10/22/2008 Libby Sternberg

From Exclusion to Celebration

“Mother’s maiden name” is so commonplace on applications today that hardly anyone would guess at the question’s unsavory origins. But its roots are in a slice of anti-Semitic history.

In the 1920s, Ivy League college applications started using it as a way to elicit one salient fact: Was the applicant Jewish? If so, then that student might be excluded from entry.

For many years Ivy League colleges sought to restrict Jewish enrollment because of what was seen as Jews’ “undesirable” dedication to academic achievement. Instead the Ivy Leagues valued “character,” a quality that author Jerome Karabel, in his book The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, said was “thought to be frequently lacking among Jews but present almost congenitally among high-status Protestants.”

One college’s loss, however, was others’ gain. As the sought-after Ivy League colleges set maximum quotas for Jewish students, high-caliber Jewish students looked elsewhere for postsecondary education opportunities, particularly ones with preprofessional training.

Franklin & Marshall College, a small Christian-rooted institution with no particular welcome mat for Jewish students, was able to attract Jewish students. Enrollment of Jewish students, in fact, reached nearly 25 percent at one time. This happened not so much because of the College’s efforts, but almost in spite of them.

Franklin & Marshall, in fact, followed the national trends and had a cap on Jewish enrollment during the interwar period, not ending this practice until the decade after World War II, reports David Stameshkin, associate dean and Bonchek House prefect. There were no Jewish faculty members at F&M until after the war, and no permanent Jewish administrators until 1978, when Stameshkin came on board.

Jewish students who entered the College found a solid preprofessional curriculum to be sure, but not necessarily an atmosphere that nurtured a Jewish identity.

“When I was at F&M, there were 11 fraternities,” recalls Marc Straus, M.D., ‘65. “Nine of them did not accept Jews.”

There was no Jewish organization on campus when Straus was a student, nor any connection to the wider Jewish community. A required religion course that looked at the Old Testament lacked the disciplined approach of Talmudic study Straus remembered from his Yeshiva school days—and Straus didn’t even consider himself a particularly religious kid. Despite all this, Straus remembers his college days with genuine affection, crediting the rigor of F&M’s anatomy class with making the same medical-school course seem easy. His son, Ari ’92, went to F&M as well.

Straus’ desire to make the College more welcoming for Jewish students led him to become involved in starting a Judaic Studies minor and helping enhance the College’s attitude toward inclusion of Jewish students.

Hillel Arrives

The academic year after Straus graduated, F&M opened a chapter of Hillel, the international Jewish campus organization originally begun at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1923. Hillel’s mission is to “enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world.”

Its goal to create a pluralistic and inclusive environment for Jews and non-Jews alike has certainly driven the efforts of the F&M Hillel, which was created with the help of Jacob Freedman, professor of geology. Hillel has maintained an active presence on campus since its inception.

Freedman was the adviser for nearly a decade until his retirement. Other faculty members have been advisers, including English Professor Herb Levine, and Stameshkin, who served from 1984 to 1991. He gave up the Hillel post when Ralph Taber, who joined the College as director of housing in 1986, became available to lead it.

Under Taber’s leadership, Hillel has become a true “home away from home” for Jewish students as more students have become involved and the College has offered more programs and events. On Wednesday nights, Hillel holds cafés where students share news with one another—everything from delight at getting an “A” on a paper to worry over a sick grandparent. Shabbat dinners, holiday celebrations, bagel brunches, ethics discussions and more are all part of its regular offerings, making it an appealing gathering spot for many students.

According to Taber, there are 230 students who expressed “Jewish” as a religious preference at the College. While not all of them see themselves as part of Hillel, Taber says, “We never exclude anybody, even if they don’t show up until the last semester of their senior year.”

The weekly cafés attract 25 to 45 students, while the Shabbat dinners draw upward of 80 students. “Since I have been adviser, an increased number of students attend events because of what we have had to offer. There has also been an upward trend since we were able to hire Tama Goodman as our program director to assist us.”

“What Dean Taber did was to develop a program that went way beyond what had come before—in both quality and quantity,” Stameshkin explains.

In fact, Stameshkin believes the growth of Hillel under Taber’s leadership is responsible, at least in part, for the building of a new Klehr Center for Jewish Life. Others have noticed as well. On Oct. 27-28 Franklin & Marshall will host the first training seminar for the Hillel professionals of a new cohort of eight small, elite colleges. “It is significant for the College to be a part of this because Hillel International is recognizing not only the strength of our Hillel program, but the commitment of F&M to Hillel, its Jewish students and community,” Taber says.

A Vibrant New Space

Set to open at the end of October, the Klehr Center for Jewish Life, a 6,500-square-foot, two-story building, will nearly double the size of the former Hillel space. The brick building at the corner of College Avenue and West New Street, with attractive outdoor pergola and graceful, neighborhood-appropriate architecture, will sit on the same spot as the old Hillel House. The architect is Jamie Wyper, and Wohlsen Construction is building it.

Wyper’s design includes a living room and lounge space, a multipurpose room that seats 60 for meals and 90 for lectures, a kosher kitchen, a seminar room and study spaces, a library and sanctuary space, a meeting area for student groups and an office.

The center is made possible by the support of Susan Kline Klehr ’73 and Leonard Klehr, Esq., ’72, active members of the College community. Susan is an F&M trustee and is president of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia. Her husband, a member of the College’s Leadership Council, is with the Philadelphia law firm Klehr, Harrison, Harvey, Branzburg & Ellers. Susan sees the construction of the Jewish Center as more than just a “bigger house for Hillel.” For her, it is symbolic of the College’s commitment to programs for all kinds of students.

“You see these three houses on College Avenue—the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House, the Joseph International Center, and now the Jewish Life Center—all different students and faculty, different communities able to come together,” she says. “This is a great opportunity for the College to offer something to students interested in an enriched Jewish life.”

Once the Klehr center is open, the Judaic Studies faculty will hold some classes in the seminar room and encourage other faculty to use it. The program will host academic events and urge students to attend other Klehr Center events.

The Judaic Studies program, begun in the early 1990s, offers courses in a wide variety of historical, cultural and religious subjects and in Hebrew language. Students can choose to minor or to create a joint major or special-studies major. Two faculty members who teach exclusively in Judaic Studies are joined by a number  of faculty who contribute individual courses.

“In the last year or so, the Judaic Studies minors have doubled,” reports Annette Aronowicz, the Robert F. & Patricia G. Ross Weis Chair in Judaic Studies. “And the Jewish history courses are full.” Hebrew language class enrollment has also “skyrocketed,” she says. These classes are intended for the entire student community, and a good number of non-Jewish students attend them.

This is precisely what the Weises envisioned when they endowed the chair in Judaic Studies.

“We hoped it would enhance knowledge of our religion,” says Patricia Weis. Neither Patricia nor her husband, Robert, went to Franklin & Marshall, but their daughter, Colleen, graduated from F&M in 1985. Colleen currently serves on the Board of Trustees. A Comfortable Place

The Judaic Studies program and Hillel might not attract every Jewish student on campus, but they have created an atmosphere that allows Jewish students to feel comfortable. That was the case for Margo Hamburger Fox ’89, who wasn’t strongly connected to Hillel as a student, using it for High Holy Days but little else.

“I found F&M a very comfortable place to be Jewish,” she says, “which is probably why I was involved in so many other activities.”

Her involvement with the Jewish community came after college. She has worked at Hillel at Indiana University and Washington University in St. Louis. Now she is the associate campaign director of the Jewish Federation  of Greater Indianapolis.

Her adviser at Franklin & Marshall was David Stameshkin, with whom she “connected immediately.” Another beneficiary of the more welcoming atmosphere was Bruce Bromberg Seltzer ’93, now a rabbi at Smith College and director of the Smith/Amherst Hillel.

When Bromberg Seltzer was at F&M, he was active with Hillel and helped create the sanctuary in the old Hillel building. These events had a lasting impact. “My experiences at F&M were extremely important,” he says. “I decided to form my rabbinate around campus work with a special focus on small liberal arts schools.

“When I graduated, my parents had a picture I took of the Hillel House on a snowy day made into a painting. It has hung over my desk at my main office. In my Amherst College office hang two pictures from a series of photos with Jewish themes taken by Hal Janoff ‘91, the person who designed the sanctuary. Similar prints hung in the sanctuary at the Hillel House. These are constant reminders of my F&M Jewish experience and how I got to travel with Jewish liberal arts students as they explored their Jewish journeys.”

A Mark of Progress Franklin & Marshall is on the eve of another joyous celebration, the opening of the Klehr Center for Jewish Life. And its director, Taber, has great plans.

“I’d like it to be a hive of activity,” he says. “Students coming and going, interfaith dialogues, book club meetings, lectures, films. I want it to be an active, vibrant place, eventually a center for Jewish life not just at F&M, but in Lancaster itself.”

Taber is quietly insistent that students who come to the Klehr Center come on their own terms, however they want to connect. “Some come for food, some for friends, some for Shabbat,” he says. “We’ll have a variety of different access points.”

The access points will let in Jew and non-Jew alike, creating a welcoming and supportive atmosphere while at the same time not obscuring the program’s Jewish identity.

“The Klehr Center realizes our vision for Jewish life at Franklin & Marshall,” President John Fry says. “It will be a special place where the academic, religious and social dimensions of Jewish culture are inextricably linked and mutually enriching. Our campus Jewish community is wonderfully active, and the Klehr Center capitalizes on its energy.”

The new center is a mark of progress from a time when college campuses weren’t so welcoming to Jewish students. But Franklin & Marshall might now be more welcoming than others. While some colleges have had to deal with professors and students espousing anti-Israel sentiments bordering on outright anti-Semitism, Taber reports that F&M has seen no such antagonism.

“Students might have disagreements on the peace process, sure,” he says, “but not anti-Semitism. In fact, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel, and there was no problem.”

The Klehr Center will open in November. Along with the College’s growing Judaic Studies program and new kosher meal plan, it should make the campus an even more welcoming place for Jewish students.
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