Students, community leaders, alumni, and staff looked on as ground was broken for a new home for Rutgers Hillel.
More than 200 gathered Nov. 21 in a heated tent at 70 College Ave. in New Brunswick to celebrate the culmination of an eight-year drive to finance the $18 million, 35,000-square-foot building, to be known as the Eva and Arie Halpern Hillel House.
After speeches, they went outside to turn the earth with gold shovels.
“This is fantastic,” said sophomore Elisheva Rosen of Teaneck. “We will finally have real space to do programming, a real home.”
Senior Drew Nathanson of Marlboro was excited for future legions of students.
“It’s a good step in the right direction,” said the economics and statistics major. “We’ve been in a number of different places and buildings since I’ve been here, so I think it’s great we’ll have our own place.”
Hillel secretary Samantha Glass of Hoboken said the new building will showcase “the vibrant Jewish community we have. This is tremendous.”
The Hillel, expected to be completed during the fall 2015 semester, is a centerpiece of the Rutgers College Avenue Redevelopment Project. It reached a major goal by bringing in 75 percent of its fund-raising total by the time of the ground breaking.
The state-of-the-art facility will have space for religious, social, Israel advocacy, cultural, social justice, and educational programming.
In his remarks, New Brunswick campus chancellor Richard L. Edwards noted that the university has the second-largest Jewish population of any campus in the nation, with 6,000 undergraduates and more than 1,200 graduate students. He said he had “no doubt it would continue to grow.”
Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer told the gathering he was “feeling a little overwhelmed; I’m a little farklempt.”
“I’ve been preparing for this moment since the day I came for an interview at 93 College Ave., which was a beautiful, homey, warm, decrepit place,” said Getraer. “They said, ‘We need to do some renovations.’ I said, ‘They need a new building,’ and here we are 14 years later.”
He thanked the Stein/Halpern and Wilf families for their donations and the state’s Jewish federations for their support. The five children of the Halperns made a $3 million gift in memory of their Polish Holocaust survivor parents. Audrey and Zygi Wilf and Jane and Mark Wilf, whose parents also survived the Holocaust and established successful real estate businesses in the state, kicked off the capital and endowment campaign with a $2 million gift.
“This is a transitional moment not just in our Jewish community but in the entire Jewish community,” said Getraer. “Half of all Jewish students in New Jersey come to Rutgers.”
Bella Savran, a daughter of the Halperns and a 1970 graduate of the university’s Douglass College, told the group her “only regret is that my parents aren’t here to see this.” Arie died in 2006, Eva in 2012.
The couple’s first spouses died at a young age; when they remarried, the blended family came to include Eva’s two sons and Arie’s three daughters.
“My parents were really pluralistic in their approach to Judaism,” said Savran. She said family members run from secular to Orthodox.
Mark Wilf said his family has had business dealings with the Halperns. “Building buildings is one thing, but it is an honor to be in business with you in building Jewish life.”
Hillel, which is a partner agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, currently has offices at a temporary site in Miller Hall, but holds events wherever it can find space. The Bishop Place building it used last year was demolished as part of the redevelopment project, as was the longtime house it occupied at 93 College Ave.