When Rabbi Daniel Greer ’60 first met with the Princeton Hillel rabbi as a prospective student, he was warned that life at Princeton would not be easy. With no kosher kitchen on campus and no community of religiously observant Jews, Greer ate most of his meals alone in his room.
“The studies were great; the life was miserable,” Greer recalled. “It was a very lonely place.”
Princeton’s Orthodox Jewish community has come far since then, and on Feb. 12 this progress was recognized as more than 200 students and alumni gathered at Frist Campus Center to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Yavneh House of Princeton.
Yavneh is a community of about 50 students that meets regularly at the Center for Jewish Life (CJL) for prayer, discussion, and education. At the celebration, attendees participated in panel discussions and presentations that included “Yavneh from Hippies to iPhones,” shared experiences, and looked to the future.
“It is a strong community while people are in college, and this is a way for people to reconnect,” said David Schuster ’12, former treasurer of Yavneh.
Yavneh found its way to Princeton in 1961, when Abe Kaufman ’62 recognized students’ need for a kosher kitchen; the group initially met in a rented home on Olden Street. In “an age of conformity,” Kaufman said, “the idea of starting a kosher eating house was unheard of. But we enjoyed getting together and discussing and arguing during our meals, and the rest is history.”
Another important figure was Marilyn Berger Schlachter ’73, who successfully petitioned the University to open its own kosher dining hall in Stevenson Hall in 1971, moving Yavneh members onto campus.
Despite the progress, Ben Jubas ’14, current president of Yavneh, said that observant Jewish life can be isolating for members of the group. “One of the things that brings the community together is that everyone eats at the CJL,” Jubas said. “While it’s great food and I love it, it means that you’re constantly there.” Keeping strict kosher often limits eating-club and residential-college involvement, he said.
Ariel Futter ’15, Yavneh’s education chairman, noted that Orthodox Jews also face evolving practical challenges on campus, including the need for kosher food during Outdoor Action trips and for building keys instead of Prox cards on Sabbath days, when observant Jews may not use electricity.
Both Futter and Rabbi Julie Roth, executive director of the CJL, said the University has been very supportive in addressing these needs. “Princeton is a leader among universities in its support of observant Jewish life,” Roth said.
At the same time, Jubas said, the Orthodox community helps to diversify thought on campus. He teaches a weekly class on philosophy and Jewish law for community members of all faiths, he noted.
Daniel Mark ’03 GS, a former Yavneh president, underlined Yavneh’s importance as Orthodox students find a place for themselves at Princeton.
“There always will be challenges because the values of Orthodox Jewish life are not always in line with the values of regular college life,” Mark said. “It is very important to have a community to work together to address these challenges.”