An explosion of Jewish study and culture leads to a “veritable Jewish renaissance” at Temple.
At one time, Temple was a popular choice for college-bound Jewish kids. They were children of immigrants, and Temple provided a close, convenient and affordable education. Opportunities grew over time, and the Jewish student population diminished.
Today, Temple is undergoing what the Jewish Exponent newspaper called “a veritable Jewish renaissance.” Recent campus-wide developments – new buildings, staff, programs and activities – are fueling a resurgence of Jewish culture, a benchmark in Temple history.
Hillel at Temple
Hillel has a brand new building on campus, the Edward H. Rosen Center, officially opening in November. The current residence of the Jewish student organization is a small building at 2014 N. Broad St., next to the Owl’s Nest. The space is crowded with photos, flyers and materials from the many activities and events hosted by Hillel, partly because it is in the midst of a move and partly because it has outgrown the modest office.
“Hillel decided Jewish students on campus needed a new home,” Director of Temple Hillel Phil Nordlinger said of the decision to relocate, which came about five years ago. Today, the three-floor, state-of-the-art Rosen Center is located at the corner of 15th and Norris streets.
Temple has about 3,000 Jewish students, and 80 percent of Jewish undergrads live on campus or in a nearby neighborhood, according to Temple Hillel.
“It will serve as this hub for Jewish activity on campus,” Nordlinger said.
Some of the amenities featured include kosher food service, plasma TVs, lounge and reading areas, WiFi access and a rooftop terrace.
“Best view of Center City from anywhere on campus,” Nordlinger said.
Hillel isn’t just for Jewish students, either. Nordlinger said friends are welcome, regardless of religion, as the majority of programs are student-oriented.
They offer social events, such as an upcoming trip to “Terror Behind the Walls” at Eastern State Penitentiary, in addition to religious services and holiday dinners.
“I think that under the leadership of President Hart, she has set a vision for Temple to give it national status, and it follows reason that the Jewish community would follow that,” he said. “Ten or 15 years ago, that wasn’t the reality, but under her leadership, this is a destination school.”
Nordlinger said Temple is tremendously supportive and helpful with things like meal service, but the Rosen Center is privately funded.
“Edward Rosen was a former trustee of Temple, and he was able to, along with many donors, raise most of the money for the new building,” he said.
Hillel at Temple is part of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, which encompasses the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College and Swarthmore College.
Philadelphia Jewish Archives
Temple recently merged with the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center and absorbed its trove of historical Jewish collections.
The Kardon Depository, a storage space for the bulk of Temple’s urban archives, is located a block behind the TECH Center. Inside the super secure, climate-controlled building is a variety of materials, pieces of Philadelphia’s past.
“There are many different things, a wealth of photographs, records, personal papers, letters, films, maps, anything that captured Jewish Philadelphia,” Brenda Galloway-Wright, associate archivist and interim head of Temple University Libraries’ Urban Archives, said of the newest batch of artifacts.
PJAC handed over 4,500 linear feet of documents to be safely stored in the Kardon Depository until a student, scholar or curious North Philadelphian requests to see a piece.
“That was a key reason why it came here,” Galloway-Wright said. “It allows better access to the collection located on the grounds of a major university. We have mechanisms where we can disseminate a lot of information. It’s open to the Philadelphia community in general.”
As part of the agreement, PJAC Archivist Sarah Sherman came along with the collection to maintain it and ensure a certain level of expertise.
Sherman said Temple paid an endowment to PJAC as a stipulation of the agreement, but couldn’t reveal the exact figures.
The Feinstein Center
Temple welcomed a new Director of the Feinstein Center this year, Dr. Lila Corwin Berman, author of Speaking of Jews: Rabbis, Intellectuals, and the Creation of an American Public Identity.
Berman, a former Penn State professor, has big plans for the center.
“It is and will become more so a resource for the larger community in Philadelphia, certainly for Temple graduate and undergraduate students, and for the scholarly people doing American Jewish history,” she said. “I’m working to create a slightly new vision for it.”
For starters, Berman said she will initiate a new theme every other year to give an anchor to what they will be exploring through public programming and workshops.
The first theme: Jews in the American city.
“We’ll have a variety of big, open panel discussions with interesting and well-known speakers talking about what it means to be Jewish in the American city. That will be a public event,” Berman said.
Berman also wants to incorporate some teaching assistant opportunities for graduate students, as well as different programs for undergrads to engage them in this field of study.
“If students are interested in public history, maybe do an internship at the center. I hope to have different fellowships that involve the Jewish archives. The history department at Temple is a thriving place,” she said.
When it comes to the changes happening to Temple’s Jewish community, Berman said she’s “not surprised because Temple is a really incredible urban institution.”
“In [the university’s] history, it has had all sorts of Philadelphia Jews come through and study here, and I think they are the ones interested in investing here on campus,” she said. “Temple is in the right place at the right time for Jews again.”
The Myer and Rosaline Feinstein Center for American Jewish History is at TUCC and operates as a research and study facility for all things Jewish.
Main Campus students also have the chance to get to know Dr. Berman in the classroom; she teaches a Holocaust survey during the fall semester and a graduate seminar in the spring.
Jewish student Danni Shtraus, a senior Asian studies major, said she is happy to learn of the recent developments in Jewish life on campus.
“Well, I’m personally not very active in the Jewish community,” she said. “It’s my first time hearing about all of these things, but I think its great that this is happening at Temple now.”
Michelle Provencher can be reached at email@example.com.