Founding An Israeli
University Wasn't Easy
JENNIFER FINER STAFF WRITER
hillip Stollman still has
vivid memories of a cold
winter walk he took along
the Atlantic City board-
walk over 40 years ago.
During this walk, a New York
scholar, Dr. Pinchas Churgin,
talked of establishing a secular
university in Israel that in-
corporated the study of Judaic
"Dr. Churgin (the national
president of the Mizrachi Or-
ganization of America at the
time) was very impressive," said
West Bloomfield resident Mr.
Stollman, who was president of
the Mizrachi chapter in Detroit.
"I promised him that when I went
back to Detroit, I would help him
out and get others involved."
A few years after that 1950
walk, Dr. Churgin, Mr. Stollman
and other supporters of a new
Israeli university had their idea
off the ground.
The first Detroit fund-raiser
was held in 1952. In the summer
of 1954, Dr. Churgin, who was
voted president of Bar-Ilan
(named after the late Rabbi Meir
Bar-Ilan, a longtime president of
the World Mizrachi Organiza-
tion), announced that tha uni-
versity would open its doors for
the 1955-1956 school year.
On Oct. 5, the Detroit Friends
of Bar-Ilan University will honor
Mr. Stollman by celebrating his
90th birthday and the 40th anni-
versary of Bar-Ilan.
"I thought it was worth a try,"
said Mr. Stollman, about his de-
cision to help Dr. Churgin take
an idea and make it a reality
7,000 miles away. "It takes people
to do things. We have to be the
people to do it. Thank God we
Mr. Stollman was joined by his
older brother Max and his sister-
in-law Frieda and about a dozen
others, who were among the first
group of Bar-Ilan friends in the
world, according to Les Goldstein,
the Midwest executive director of
"They were convinced when
virtually no one was giving
money," Mr. Goldstein said. "At
first, it was an unpopular idea
but they were visionaries."
Up until the university com-
pleted its first academic year, its
future was uncertain. Israeli
Prime Minister David Ben-
Gurion was cynical about a uni-
versity that was not a yeshiva.
The biggest challenge was sell-
ing people on the idea of some-
thing that was only a concept.
Mr. Stollman, who lAras re-
sponsible for fund-raising and ed-
ucating the public on Bar-Ilan,
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said he asked everyone, includ-
ing non-Jews, for money. Initial
funds to acquire property and
begin construction essentially
came from Detroit.
"Dad was good at raising
money," said Mr. Stollman's son,
Jerry, of Bloomfield Hills. Dr.
Stollman and his wife Leila are
active supporters of Bar-Ilan.
Mrs. Stollman currently serves
as president of American Women
for Bar-Ilan. "If Dad believed in
something, he could sell it," Dr.
One of Mr. Stollman's hardest
sales was convincing friend and
philanthropist Max M. Fisher to
support Bar-Ilan. Eventually, he
Around the same time, Mr.
Stollman sold an Israel Bond to
Father Charles Coughlin, the
anti-Semitic "Radio Priest" in
Royal Oak during the 1930s.
"The biggest job was to see that
the university had the necessary
funding," said Mr. Stollman, who
proudly says he has been to Israel
67 times. "We had to build every-
thing from the ground up. I was
selling an idea and a vision," Mr.
Once some funds were secure,
Dr. Churgin went forward with
Over 60 acres of land were ob-
tained from the Jewish National
Fund in the town of Ramat Gan,
just north of Tel Aviv.Prepara-
tions for the construction of three
buildings began immediately and
in July 1953 the cornerstone was
Bar-Ilan's opening ceremony
took place in August of 1955, and
70 students became the first to
learn at this Israeli institution.
Today, the Detroit communi-
ty and Mr. Stollman continue to
remain active in supporting Bar-
Ilan. While other American cities
send more total revenue, Detroit
sends more money per capita to
the university than any other