A letter from a reader about Remembering Jewish life at Princeton

June 6, 2007

As the founding chairman (in 1946) of the Student Hebrew Association, I would like to fill in a few gaps in the piece on “60 years of Jewish life at Princeton” (Notebook, April 18).

With the incessant turnover in the student body, and in the absence of record-keeping on extra-curricular goings-on, such gaps are well-nigh inevitable. I myself was unaware that a Princeton Jewish Society had been formed just four years earlier (as the author relates), only to have vanished without a trace by the time I arrived on the campus.
The main motive in establishing the SHA was to overcome the incongruity of the Jewish undergraduates (there were about 140 then registered; the admissions office readily supplied the list) having to attend compulsory chapel services. Although billed as non-denominational, these were still Christian services. The only alternative open to us was an orthodox Sabbath prayer meeting in town, which most students found unappealing (and/or unintelligible). Besides which, there were Saturday morning classes scheduled then in some courses.
Associate Dean of the Chapel Burton MacLean, to whom I turned for assistance, cooperated enthusiastically in the establishment of the SHA and put a meeting room in Murray-Dodge Hall at our disposal. The initiative aroused opposition among some Jewish students, but the majority were in favor. There was initially no participation of faculty. Among my close collaborators were the late Don Rosenthal ’48, Herb Schlosser ’49, Hank Spitz ’50, and Marcus Aaron ’50. Among my successors as chairman (there were no women on campus then) were Al de Jonge ’49 and Robert Bloom ’50.
I don't recall whether Albert Einstein actually spoke at the inaugural meeting of the SHA, or whether I invited him as a guest speaker at one of the early sessions as a gimmick to attract more students. (I made available copies of my correspondence with him to the exhibition on “250 Years of Princeton Jewish History” that was held in 2002 by the Historical Society of Princeton and the Jewish Center.)
Another guest speaker was the then-popular novelist Ludwig Lewisohn, who wrote on themes connected with American Jewish identity and immigrant integration into the mainstream of American life. Also, a group of our members participated in a
Harvard-Yale-Princeton colloquium held on the Yale campus and sponsored by Hillel (I believe) and the editors of Commentary. Among the latter were Nathan Glazer (later professor of sociology at Harvard) and Irving Kristol (later a Wall Street Journal columnist).
The affiliation with Hillel came about after I contacted Hillel’s head office in New York for help in conducting Friday evening services. Dr. Abram Sachar, the national director, asked his two associates, Dr. Judah Shapiro and Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, to perform this task on alternate Friday evenings. This they did successfully for several months in late 1946 and early 1947. Both men were compelling speakers, popular with the students.
This convenient informal arrangement (the SHA tried to avoid formal affiliation with a national body such as the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation, as it was then) came to an end when Dr. Sachar was named president of Brandeis University and Rabbi Lelyveld became the national Hillel director. Dr. Shapiro left Hillel soon afterward.
Rabbi Lelyveld offered to send us a young Reform rabbi affiliated with Hillel on a regular basis, still without any formal affiliation. We agreed to this, and Rabbi Horace Manacher drove to the campus from his home on Long Island several times a week, mainly to lead study circles and discussions.
To avoid excessive length, I will conclude with mentioning that the following year Hillel sent us Rabbi Saul Kraft, a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary, after working out a more formal arrangement with the administration. Rabbi Kraft also commuted from New York.
Before I graduated at the end of the 1948 summer semester (then available to those studying under the G.I. Bill), I had the pleasure of introducing the first resident Hillel director, Dr. Irving M. Levey, previously of Hebrew Union College, to the campus community.
I believe these men, pioneers in a way, deserve to be remembered.
Tel Aviv, Israel

Editor’s note: A condensed version of this letter was published in the June 6, 2007, issue of PAW.


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