Jewish folk rock band performs at new Rutgers Hillel House
The newly constructed Eva and Arie Halpern Hillel House opened its doors this past Sunday as the Rutgers community showcased the long anticipated return of Safam, the Jewish folk rock band, in their first public housewarming event.
The festivities began with dinner hosted by members of the Hillel board, followed by self-guided tours of the new facility and a performance from Kol Halayla, the oldest co-ed a cappella group at Rutgers, then capped off with Safams’ first performance in over 10 years.
Samantha Brandspiegel, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and president of the Hillel Student Board, said the event pooled over 250 students, staff members and alumni to see the return of Safam after so many years.
The band is known for their various performances throughout Rutgers prior to their hiatus and their members include lead singer, Dan Funk, son of Rabbi Julius Funk, the founder of Rutgers Hillel, Brandspiegel said. The return of the group is momentous for the community and adds to the overall excitement stirring over the new building.
The staff-organized event pays tribute to the new building and thoroughly shows in the excitement on people's faces as they near their official opening on March 10. Gaining traction from each event has sprung the community into full-blown moving and planning for future events while they steadily approach the opening day, Brandspiegel said.
“After spring break we have our student board election and our grand opening gala on April 2 that honors a number of people including Edward Mosberg, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor. Then on (March 22) we have Hillel Bootcamp that teaches students Krav Maga (self-defense) and other fun obstacle course events,” she said.
The event was a landmark for the community as it was the first time they opened their doors to the public, said Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel. Safam was very popular among alumni, generating nostalgia from their 30 years of playing shows at Rutgers.
“People have been asking me for years, 'When is Safam coming back? When the new Hillel building is open, are you going to have Safam?' So we knew this was the right thing to do. When people heard they were coming back we were flooded with feedback from fans all over,” he said.
Hillel stresses the presence of its alumni equally to that of students as a cultural home for all members. While the different age groups are often difficult to intertwine they offer events like their yearly gala that encourages interaction for everyone, Getraer said.
The alumni association encourages graduating seniors to become members and solidify their place at Hillel as a second home, Getraer said. Fostering get-togethers in New York City and New Jersey, the association aims to offer events for members to check in with Hillel at their leisure.
Hillel continues to encourage involvement for non-Jewish students by inviting them to enjoy pizza from their Kosher café. Getraer said they hope students with friends involved in Hillel take part in Shabbat dinners or any other events as welcomed members.
Dan Funk, lead vocalist of Safam, said the band has been a popular cultural singing group for about 43 years, and has held a number of performances at Rutgers.
Now, 10 years later, the group is back to welcome Hillel into their new home.
“I wish my parents were here to see this. It’s spectacular and it was a long time coming. We’re proud to have initiated it and we’ll be back in a month for the gala opening,” he said.
Many of the attendants are loyal fans of the band and have followed them throughout a majority of their time together, Funk said. While current students may not recognize them yet, the band strives to bridge that gap and expose new listeners to their music.
“If they knew the energy we bring despite how long we’ve been doing this, it would excite them. It’d be great to get a new generation involved so they should listen to our music on YouTube,” he said.
Christian Zapata is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.