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Hillel to Open New Facility

News Editor

Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012

Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 00:11

Hillel

This summer, the College will tear down the current Hillel House.

Sam Colt

The College plans to tear down and erect a new Hillel House, the campus center for Jewish life, to make room for the new Health and Counseling Center on Scott Lane. Construction is slated to begin this summer. The house will be located in roughly the same location as the current Hillel, but with one major difference — students will no longer live in the building.

This decision reflects the changing atmosphere of Jewish culture on campus, according to Hillel Director Marc Bragin.

“The model for Jewish life used to be living ‘Jewishly,’ which meant being Jewish outside of Hillel and inside Hillel,” Bragin said. “The newer model is to really experience Judaism, so that Judaism really isn’t centered in this house, it’s all around campus … living Judaism is really outside this building now … it’s just a newer model for Hillel and Jewish life on campus.”

The lack of living space could potentially pose problems for Hillel House managers, however.

“It’ll be challenging for them as student managers to step up and do different types of programming,” Bragin said. “How do you reach out to folks and the community in a programming center that’s not a residential component? So I think for the students it’ll be a little more challenging, but in a good way.”

Current Hillel House leaders Zoe Lyon ’15 and Andrew Pochter ’15 were not part of the conversation about eliminating the student living option in the new building. They had mixed reactions about having no students living in the house.   

“I think it really could swing either way. I think it could be really positive. I think it could be really negative,” Lyon said. “I feel like if it’s just a programming space with a kitchen and [Bragin’s] office, it’s kind of like you’re just walking into [Bragin’s] office.”

Pochter agreed, adding, “I think one way it could be successful is if they have a total revamp of the Hillel program. I think if they’re going to change the space, they should change the program as well. “There is a correlation between the program and the type of space that Hillel inhabits,” he said. “It would make sense for there to be a restructuring of the program in addition to the restructuring of the space.”

Without student housing, the house will serve a new purpose on campus. “In terms of this facility, the idea was to build something that was strictly a programming space,” said Hank Toutain, dean of students. 

According to Toutain, Hillel House has had record participation in High Holy Day ceremonies and events, and the current facility cannot accommodate this growing community. In addition, the existing structure is not equipped to handle the number of people who attend religious services, or even those who want to cook meals.

“I think the primary driver was how do we accommodate students and the program,” Toutain said. “Whether it’s for religious services, cooking and eating spaces, or for spaces to gather … which is why this successor building to Hillel will not include residential space as it currently does.”

The current building is one of the oldest surviving residential structures in Gambier. According to College Historian Tom Stamp, the building now known as Hillel was first occupied in 1837 and acquired by the College in 1970. In 2000, the structure was remodeled for its current function. Now, the building is falling into a state of disrepair, complete with warped floors and cracked walls.

“The structure itself isn’t the greatest, to put it mildly,” Toutain said.

As discussions surrounding the new Health and Counseling Center are finalized, plans are moving forward to have Hillel torn down over the summer, and a new house erected by mid-September. Though an architect has not been selected yet, Bragin has an idea of what the new House will include.

“In the new building, we hope to have a synagogue, or at least a chapel, a kosher kitchen, a dining room, my office with some more counseling space,” Bragin said. “We still want a student lounge. The new structure will still be student-centered, it’ll just be more attuned for programming.”

Once blueprints have been finalized, Bragin said he will begin looking for community input on the new house.

“We’ll form a committee, and there will be some students, a faculty member and a community member and we’ll go from there,” Bragin said. “But the project is a go, and we’re still moving forward with it, which is thrilling.”

There is a potential for a Jewish theme house to emerge to replace the lost student housing. “One of the options certainly would be for the development of a theme house up in North Campus or elsewhere to accommodate Jewish students who want to live together,” Toutain said.  

Bragin affirmed this could be an option in the future.

“We may have a kosher living option in the North Campus Apartments for those who would like to have it, and that way we’d really have two programming spaces,” he said. “But for now, we’re just going to have a new programming center.”

Though Bragin was uncertain about how the new house will be funded, Toutain is hopeful those who have supported Hillel in the past will be willing to contribute again.

“There are a number of friends of the College, [a] number of folks who have had for a while a particular interest and have in fact supported Hillel both in terms of programming and otherwise,” Toutain said. “So I think we’re hopeful that we might have that similar kind of support for the building of the new facility.”

As the Health Center and Hillel projects move forward, Bragin hopes the new house will encourage community participation.

“We welcome everybody,” Bragin said. “We really want people to use the space as a community space, so we’re hoping that the new center stresses that and really is accessible and open.”

 

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