Continuing a Family Legacy

Koslowe Siblings Mark Fourth Generation of Family to Study at Yeshiva University

When new Yeshiva University students Benjy and Meira Koslowe arrived on campus for Orientation last week, they celebrated an important milestone: As the fourth generation of Koslowes to attend YU, they were not only beginning a new chapter in their own lives, but also forming the next chain in an enduring family legacy.

“I am enormously proud to start YU as a fourth-generation Koslowe,” said Benjy. “When I mentioned during my YU interview that I was a potential fourth-generation student, my interviewers were noticeably impressed. It was the first time I realized how novel this [the family legacy] is.”

Poppop on basketbal team

Rabbi Irving Koslowe (front row, third from left) loved playing on the Yeshiva men’s basketball team

The legacy took root with Rabbi Irving Koslowe ’36YUHS, ’40YC, ’43R, ’43RE, z”l, the longtime spiritual leader of the Westchester Jewish Center and chaplain of Sing Sing Correctional Facility for half a century. When he was accepted to the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy/Yeshiva University High School for Boys as a teen, his family moved to the school’s Washington Heights campus from White Plains, New York to make it easier for him.

“My grandmother, Anna (Koslovsky) Koslowe, was famously considered a patron of YU students, many of whom, at the time, were from poorer homes and didn’t have much money for meals,” said Neil Koslowe, Rabbi Koslowe’s son, of this time in his father’s life. “She would have them over for Shabbat for a home-cooked meal. She was a legend in her time.”

Neil relayed his father’s penchant for athletics, too: He not only served as captain of YU’s basketball team, the Maccabees, but also as coach for the second half of his college career. Rabbi Koslowe graduated YU in 1940 and went on to attend the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and the Rabbi Isaach Elchanan Theological Seminary, where he obtained semicha. He married Marly and the couple helped the synagogue grow considerably as the rabbi and rebbetzin of the Westchester Jewish Center for a remarkable 43 years—from 30 families to 500. The Koslowes devoted themselves to enhancing the Jewish life of the community.

As chaplain of Sing Sing, Rabbi Koslowe witnessed 17 executions, including those of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The New York prison system served kosher food to its observant Jewish inmates, a change credited in part to Koslowe. In 1999, when Rabbi Koslowe retired from the state prison system, the Jewish chapel at Sing Sing was renamed in his honor.

“As a chaplain, my father was certainly influenced by the core YU value of Torah U’Madda to strive to educate those in prison in Torah, to maintain their connections with their families and maintain the families’ spirits, and help the inmates find a job upon release,” said Neil. “As a result, the rate of recidivism for the Jewish inmates at Sing Sing was much lower than the rate for non-Jewish inmates.”

As a major supporter of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Koslowe led many fundraising initiatives and, in 1998, he and his wife established the Rabbi Irving and Marly Koslowe Scholarship Fund so deserving students, regardless of their financial situations, could attend YU. As one student who benefited from the Fund wrote to the Koslowes in a letter, “It is strictly because of your generosity that I was able to afford the education that Yeshiva University has given me. The unparalleled education and career opportunities that I received at Yeshiva University are due to people like you. Thank you.”

Naturally, the Koslowes’ four children—Neil and his siblings, Kenneth, Mark and Shari—have all attended YU.

“I enjoyed my time at YU immensely and had a wonderful group of friends,” said Neil, who was a history major and editor-in-chief of The Commentator. “There was a great sense of camaraderie at YU, and I also learned from top-notch faculty in both Jewish and secular studies. YU imbued me with a great deal of religious support and conviction.”

Jamin and Shana (Baks) Koslowe in front of Brookdale Residence Hall in 1993

Jamin and Shana (Bak) Koslowe in front of Brookdale Residence Hall in 1993

Four of Neil’s five children attended YU schools as well. His son Jamin was an economics major and editor of The Commentator, where he worked on articles like one that bemoaned the trials and tribulations of finding parking in Washington Heights—“That one touched a nerve and was widely discussed and referred to by frustrated Heights residents,” laughed Jamin—and one that discussed the life of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik and the azkarah [memorial ceremony] that was held for him on the Wilf Campus after he passed away on Pesach during Jamin’s senior year.

Jamin’s two eldest children, Benjy and Meira, have just begun Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women, respectively. They are not only the fourth generation of their father’s family to study at YU, but their mother Shana Bak’s, as well: Shana, her father Yosef and her grandfather Benjamin Bak are all graduates of YU schools. Both her father and grandfather received semicha at RIETS, and her grandfather even studied with the Rav himself after coming over from Europe on a YU student visa in the 1930s.

“My wife Shana and I are very proud to see Benjy and Meira following in our footsteps, along with the footsteps of our siblings, parents, grandparents and so many others in our family as they begin their YU journey,” said Jamin. “It was very easy for me and Shana to get nostalgic on Orientation Day as we first dropped off Benjy at Yeshiva College and then drove Meira down to Stern’s campus. As we sat with Meira and some of her friends in the lobby at Brookdale Hall, Shana and I reminisced how we met each other for the very first time in that lobby area almost 23 years ago.”

Parents Shana (Bak) Koslowe and Jamin Koslowe  (right) helped Meira and Benjy move in to their new dorms during Orientation

Parents Shana (Bak) Koslowe and Jamin Koslowe (right) helped Meira and Benjy move in to their new dorms during Orientation

Benjy, who received a full academic scholarship, just returned to the U.S. after having studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion for two years. “My family has many different types, but one commonality is the assumed value of Torah, education, and hard work,” he said. “I see these values nicely expressed in the lives of my relatives who are alumni of the institution, and I look forward to growing similarly. When I discuss YU with my grandfather, he often tells me how there is simply no place like YU.”

“I think that there’s an unmatched quality of life that YU gives students that they can’t get anywhere else,” agreed Neil. “You might be able to get kosher food and Jewish studies at secular colleges, but you won’t get the total immersion of Torah learning and a Jewish environment that you get at YU. Attending YU is important for young men and women to be able to meet any future challenges in life as professionals in the greater world who are guided by Jewish values, values which are never compromised. YU provides that critical foundation.”

 

 

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