May 25, 2024
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Rutgers’ Jewish History

I was delighted to read that the Jewish students at the Newark campus of Rutgers University have just established a Hillel Chapter (“Rutgers-Newark Campus Gets Its First Hillel Chapter,” February 3, 2022). However, I must take issue with Co-President Miriam Brickman’s assertion that “there had never been Jewish representation on campus.”

I would know, because exactly 20 years ago, I was president of the Jewish Student Organization (JSO) at Rutgers-Newark. In its early days in the 1940s and 1950s, a large percentage of students at Rutgers-Newark were Jewish, including famous author and Newark native Philip Roth, who spent his freshman year there before transferring to a school in Pennsylvania. In Roth’s masterpiece “Goodbye, Columbus,” his protagonist, Neil Klugman, is an alumnus of Rutgers-Newark. Near the start of the novella, Klugman states: “Whenever anyone asks me where I went to school I come right out with it: Newark Colleges of Rutgers University. I may say it a bit too ringingly, too fast, too up-in-the-air, but I say it.”

I followed in my brother’s footsteps in deciding to attend Rutgers-Newark. JSO was profiled in an article published in the New Jersey Jewish News on February 14, 2002 (https://tinyurl.com/tv3x5c99; scroll to page 14). Leadership runs in my family—my sister was once president of the Jewish student group at Kean University.

According to your article, the Rutgers-Newark Hillel is undecided on an event for Passover. While I was president, I organized an annual Model Passover Seder in the days prior to the holiday. The event featured a fully catered kosher meal, which my mother picked up. One year, we drew 75 people, including students, deans, faculty and staff. At the Seder, we were able to explain the universal themes of freedom and redemption to Jewish and non-Jewish participants alike. Many of our programs were joint events with the Jewish student group at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) which is located across the street from Rutgers-Newark.

I wish Miriam and her fellow students the best of success in their endeavors.

Jeffrey Brookman
Rutgers-Newark Class of 2002

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