New medical school will bring more Jews to Solano County

Touro University, a New York-based Jewish institute that operates campuses throughout the world, will move its school of osteopathic medicine in August to the former naval base at Mare Island.

The school, which opened a San Francisco facility with 60 students in 1997, will transfer its West Coast operation to a 192,000 square-foot educational facility in Vallejo. Opening with 264 students, the school plans to serve up to 2,100 over a 10-year period. The long-range goal is to fill an additional 94,000 square feet of what used to be the base's technical school, offering a variety of programs.

The nonsectarian school, operated by an Orthodox group, is expected to increase the number of Jews in Solano County, which is served by one synagogue. The independent Congregation B'nai Israel in Vallejo has about 150 member households.

"We anticipate a large growth in the Jewish presence in Solano County with Touro coming here," said Bruce Silverman, lay leader at the synagogue. "There have already been a number of inquiries about where to get kosher food in this area. We're very excited about it."

The university, in turn, plans to work closely with the synagogue, which will serve its non-Orthodox students.

The college of osteopathic medicine, which issues the degree of doctor of osteopathy, or D.O., offers the same standard medical training that M.D.s receive, according to Bernard Zeliger, the university's dean. However, D.O.s usually work as primary-care physicians, emphasizing holistic disease prevention and manipulation of the spine and joints. Unlike chiropractors, D.O.s can prescribe medication and have greater access to hospitals.

In addition to the osteopathic medical school, Touro is planning a vocational retraining institute, student housing on campus and other community outreach programs within the city of Vallejo. Eventually, the university plans to add schools of general studies, liberal arts and sciences, career and applied science, and a law school on the site.

"The medical school is the basis from which everything else will grow," said Zeliger.

The university estimates that it will employ more than 970 people, with an annual payroll in excess of $44 million. The campus could generate $60 million in annual revenues for the city of Vallejo.

Touro also anticipates it will create an additional $27.1 million in public revenues from indirect jobs within Vallejo, Solano County and their environs.

Retrofitting and remodeling the buildings on Mare Island, which began Dec. 21, are supposed to be complete within five months.

The school expects to begin moving to the new campus from its San Francisco facility after classes end in mid-June. Classes will begin on Mare Island in August, according to Zeliger.

Founded by Dr. Bernard Lander, who is now its president, Touro College is a fully accredited, independent institution of higher and professional education chartered in 1970 by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York. It opened in 1971 as a liberal arts and science college with 35 male students.

Established as a not-for-profit educational facility, Touro operates around the world, with 10,000 students enrolled at campuses in New York and Israel, as well as in Russia and India. Campuses are also under construction in Vienna, Austria, and Amman, Jordan.

The college derives its name from Isaac Touro and his sons Judah and Abraham, who were prominent citizens in colonial America.

Isaac Touro helped found and preserve the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., in the late 1700s. His sons were 18th-century philanthropists. The family has provided major endowments for universities, libraries, community health facilities in the United States and pioneering settlements in Israel.

When Touro sought to open its school of osteopathic medicine on the West Coast in 1971, "there were too many medical schools in New York," said Zeliger. "The Northwest United States needed one, and the San Francisco area seemed like the best place for a Jewish institution."

Later, with plans to expand to a larger campus, Zeliger said, "We looked at Moffett Field and Hamilton Field and the Presidio and Oakland. But when I was introduced to Mare Island, I thought, `Wow, this is gorgeous.'"

The site, he said, "lent itself well to the university's needs, at a reasonable cost."

In addition to the academic program, the school will offer religious services and counseling. There are also plans to construct ball fields, a swimming pool and other recreational facilities.

The Mare Island agreement was signed on Nov. 18. The San Francisco school was approved for business on Jan. 18, 1997 and it opened on Aug. 18, 1997 as the 18th osteopathic medical college in the United States. In Hebrew, the number 18 represents chai, or life.

"Having all those chais, we feel, is very lucky," Zeliger said.

Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
Rachel Raskin-Zrihen

A wife and mother of two grown sons, Rachel Raskin-Zrihen is a longtime Bay Area journalist, columnist and co-author of the book "Jewish Community of Solano County."