Culture and medicine learned at Touro

April 15, 2008 8:14:12 AM PDT
University officials in Vallejo have been appearing at city council meetings to talk about the cancer treatment center they want to build on Mare Island. For some in the Bay Area, this is the first they've heard of Touro University.

The school strictly observes Jewish religious traditions. Jews are actually a minority at this school - even the director of campus life admits there's not exactly a growing Jewish population in Solano County. But for Jewish students who do choose to go to this university, every effort has been made to accommodate their faith.

It's unusual to have to walk through two doors to get into an anatomy lab -- especially two doors that can't be open at the same time. But it's essential for certain Jews from the priestly class. They can't come in to contact with Tummah, or impurities -- and one source of Tummah would be the dead bodies in a lab. But the double doors help contain the Tummah.

At the most strict level you could have one of these Jewish people who wouldn't be able to walk into the building if there's a body in the anatomy lab and someone opens that door and the Tummah comes out and spreads through the whole building," said Rabbi Yitzchak Kaufman, Director of Campus Life.

In the kitchen at Touro University -- staff members are very dedicated to providing kosher food for the students. They check eggs for blood spots and thoroughly wash lettuce to make sure it is insect free. Most of the scholars here rush through the school without even noticing the Mezuzahs on the doorways. And the dean of the medical school wants the university to be known as a premier place to study osteopathic medicine.

"I think the draw for most of the students who come here from a medical school perspective is oriented more toward the osteopathic philosophy," said Michael Clearfield, D.O., Dean of Touro Univ. Medical School.

But the rabbi who serves as the director of campus life thinks taking all these extra steps for the few Jewish students who come here makes a huge difference to their college experience.

"There's always going to be a need, every year we're getting students who call us up, who want an interview to get into the school because they need those amenities," said Rabbi Yitzchak Kaufman.

As for the non-Jewish students who fill these classes - many of them say they enjoy the extra lessons they're getting in the Jewish traditions; although the weekly Jewish Shabbat dinner on Fridays can be a bit inconvenient.

"Sometimes it's frustrating the library closes right at 3:00 or it's not open till sundown on Saturday - things like that can be kind of frustrating but you learn to work with it," said Desiree Westfall, non-Jewish student.

Even though the focus here is academics - these religious touches help give students like Jeremy Welwart the complete life experience he wanted from a medical school.

"I think the real importance of having a Jewish university is that it makes a mark and that shows that the Jewish community is trying to better the people and the community," said Jeremy Welwart, Jewish student.

Touro has big plans to expand. The university wants to build a university village on the north end of campus that would include a hotel and a community center. But the big plan is to build a 125,000 square foot cancer center - they would love to get that open by 2012.


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