Eitan Kastner Turns His Interest in Zysman Hall into Academic Pursuit

Turning right off of the George Washington Bridge exit ramp onto Amsterdam Avenue can often lead to a similar query for first-timers: what is that strange green domed building?

Zysman Hall blends modern and historic architecture styles

The building, of course, is Zysman Hall, the oldest structure of Yeshiva University which currently houses the Harry Fischel Bet Midrash, the Nathan Lamport Auditorium and the Yeshiva University High School for Boys. Aesthetically, the building uniquely blends the 1920’s modern style of Art Deco—known for sharp angles, bright metals and the use of terra-cotta—with the historical revival style known as Moorish—exemplified by domes, horseshoe arches and Middle Eastern style ornaments.

Eitan Kastner ’08YC often wondered why Zysman Hall looked so strange. “I remember seeing the building for the first time as a fifth grader getting ready to embark to sleep-away camp for the first time and Lamport Auditorium was used as the staging ground before we departed on the buses,” said Kastner. “Even then I realized I was in an interesting looking building.”

As a Yeshiva College undergraduate, Kastner turned his interest in Zysman Hall into an academic pursuit, enrolling in a number of architecture and Jewish Art courses to help crack the building’s code. This work culminated in a large research paper that benefitted from Kastner’s rummaging through the Yeshiva University archives and leafing through the building committee meetings of YU’s founders.

After reworking his research on the building as a graduate student in American religious history at the University of Chicago, Kastner submitted his paper to the academic journal American Jewish History, where it has recently been published. Entitled “Yeshiva College and the Pursuit of a Jewish Architecture,” the article can be previewed online.

1927 cornerstone ceremony

“I discovered that YU’s founders wanted to make a grand statement with their campus.  Although Zysman Hall is the only part of the original campus plan that was completed, it can teach us a great deal about how they viewed the education offered at YU,” said Kastner. “The blend of the modern Art Deco and historicized Moorish showcase the harmonizing of Jewish tradition and modern culture that we now call Torah Umadda.  It was the case back then just as it is today.”

After graduating from the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College and earning his mater’s degree at the University of Chicago, Kastner served two years as the communications associate in the office of YU President Richard M. Joel.  Following that he spent two years as a history teacher in Yeshiva University High School for Boys where he worked in Zysman Hall every day. As an undergraduate, Kastner was the editor-in-chief of the Yeshiva University student newspaper, The Commentator.