New Hillel facility welcomes Jewish community
A new Rutgers Hillel facility under construction will soon be a meeting ground for the University's Jewish community.
Hillel is a non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating Judaism, said Rabbi Esther Reed, senior associate director of Rutgers Hillel. The project was a reaction to the increasing number of students and staff involved with programs from Hillel.
The organization had “outgrown” the previous Hillel facility located on 93 College Ave., which was somewhat “run-down,” said Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel.
“We hope it will be considered a jewel of the new campus setting created by the College Avenue Redevelopment Project and one of the finest Jewish buildings on any campus, anywhere," he said.
The old building was rented from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary and torn down as part of the College Avenue Redevelopment Project, he said.
The New Brunswick Development Corporation began this project and invited Rutgers Hillel to participate by building its new facility at the “heart” of College Avenue, he said.
The destruction of the old building made construction of the new Hillel “an urgent necessity," Getraer said.
Rutgers Hillel purchased a former fraternity property in 2007, located on the corner of George Street and Bishop Place, he said. Hundreds of alumni and members of the local Jewish community made private donations to fund this project.
Hillel could only be made possible with the work of the Board of Directors, which included Rutgers alumni, parents and other strong supporters of the project, Getraer said.
He said after the Board approved the project, he communicated with the City of New Brunswick to get the necessary permits for the construction.
The University has the largest Jewish undergraduate population in the country, Getraer said.
"Giving to Rutgers Hillel is both a way of supporting our large and thriving Jewish student community, as well as an investment in the future of the Jewish community of New Jersey," he said.
The exterior of the Eva and Arie Halpern Hillel House is an “urban lodge,” he said, built with stone and wood to invite students into the building.
He said it has a cozy feel to it, with its open porch and fireplace located in the front parlor.
The facility will contain a dining hall, a lounge, a library, a kosher café, a multi-purpose room, multiple prayer spaces, the “Legacy Wall” dedicated to Hillel founders Rabbi Julius and Pearl Funk and the Center for Israel Engagement, a Jewish advocacy group that also organizes the Birthright Israel trip, Getraer said.
"(The buiding) is designed to be a home away from home for Jewish students and a welcoming gathering place for the entire Rutgers community,” Getraer said.
The Marion and Norman Tanzman dining room can seat up to 350 people and will serve kosher food, Getraer said. Its interior design is set up flexibly, so it can serve as a catering hall for Shabbat dinners, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and other events.
Paulina Zyskowski, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences first-year student, said this facility is beneficial because it offers a safe place for Jewish students to express their faith.
Getraer said he aims for the Hillel House to “serve students across the spectrum of Jewish life,” whether they are devout or are simply interested in learning more about their heritage.
What distinguishes Hillel is its accessibility to the entire Rutgers community, not just to the Jewish community, he said.
“Of course, our goal is to be a real home away from home for Jewish students in particular,” Getraer said. “But everyone in the Rutgers community is invited to participate in any of the regular Hillel social, educational or spiritual programs that might be appealing.”