Passing of Alumnus Evokes Memories of ’63 Yeshiva University College Bowl Squad
One of Yeshiva College’s greatest student stars passed away last month at the age of 69. In May 1963, Asher Reiss ’63YC was a member of Yeshiva University’s College Bowl team that thrilled millions of television viewers within and outside of America’s Orthodox Jewish community.
Hundreds of young men and women YU students traveled to CBS’s New York studios to cheer on Reiss and teammates Sheldon Fink ’65YC, Lawrence Kaplan ’65YC, Shifra Jungreis ’63S and Paul Gottfried ’63YC. “The College Bowl provided Asher with a chance to show off his talent on national television and was my brother’s grandest hour,” said Rabbi Ben Zion Reiss. Rabbi Reiss described his brother as someone who was “blessed with a brilliant memory” and a penchant for recalling “a remarkable number of facts.”
The General Electric College Bowl was a trivia quiz show that captured the attention of millions when the nationally syndicated television program aired in the late 1950s and ’60s. Given the show’s cultlike following and competitiveness, it was a major accomplishment for YU’s relatively small undergraduate programs to qualify to appear on the show.
Yeshiva easily handled its first opponent, University of Louisville, by a score of 335-140. A week later, they crushed University of Nevada, Reno. Unfortunately for those Yeshiva collegians, they came up short during the next match, losing to eventual champion Temple University by a margin of 280-235.
“The Temple match came down to the wire,” said Jungreis, who served as captain of YU’s team. “We were young but we knew that we had quite a following. Thirty five million people watched that show and we subsequently learned that Orthodox Jews were glued to their television sets and that a few weddings were even interrupted to watch that competition.”
Irving Linn, professor of English at Stern College for Women and coach for Yeshiva’s College Bowl squad, described Jungreis as “brilliant, mercurylike and vivacious; the first one to be chosen.”
“YU’s success in the College Bowl showed the world that Orthodox Jews could compete with the best young minds in secular studies,” said Jungreis. “And that our team was led by a woman was an even greater statement that we could compete with the best of America’s intellectual culture.”
Kaplan agreed with Jungreis’s assessment. “What College Bowl showed was that young Modern Orthodox college students—more specifically Yeshiva College and Stern College students—could be deeply rooted in and committed to traditional Jewish learning and practice and, at the same time, au courant with the sciences, humanities and general culture.”
“What I remember clearly is that it was not just our immediate families and friends and not even just the wider YU family—staff, students and alumni—who were rooting for us,” recalled Kaplan, who is now a professor at McGill University. “The entire Modern Orthodox community were our ‘fans,’ and we felt and, even more important, they felt that we were representing them.”
From a personal standpoint, Jungreis attributes her College Bowl experience to providing her with the credibility and confidence to become a successful school principal of Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel in Brooklyn.
Nicknamed “The Sponge,” by The Commentator, the Yeshiva College student newspaper quoted Linn describing Reiss as “an avid reader with powers of absorption and retention. He has the ability to visualize maps, charts, illustrations, perhaps even whole pages of print,” commented Linn.
Upon returning to campus after the Temple match, The Commentator spoke for the entire student body when it offered its “congratulations to our College Bowl quiz kids for their fine showing on nationwide television. With a boisterous supporting cast, our team displayed a vast knowledge of varied subjects” and “help[ed] to spread Yeshiva’s image.”
Asher Reiss lived most of his life at 72 Wadsworth Terrace in New York City. He had taught for some time at Brooklyn College’s history department and worked as a valued administrator at Washington Heights’ local post office.