Rutgers Hillel held a grand opening ceremony at its new building on Sunday, April 2, attended by current and former students, dignitaries and elected officials. Over 500 people came to take part in the festivities that included tours of the building and a delicious buffet. The building was dedicated in memory of noted philanthropists and Jewish community leaders Eva and Arie Halpern, with a $3M gift from their five children.
Hillel Executive Director Andrew Getraer, Hillel Board President Roy Tanzman and Hillel Student Board President Samantha Brandspiegel delivered welcoming remarks, and U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and University President Robert Barchi addressed the crowd, each extolling the importance of Hillel on campus. A mezuzah made of pieces of an Iron Dome missile that protected Israel was affixed to the entry doorpost, after which the audience enjoyed the awards presentation and dessert.
The first set of awards went to the Student Rising Stars: Arielle Kafker of Metuchen, Ben Kern of Mahwah, Elliot Linder of Teaneck, Jaclyn Platt of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Gabrielle Kleyner of Pacifica, California. Also recognized were Dr. David Gendelberg of Bergenfield with the Young Alumni Award, and Jonathan Funk with the Rabbi Julius Funk Alumni Award.
Dr. Lynne B Harrison and Brandspiegel introduced a fundraising campaign to enhance security at Hillel for the next five years.
Cecile and Edward Mosberg of Morris Plains, New Jersey, were honored with The Legacy Award and presented Hillel’s students with a Torah that had survived the Holocaust. Mosberg spoke movingly about the extreme hardships he and his family had endured in the concentration camps, noting that “the Torah is a survivor and will continue to tell its story to Rutgers students long after the years go by and the last Holocaust survivor passes.”
The gala celebrated the culmination of a 10-year project to enhance Jewish life at Rutgers, whose nearly 8,000 Jewish undergraduate and graduate students represent the second-largest Jewish student population in the United States. Audrey and Zigi Wilf and Jane and Mark Wilf, Jewish community leaders and international philanthropists, initiated the project with a $2M gift toward the eventual construction of the building on the University’s College Avenue.
Mike Wasserman of Highland Park was a student at Rutgers when he attended the grand opening of the Cook Campus Hillel building more than 50 years ago. His pride in the new building was evident when he noted how much he appreciated the separate rooms for Orthodox, Conservative and Reform services that all open up to a main area for joint Havdalah services and Shabbat Kiddush.
Debbie Erdfarb, an alum from Highland Park, was especially impressed with the Legacy Wall, dedicated to the memory of Rutgers Hillel’s first executive director, Rabbi Julius Funk, and his wife, Pearl. The wall features highlights and pictures of Hillel through the decades since its inception at Rutgers in 1943. There is also a digital photo gallery with streaming photos that will be continuously updated to include current pictures.
Dr. Eric Wallenstein recalled how instrumental Rutgers Hillel was in his spiritual growth while he was a student. Now serving as secretary of the board of directors, he described the transformation of the organization under the leadership of Getraer and Rabbi Esther Reed as extremely positive. “Campus life is not just in the classroom; the presence of Hillel is vital to students’ overall growth.”
The spectacular 35,000-square-foot building, formally named the Eva and Arie Halpern Hillel House on the Wilf Family Campus, provides a spacious, welcoming environment and can accommodate nearly 500 people in its dining room. It features a café with dairy cuisine that is open to the public.
Believing in inclusive Judaism for all denominations and those with no defined denomination, Rutgers Hillel is proud to serve more than 6,000 free Shabbat dinners annually and sent more than 150 students on Birthright this year. Its first official Shabbat dinner in the new building will be held on April 7.
By Deborah Melman