New Hillel Center on College Avenue holds housewarming
The Rutgers Jewish community celebrated "Hillel Housewarming" Sunday with warm food and music as students enjoyed themselves and explored the facility.
Oven-baked chocolate chip cookies and a congregation of students from the community filled the newly-constructed Hillel Center on the College Avenue campus.
Students from all denominations of Judaism and other religions were welcomed to the facility that was equipped with a cafe, student study areas, prayer rooms and many more amenities.
Samantha Brandspiegel, School of Arts and Sciences senior and president of the Hillel Student Board, said that they have had a building on College Avenue for some time but a few years back they realized they needed a larger space.
They then got the ball rolling on the development of the new building, she said.
Rutgers Hillel is a diverse Jewish community dedicated to exploring Judaism and everything it means to be Jewish. It serves as a branch of The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, which provides opportunities for Jewish students at more than 500 colleges worldwide, according to their website.
The goal of Rutgers Hillel is to make the organization more available and accessible to students by providing a home-like atmosphere, Brandspiegel said. They want people to come in, use the cafe and interact with the daily activities so they can better reach out to the community.
People were notified of the event two weeks ago and were very excited about it, she said.
“Some of the events we have planned are Shabbat dinners that take place every Friday night for groups up to 350 people. With our many new offices we are able to expand leadership roles to new heights and develop programs, speakers and activities like challah baking for Shabbat,” she said.
Brandspiegel said that the Hillel has become her “home away from home.”
“I was here a year ago and it was just walls — come about a week ago to see where we are now and I was sobbing tears,” Brandspiegel said.
The student board office was able to take part in the creative process to figure out what the students wanted. Brandspiegel said this facility has been made to their specifications and the needs of their students, staff and the greater community.
All around the building we had different board members discussing the upcoming programs along with different arts and crafts, said Paulee Manich, School of Arts and Sciences junior and student board vice president.
Along with other groups like the Russian-Jewish Club, everyone was there to welcome their own specific communities, she said.
By having different denominations of Judaism integrated into the separate areas of the building grants each group their own space, Manich said. Each room opens into the same common area so that people can still reconvene for Shabbat dinner after individual activities are done.
“It allows us to have multiple different programs at the same time and let students have the opportunity to balance between different things in order to gain new perspective,” she said.
Similar to the lounge located in many dorms, the Hillel Center’s common rooms function as social circles allowing people to step in to greet friends and other members of the community, Manich said.
All of the amenities that come with the building only help us to further the sense of community. In Hillel’s old kitchen, it would often be difficult for more than four people to be there all at once, but now they can all collaborate and make chicken soup for hospice patients, she said.
“In planning this event it was good to know that while us upperclassman might not be around for very long the upcoming freshman will be able to have a real home for four years. Your dorm changes, your roommate changes, but Hillel can always be your home,” Manich said.
Rabbi Esther Reed, senior associate director of the Hillel Center, said student input was at the forefront of planning for this project.
Before any plans were drawn, a survey was used to gather popular student opinion and determine the needs of the center, she said.
“We are an organization devoted to the students here at Rutgers University,” Reed said. “Even though we serve Jewish students we encourage that all Rutgers students come and take part in the activities we do.”
Rutgers has the second largest Jewish undergraduate population in the country, what they estimate to be over 6,400 students, she said. The organization tries to provide opportunities for students in ways that are meaningful to them regardless of the degree to which they practice their faith.
“We see ourselves as a place for students of all different backgrounds to come and engage in Jewish life here,” Reed said. “Events like our interfaith programs really integrate the religious community in times like this and promote student learning from one another through religion.”
Christian Zapata is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.