Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Rabbi Julie Roth

Executive Director, Center for Jewish Life, Hillel at Princeton View Profile

One-hundred Years of Jewish Life

One hundred years ago, when organized Jewish life first began at Princeton University, no one would have imagined the long lines of students of all backgrounds waiting to get a delicious kosher lunch in the heart of campus or the presence of a Center for Jewish Life that has been nationally recognized for excellence in Jewish educational vision. That small group of Jewish students, all men at the time, would have been astounded to hear what Jewish student life is like today at Princeton.

We at the Center for Jewish Life - Princeton Hillel, or “CJL” as we are known here, are very fortunate. Our beautiful facility is centrally located surrounded by academic buildings, residential colleges and the Frist Campus Center. The CJL building is owned and maintained by Princeton University and our popular kosher dining hall is on the Princeton University meal plan. Throughout the week, hundreds of students from across the campus fill the CJL dining hall for lunch. Maybe it's the stir-fry and amazing chocolate chip cookies! Nearly 175 students enjoy Shabbat dinner on Friday night at the CJL. Our building is bursting with the warmth and joy that comes from a community celebrating Shabbat together!

While the amazing food may bring many through the doors of the CJL, our engaging activities and the incredible relationships made within our walls are what keep hundreds of students connected to Jewish life here on campus.

Imagine having the opportunity to lunch with Elena Kagan, associate justice of the Supreme Court from the Princeton Class of 1981, and hear how things have changed in the 100 years since Louis Brandeis became the first Jewish Supreme Court associate justice. Think about what it must be like to visit Israel with former U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, who personally facilitates meetings with top officials of the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority. I had the pleasure of attending both of these programs and saw the deep, meaningful impact they had on the participating Jewish students. The CJL made these programs happen.

The CJL works with university partners to develop internship opportunities in Israel at tech start-ups, political think tanks and museums. Our award-winning educational programs feature intensive fellowships where students explore such issues as biomedical ethics, the environment, and business ethics through a Jewish lens. We empower students to create and run immersive travel experiences to places like Mumbai, India. The CJL fosters dialogue with students in other faith, ethnic and cultural communities here at Princeton. Over 65 students hold leadership positions on the CJL student board and in our affiliated student groups, providing them with skills and experience they will use throughout their lives.

While all of this might lead some to be astonished by the vibrancy of Jewish life at Princeton, I am not. Jewish tradition values learning and action to make the world a better place. The Talmud says, "Great is study for it leads to action" (Kiddushin 40b). This teaching is at the heart of who we are and what we do at the CJL. It aligns seamlessly with Princeton’s distinctive approach to scholarship in the service of the nation and the world. Most important, it enables the CJL to play the leading role in making Princeton University a great place to be Jewish.