. They agreed to stop basing admission on academic achievement and to instead consider interviews, letters of recommendation, and “geographic distribution” as criteria. The last phrase is a code name for non-Jews since Montana, Idaho, and similar locales could be counted on for fewer Jews than the East Coast. Hewitt Hall, a dormitory at Barnard, was built to enable students from distant parts of the country to live on campus.

The irony is that a number of the professors who made these schools renowned were Jewish, at least one of them born in Lithuania – the supposedly “uncultured” Eastern Europe – Meyer Schapiro, who made the department of art history a force in American culture.

Other Jewish notables in the ensuing decades included Isidor Rabi, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1944, Lionel Trilling in English literature, and Franz Boas at Barnard, who developed the fields of anthropology and linguistics.

Gildersleeve was so intent on favoring admission of women from rich Protestant families that she organized the Seven Sisters with Bryn Mawr, Mt. Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley to promote her policy of excluding Jews. When she left the deanship in 1947, she lobbied against the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

* * * * *

But change was coming. After World War II there was an increased sensitivity to the horrific consequences of anti-Semitism. Although other groups had not suddenly become philo-Semites, outright discrimination was becoming unacceptable. And the pioneers in Israel upended all the old stereotypes of Jews.

Day schools opened across the United States and Canada. In the middle of the nineteenth century Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch had initiated the model of a school with both Jewish and secular studies. Before World War II there were day schools in New York, Baltimore, Boston, Elizabeth, and a handful of other cities. In the postwar years tens of new schools were established. The law of unintended consequences operated; many of the teachers in these schools were European refugees who had managed to arrive in America after the war.

At the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the ‘60s a few graduates of yeshiva high schools were admitted into the top colleges. College administrators were nonplussed by the requirements of observant Jewish undergraduates. No exams on the Sabbath? Who ever heard of a holiday in May called “Shavuot”? Kosher food?

I recall that when I asked to defer a final that was scheduled for Shavuot, the registrar at Barnard said, “Miss Teitz, I’ve heard of your New Year; I’ve heard of your Day of Atonement; I think you’re making this holiday up.”

My sisters and I came to Barnard in the first place because of anti-Semitism. In a public high school in New Jersey, a teacher had said to a student, “I graduated from Barnard, but you will never be accepted there. You’re a rabbi’s daughter; your letter of rejection is guaranteed.” It was 1931, in an era when a Jewish student could not protest such a remark and such a policy. The rabbi’s daughter was my mother, who determined that if she had daughters they would attend Barnard.

Safta’s Diaries: The Real Thing

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

The picture on the front cover of Safta’s Diaries (translated and edited by Shera Aranoff Tuchman, published by Ktav) is of a beautiful, strong woman. The photographer caught her in a quiet moment: she is sitting on a tall horse; the reins are in her right hand, the pommel of the saddle under her left hand; she appears ready to lead the charge against any challenge that might come.

Her long-sleeved, high-necked dress would have been appropriate in the observant Jewish community in her native Poland; the wide belt and the twin panels of material above it lend the dress an American verve. The photograph was taken in 1922 in Evarts, Kentucky.

Nine years later, during the battle over unionization between miners and mine-owners in Kentucky, it will be entirely in character for this clear-sighted, principled woman and her equally principled husband to help hungry families. The owners wanted to starve the miners into submission, but this couple could not let the families suffer.

They took three thousand dollars they had saved to buy an automobile and bought a different car – a train car full of hundreds of bags of flour to give away. The poster announcing the availability of the flour defied the prevalent racism and anti-Semitism and announced that Jewish values were the impetus for this donation. The poster read:

LOOK!

In accordance with the Jewish custom

to remember the needy during the

Passover Season

Mr. and Mrs. Harry Appleman will give away

on Friday, April 17, at the Evarts depot

A Car Load of Flour

The Flour will be given away as long as

it will last. A 24 pound bag to a family.

All needy from Evarts and surroundings are

welcome regardless of

Color and Creed

Mr. and Mrs. Appleman had read at their Passover Seder earlier in the month, “All who are hungry come and eat.” It took courage and generosity to fulfill this commitment, both character traits of this remarkable couple.

Their Hebrew names were Hillel and Bina. He had come from Russia, she from Poland, and had married in 1920. They moved later from Kentucky to Boro Park in Brooklyn so that their children could have a Torah education and be part of the community. Here Bina Appleman kept diaries in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and English; her granddaughter Shera Aranoff Tuchman has now translated, edited and published them.

Dr. Tuchman has edited lightly. The subtitle of Safta’s Diaries tells what the reader will find: Intimate Diaries of a Religious Zionist Woman. These are the records without self-censorship of what happened in Bina Appleman’s family and community and to the Jewish people.

It is interesting to read about the flow of life: engagements, marriages, births, educational initiatives, business ventures, friendships. From one page to the next we see synagogues and schools take shape and flourish. We realize how little people knew during World War II; in our age of instant communication, it is hard to believe that people in America did not know the extent of the destruction. Mrs. Appleman sent packages of food and other necessities to her family in Poland in the early 1940′s until a package was returned as undeliverable. We share the anxiety in 1947 and 1948 as the state of Israel struggles to be born; the elation at the reality of a Jewish country; the fear in May 1967 that the world is turning against the Jews until Hashem gives the miracle of Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War.

An awareness of God permeates Bina Appleman’s life. She prays every day and wants to explore the full meaning of her davening. Like Rabbi Akiva, she goes in her mid-40s to study Hebrew with young women half her age; she earned a diploma, first at the Herzliya Hebrew High School, then a second one at the Herzliya Hebrew Teachers’ Institute. She cannot tolerate chatter in the synagogue and follows the Vilna Gaon’s advice to pray at home where she can concentrate.

She is an intellectual who peppers her diary with quotations from the Written and Oral Torah. Her family gives her a ring with an inscription in Hebrew letters of an Aramaic phrase from the Midrash: “There is no place without Him.” She studies Ethics of the Fathers and other sources on her own. She listens to Rabbi Teitz’s Gemara lectures on the radio, the Daf Hashavua program on Saturday night.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/saftas-diaries-the-real-thing/2011/02/16/

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