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Nuclear Sub Base Turned College Heals the Body, Offers Yiddishkeit

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What once was a base for nuclear submarines has become a center for healing the body.

The New York-based Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine — known as TUCOM — recently decided to open a San Francisco-area campus on Mare Island in the city of Vallejo, a 45 minute ride from downtown San Francisco.

A nonprofit institution that operates “according to Judaic principles,” Touro College derives its name and inspiration from Judah and Isaac Touro, two Jewish philanthropists in colonial America.

It was chartered in 1970 and, in 1971, enrolled its first class of 35 students. Today, Touro has almost 10,000 students in its schools and divisions, many of which are located in New York. It also has several degree programs in Israel and Russia.

The 123-acre Mare Island campus began offering classes in osteopathic medicine, which treats the whole patient by looking at health and disease in a holistic manner, in 1999. It is one of only 18 such schools in the entire country.

The college currently occupies 23 buildings, but according to provost and dean Bernard Zeliger — a past president of the American College of Osteopathic Surgeons and the American Osteopathic Academy of Orthopedics — TUCOM plans to open a nursing and allied health school. It also plans to merge with a podiatry school, which currently shares space with TUCOM on Mare Island.

Zeliger points out that the school emphasizes Yiddishkeit as well as academic excellence. In fact, Zeliger decided to incorporate the Hebrew word “chai” — life — into its official logo.

The school also has made special efforts to be sensitive to the needs of observant Jews. The Mare Island campus has a synagogue, a kosher kitchen and banquet facilities, and two on-site rabbis.

In addition, the college offers extracurricular classes on Judaism, Talmud, prayer and medical ethics to both Jews and non-Jews, closes on Jewish holidays and Shabbat, offers Shabbat services, festive Shabbat meals and hospitality and even makes special provisions for students who are Kohanim — members of the Jewish priestly caste who are not allowed by Jewish law to deal with dead bodies.

In accordance with the Jewish principle of gimilut chasadim — acts of loving-kindness — the school will begin operating a mobile health clinic in January that will provide care for uninsured and underserved citizens of Solano County, and is conducting free physicals in county high schools so that underprivileged children can participate in sports. The college hopes to perform additional medical mitzvahs in the future as well.

The “owners of the school are observant, and they created a college where observant students could get a secular education without having to compromise their Jewish observance,” said Rabbi Yitzhak Kaufman, who is director of Jewish life at the school and serves as the campus’ spiritual advisor and outreach director.

Kaufman hopes that the kosher facilities, Judaic programming and Jewish atmosphere will attract more Jewish students to the college. The school also sees Kaufman eventually fulfilling a role as a “roaming rabbi” for the region, providing a rabbinic presence on Northern California campuses and providing Jewish content where it isn’t currently available.

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