In a bittersweet ceremony, students, staff members, and university officials said good-bye to the College Avenue building Rutgers Hillel has called home for the last 17 years.
The Oct. 3 ceremony began at the soon-to-be-demolished building on the New Brunswick campus, surrounded by construction sites from the university’s $330 million College Avenue Redevelopment Project, and continued around the corner to Hillel’s temporary headquarters on Bishop Place.
Two years from now, Hillel will move into a new facility at the “epicenter” of the project. The new building will feature a 400-seat kosher dining hall, prayer spaces, a kosher cafe, an Israel resource center, classrooms, and a computer lab.
Standing on the top step under a Rutgers Hillel banner hanging there for the last time, senior associate director Rabbi Esther Reed said the structure, rented from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, had hosted so many events, services, and students over the years, “a sense of kiddusha had almost taken over the place.”
Hillel student president Ariel Lubow of Springfield said she would also miss the cramped building, including “its creaky stairs and the family of raccoons living on its roof.”
Rutgers president Robert Barchi told the crowd that 16 percent of the university’s 65,000 students had identified themselves as Jewish. He said he was pleased Hillel was there to offer Jewish students comfort and continuity.
“I look forward to helping you cut the ribbon,” said Barchi of the new facility, which is expected to be ready for the 2015 school year.
Torah scrolls were brought out and paraded under a huppa to the Bishop Place site accompanied by live music, singing, and dancing. There, Rabbi Heath Wantenmaker of Hillel’s Reform Outreach Initiative affixed a mezuza to the doorpost, and student Brian Thompson of Highland Park blew a shofar.
Rabbi Akiva Weiss, co-educator of Hillel’s and the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, said the Torah was “a tree of life” that accompanied the Jews wandering through the desert and wherever they went.
A partnership between Hillel, the university, the seminary, and the New Brunswick Redevelopment Corporation gave Hillel the opportunity to move to a planned $18 million new home at 70 College Ave., diagonally across from Seminary Place.
The university project will include, in addition to the new Hillel, a new academic facility for the university’s School of Arts and Sciences, a new residential honors college, student residential apartments, a dorm, and new headquarters for the seminary.