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