Students and officials cheered as construction workers readied to demolish a former fraternity house on the site of what will be the new headquarters for Rutgers Hillel.
In a short ceremony Nov. 6 before the heavy equipment moved in, students, staff, Hillel board members, and university officials gathered at Bishop Place and George Street to celebrate the beginning of a new era for the organization.
Rutgers University president Richard McCormick said he came to mark the milestone and demonstrate support for the project that will “contribute to the improvement and beautification of the historic College Avenue campus.”
“It will also help to attract more Jewish students to campus,” McCormick told NJJN while wearing a yellow hard hat.
The $15 million center will contain a 400-seat kosher dining hall, prayer space for Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Sephardi communities, a kosher cafe, an Israel resource center, classrooms, and a computer lab.
Its current facility at 93 College Ave. is too cramped to accommodate Shabbat dinners and many activities, forcing Hillel to rent space elsewhere on campus, said its executive director, Andrew Getraer.
“It’s important for Jewish students to remain connected on campus,” said Getraer, who thanked all those who chose to celebrate the historic moment “instead of going to the Yankees parade.”
The building will incorporate green environmental features, and the more environmentally friendly demolition was chosen over implosion.
Although work is not scheduled to begin on the building for a year, Getraer noted that the demolition — which was expected to be completed by Nov. 9 — was both symbolic and economical.
“Although we are a nonprofit organization, we still pay taxes on the property,” he explained, “and 95 percent of the value of the property was in the building itself.”
Hillel has so far raised about 45 percent of the funds needed and expects to have 75 percent of necessary funding at the ground breaking, said Getraer. Construction is expected to take about another year.
“This is a wonderful day,” Hillel board member Sue Kheel told NJJN. “We hope people come forward so we can construct this building as speedily as possible.”
Eric Kaplan, a junior political science major from Paramus and Hillel’s student representative to the university’s board of governors, said entering this transitional phase “means a lot to me because the community is growing, and we are in desperate need of new space. We need to expand if we want the growth to continue.”