Princeton President Uncovers Family Secret — He's Jewish

Christopher Eisgruber Learns Truth in Son's School Project

By Haaretz/Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Published June 30, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Christopher Eisgruber was working on a school project with his son Danny, then a fourth grader, when he made a stunning discovery.

Christopher Eisgruber
Princeton University
Christopher Eisgruber

Eisgruber, who on July 1 becomes president of Princeton University, was raised Catholic, though he has identified as a non-theist ‏(he prefers the term over atheist‏) since adolescence, and was married in the Episcopal church.

His son’s teacher asked students to look for relatives who came through Ellis Island, so on a March day in 2008 Eisgruber began searching its archives. On a ship’s manifest listing his mother and her parents, he found an unexpected notation: “Hebrew.”

After further scouring Ellis Island’s records, Yad Vashem’s database and, with a newfound cousin’s help, archives at the Center for Jewish History, Eisgruber, who is 52 and an expert in constitutional law, identified more relatives than he ever knew he had. He also learned that his Berlin-born mother, who arrived in New York as an 8-year-old refugee, and her parents were indeed Jews.

The discovery “was revelatory,” Eisgruber said in an interview. While it has not led to a wholesale embrace of religious identity, Eisgruber said that since then, he has participated in Passover seders, twice visited Israel and become involved with Israeli NGOs including the Peres Center for Peace.

He will shortly publish a co-authored paper on models of equality and religious freedom in Israel. Today he describes himself as a non-theist Jew.

Read more at Haaretz.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.