Litvaks and the Founding of Brandeis University
|In my family album of photographs there is a clipping from the Yiddish Newspaper, the Jewish Daily Forward. This clipping shows a photo of a person with the caption: Meyer Jaffe has donated a quarter of a million dollars toward the building of a Brandeis University library. (By the way, the manner in which the name "Jaffe" was spelled in Yiddish in the newspaper initially caused me some trouble: Daled-Zayin-Shin-Aleph-Fey-Ayin.)
My mother tells me that sometime in the late 1940s when her father read this item in the newspaper, he announced to the family that he had arrived in America on the same boat with Meyer Jaffe. My mother also remembers hearing that Meyer Jaffe became a millionaire in the paper box (cardboard) industry. There is a photograph in our family album of two 16 year old boys newly arrived in America in 1906 -- my grandfather, Benjamin Swartzberg, and Meyer Jaffe!
In January 2000, after having heard the story of my grandfather and the millionaire all of my life, I finally decided to contact the Brandeis University Library to learn more about Meyer Jaffe. For those who are not familiar with Brandeis, it is a University founded in 1948 as a Jewish institution of higher learning without the religious component. You can even read further about the history of Brandeis in a 1998 Boston Globe Magazine article (which mentions Meyer Jaffe).
I received an immediate response from the Brandeis University archivist. Meyer Jaffe was one of the seven original trustees on the Brandeis Board of Directors. He indeed was an entrepreneur in the paper box industry. Meyer Jaffe named the business J. & J. Corrugated Paper after himself and his brother, and was based for many years in Fall River, Massachusetts. Meyer Jaffe was also an outstanding philanthropist.
I was referred to a biography of Meyer Jaffe which can be read in the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, volume 52, page 279. The list of Meyer Jaffe’s accomplishments recorded here are extensive. The archivist also informed me that a photo of Meyer Jaffe and a letter written by him as a Brandeis Board member existed and they can be seen below.
It came as no surprise then, when I discovered that the celebrated historian and original president of Brandeis University, Abram Sachar, was a Litvak. Sachar’s family was from Kupishok, a shtetl not too distant from those mentioned above. It would appear that the Litvaks’ love of learning transferred over to America where the dream of a Jewish institution of learning was realized.