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The Schmooze

Jewish Students Flock to Lutheran College

There’s a kosher menu at the student union. Jewish Theological Seminary is one of its academic partners. And its Hillel House is growing fast.

But Muhlenberg College is “a small Lutheran school erected around a soaring stone chapel with a cross on top,” as The Associated Press described it in a report yesterday. And the school has become “hot” among Jewish students thanks to “word of mouth in the Jewish community,” the AP reported.

Approximately 34 percent of Muhlenberg’s 2,200 students are Jewish, the AP said. And the biggest gains have come in the past five years or so. Why the trend? A university administrator told the AP the school appreciates diversity. But the director of Muhlenberg’s Hillel House offered her own hypothesis. “Jews are like nothing else in terms of word of mouth,” said Patti Mittleman. “There are so many Jews at Muhlenberg who are having a positive experience at Muhlenberg. That gets talked about in the synagogue and in youth group and in summer camp and in all of those ways that Jews meet each other and talk to each other.”

Indeed, a Long Island rabbi named Ben David – who attended the school in the 1990s “half-joked that his choice may have unwittingly given the college the “official stamp of Judaic approval” since his father is also a rabbi in the large Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, N.J.”

Founded as a seminary in 1848, Muhlenberg was renamed nearly 20 years later for Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, a founder of the U.S. Lutheran church. The college is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Muhlenberg’s Lutheran roots, however, “are not relevant in an era when universities’ religious ties are generally looser than they once were,” Jeff Rubin, a spokesman for the national Hillel organization for Jewish students, told the AP.

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