David and Karen Mandelbaum are demonstrating a commitment to Torah values as they support kosher dining at Princeton and practice hakarat hatov, appreciation for a benefit, the excellent education that Mr. Mandelbaum enjoyed (“Princeton Receives Grant to Renovate Kosher Dining Hall,” June 16, 2022).
Some background is necessary. In addition to Yeshiva University and Brandeis, in the 1950s Cornell had kosher meals and a shul; you can read the history of how the community has evolved with assistance from the university if you look up “Young Israel Kosher Kitchen at Cornell.” Some of the initial funding came from ‘441’ (Hebrew equivalent of ‘emes,’: taf=400;mem=40; aleph=1). They were a group of observant Jews who wanted to provide for the religious needs of Jewish students.
In 1960 when several yeshiva high school graduates enrolled at Princeton, they formed a chapter of Yavneh, the National Association of Religious College Students. They wanted to rent a house where observant graduate students could rent rooms and join undergraduates in kosher dining and a place to daven and learn. When the owner of a house at 21 Olden Street was willing to rent to them on condition that an older person sign the lease, they turned to a member of the Yavneh Advisory Board, Rabbi Pinchas Mordechai Teitz, who signed the lease and assisted them in many aspects of founding and maintaining Yavneh of Princeton. Rabbi Teitz enlisted Milton Levy, a member of his Elizabeth community and of ‘441,’ who supplied the furniture and everything needed in a kosher kitchen, including all the appliances. When Mr. Levy passed away, Leonard Diener volunteered to continue aiding Yavneh.
On February 12, 2012, when the Yavneh House at Princeton celebrated its 50th year, Benjamin Plotinsky ’99 edited “The Yavneh House of Princeton Turns Fifty: A Collection of Reminiscences.” The cover is in Princeton colors—orange print on a black background; the accounts in it are fascinating. Benny Kraut wrote “The Greening of American Orthodox Judaism: Yavneh in the 1960s,” which contains more information about Jewish life at Princeton. (When Dr. Kraut, [1947-2008], passed away, Dr. Chaim Waxman prepared the work for publication in 2011.)
Etta Feuer, the journalist who wrote the fine article about the Mandelbaum Family Dining Pavilion, had no way of knowing this history. But it is important to realize that once Princeton became attractive to yeshiva high school graduates, Barnard, Columbia, Yale, Harvard, MIT, the University of Maryland … even Dartmouth began to provide kosher dining.Rivka Blau