Halpern family gives $3M for Hillel building


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Photo by Tian Li |

Rutgers Hillel moved into temporary housing and received a $3 million donation from the Halpern family for its new building.


Seven years ago, Rutgers Hillel started the Capital and Endowment Campaign to obtain a more suitable space than its previous building at 93 College Ave.

The campaign received a $3 million gift from the family of the late Eva and Arie Halpern, its largest donation this week.

Hillel’s goal is to raise $18 million to construct and furnish its new home at 70 College Ave., which is scheduled to open in 2015. The building will now be called The Eva and Arie Halpern Hillel House.

Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel, said this donation was the largest one the organization had received during its fundraising drive. The Halperns’ contribution was contingent upon Hillel attaching the family’s name to the building.

“[The family] wanted to perpetuate the memory of their parents, who were Holocaust survivors who came to America,” Getraer said.

After arriving in the United States, the Halperns became very successful in business and were some of the most prominent philanthropists in the country, he said.

Multiple members of the Halpern family are Rutgers alumni, and another is on the board of directors of the Rutgers Hillel Foundation.

The $18 million that Hillel aims to raise will be exclusively used to build and equip its new facility, Getraer said.

“[The money] really goes toward three areas: for the construction and furnishing of the new Hillel building and for endowing the operation of the facility,” Getraer said.

Hillel purchased the property at 70 College Ave. in January 2007, he said. Coincidentally, the New Brunswick Development Corporation, or DEVCO, asked Hillel to partner in the redevelopment of the College Avenue campus two years ago.

Hillel’s old, rented property at 93 College Ave. was located in the middle of DEVCO’s project. The two groups worked together to find a temporary home for Hillel, so they could vacate the building and allow the future New Brunswick Theological Seminary to be built.

Getraer said the campaign saw an alarming deceleration in the rate and quantity of contributions after the economy went into a decline in 2008.

“From about September 2008, for a year or so we couldn’t raise anything,” he said. “When the economy crashed, fundraising grounded to a halt. People either didn’t have the money, or they were uncertain about their financial future.”

Contributions have now begun to flow at a relatively steady pace. Hillel is on track to achieve their fundraising goal by 2015, Getraer said.

Contributions arrive in various sizes, said Lee Rosenfield, a consultant for the Capital and Endowment Campaign. Apart from the Halpern family, others groups have made contributions more than $1 million to the fundraising effort.

Several have given six-figure amounts, and many have chipped in with donations of around $100. Rosenfield said about three or four donors have given seven-figure donations.

Getraer said, as a rule, 80 percent of the money comes from 20 percent of donors. The Wilf family, owners of the Minnesota Vikings, contributed $2 million, and the late Eric Ross donated $1.5 million.

The Halpern family’s donation brought the total amount raised to $12 million, according to a Rutgers Hillel’s press release.

That money will contribute toward the construction of a building that is considerably superior to Hillel’s old home, Getraer said. They hope to break ground next spring and finish their fundraising drive by the fall of 2015, when the new building is set to open.

The facility’s plans include square feet of space, including a student lounge, café, office space and a dining hall that can accommodate 350 people.

Ariel Lubow, student board president of Rutgers Hillel, said the café could be convenient for students who keep Kosher.

“We hope to make it even more accessible for students by making it possible to use RU Express available at the cafe,” said Lubow, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

It also plans to contain three separate prayer spaces for adherents of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform denominations of Judaism.

“Hillel is an umbrella organization for the Jewish community,” Getraer said. “We will have spaces for a variety of different Jewish religious services.”

In their old house, he said, Hillel did not have enough space to accommodate several denominations in one location.

Lubow, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said the new building’s spaciousness is vital to the organization.

“The University does not have a huge amount of space for student organizations to use,” she said. “Having our own building where we can gather as a community and have programming is especially important to us.”

Since Hillel operates many programs for students interested in Israel, the new building will also house a center for Israel engagement, he said. It will also be equipped with a room designed specifically for student leadership to convene.

Hillel does not have any formal membership structure and plans to open its new home for the general public to use.

“It’s going to have a front porch right on College Avenue that we hope everybody in the University will feel comfortable hanging out on,” Getraer said. “Any Rutgers student is open to pretty much any of our events.”

Other Jewish groups on campus are also welcome to use Hillel’s space for their events, he said.

“We have a group called JAQs — Jewish Allies and Queers. ... We have a group called Israel Advocacy and [our building] might be open to their constituency,” Getraer said.

He said he hopes Hillel’s new central location on College Avenue will naturally make it a lively spot.

“It’s actually designed so that the retaining wall in front of the front porch has benches,” Getraer said. “It’s designed to be a welcoming public space. … I think there will be some excellent people-watching from the front porch.”


By Charlie Melman

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