What makes a Jewish organization an essential pillar of the local Jewish community?
Perhaps many would agree that if an organization is well-established in its area, serves critical needs, and helps to ensure the future of Judaism, attracts many participants and enlists a broad array of supporters, that group is fairly central to the community. Judging from these criteria, Rutgers Hillel is an absolutely vital fixture in the Central New Jersey Jewish community.
Founded in 1943 by Rabbi Julius and Pearl Funk, Rutgers Hillel initially occupied an apartment above a storefront on George Street in New Brunswick. Through the ensuing decades it operated in a few different locations and continued to grow in stature, services and participants.
By 2014 it was clear that Rutgers Hillel needed a much larger home, and the group launched a $20M capital and endowment campaign. Thus far over 400 donors have contributed. Rutgers Hillel built a multi-story, attractive new facility at 70 College Avenue, which opened in April 2017.
Rutgers Hillel Director Andrew Getraer remarked that their building is now “the largest Hillel building in the world, at a university with the largest Jewish undergraduate population in the country.”
Rutgers Hillel provides a wide range of religious services, Israel action activities, arts and cultural programming, leadership development initiatives and other opportunities, which reached over 3,000 students in the current academic year.
RU Hillel is widely credited by students who attended programs and services there over the past few decades with enriching their Jewish identities. As Getraer asserted, because 85% of Rutgers students come from New Jersey, and 50% of alumni stay in New Jersey, “the future of Jewish New Jersey comes through our doors.”
One current anecdote illustrated Rutgers-Hillel’s impact vividly; a young woman, adopted by her family as a small child, was raised to know she was Jewish but had no formal Jewish schooling or synagogue affiliation. She came to campus, found Hillel, and started going to events and Shabbat services. Now in her senior year, she is currently studying for an Orthodox conversion.
At its annual Gala Dinner on Sunday, April 7, Rutgers Hillel will celebrate its role as a strong pillar in the New Jersey Jewish community. And it will honor a large group of supporters of different ages, professional fields and parts of the state.
Honorees will include Barry Ostrowsky, president & CEO of RWJBarnabas Health, receiving the Visionary in Partnership award; Pam and Mark Gelbert of Denville, receiving the Rabbi Julius Funk Alumni Award; Scott Siegel of Denville, receiving the Young Alumni Award; Helene Podell Raush and David Raush of Cherry Hill, and Sherry and Bruce DuBoff, receiving the Parents of the Year Award; and undergraduate students Elisheva Sherman of Highland Park, Segev Kanik of Deal, Talia Schabes of Englewood, Zach Steinhardt of Morris Plains, and Leora Hyman of Teaneck, receiving the Student Rising Stars Awards.
It is clear from comments by the honorees that their bonds to Rutgers Hillel are strong and their commitment to support it runs deep.
Pam Gelbert said, “Mark and I are truly privileged to be honored at this year’s Gala. It’s been 40 years since we met at the Rutgers Hillel Hanukkah Party, and we can’t thank Hillel enough for bringing us together. We hope that through our sponsorship of the annual Hillel Hanukkah Ball other young Jewish couples will meet and begin as wonderful a life together as we have.”
Scott Siegel stated, “Rutgers Hillel was an instrumental part of my Rutgers experience and played a formative role in my personal and professional development. As a student, I served as a student representative to the Rutgers Hillel board of directors and recently rejoined the board as a full member. I am truly honored to be the Young Alumni Recipient, and I look forward to working to further strengthen this fantastic organization.”
Talia Schabes remarked, “I had the opportunity to start multiple religious initiatives with the support of Hillel staff. I additionally had the privilege of working within my Hillel to increase its environmental and sustainable efforts and educate members of the community on these matters. Hillel has provided a wonderful space where I feel welcome.”
Zack Steinhardt reflected, “After transferring to Rutgers I found that the first place I fit in was at Rutgers Hillel. I’m there almost every day. About a year ago I was elected to serve as one of the do-chairs of the Reform community at Rutgers Hillel and in that time our community has both grown itself and further connected with the other Jewish organizations on campus. It is a great honor to be recognized as an outstanding member of such a large and active community.”
Sherry Duboff said, “We are thrilled to be honored for our work with Rutgers Hillel. It has been a blessing for us to witness so much effort by so many contributors throughout the last four years crystallize into a beautiful new building, a new way of life and a home-away-from-home for many Jewish students, including our son Max.”
And Helene Podell Raush shared, “I am very excited that we are being honored by Rutgers Hillel as parents of the year. Hillel was such an integral part of my college life while I was a student at Rutgers. I am thrilled that I can now be involved with Rutgers Hillel again, this time as a parent, while watching my daughter experience all that Hillel has to offer.”
By Harry Glazer
For more information on Rutgers Hillel’s Annual Gala and/or how to support Rutgers Hillel, call 732/545-2407 or email Getraer at [email protected]