Under a spectacular autumn sky, beneath a giant white tent, a large and expectant crowd gathered for the re-dedication of the the UConn Hillel on October 10, 2010. The event was a celebration of the renovation of the Hillel facility and a renewed commitment of the Jewish community to the growth of Jewish student life at UConn. Current students, alumni, families, and donors toured the extensive Hillel building checking out the new conference room, kosher kitchen, large assembly space, offices, and basement recreation center. While the revamped facility is impressive – it was the outpouring of support for the UConn Hillel’s mission that guests basked in during the joyful ceremony. Yasher Koach to Gary Wolff for his tremendous dedication to Hillel, Morris and Shirley Trachten, Henry and Judith Zachs, and all of the generous sponsors who helped transform UConn Hillel.
The following article was written this summer when the Hillel facility was still under renovation:
“Careful, the railing is still a bit wet,” warns Gary Wolff, director of UConn’s Hillel, smiling widely as he takes visitor through the facility. Finishing touches are being completed on a renovation that began nearly two years ago. Wolff’s excitement for new programming space for Hillel is palpable. “Everyday more students ask about when they can come in to check out our progress. Their excitement for Hillel is a good indication of how much this space is needed.”
UConn Hillel is primarily a student space as well as a location for Beth El Congregation to hold services. “Hillel will serve as a Jewish community center at UConn”, according to Henry Zachs, a major supporter and a visionary for the renovation project.
The center has been closed to students since a sewer leak in the lower level and other deteriorated conditions led to a decision to rebuild not only the building but its leadership as well. “When I visited Hillel a few years back it was a disaster – the basement was a mess, the programming minimal and lacking.” says Morris Trachten (’48 Industrial Management) sponsor of Hillel renovations and the Trachten Kosher Kitchen in Towers.
Trachten, a generous man with a soft spot in his heart for UConn recalls his undergraduate years when there were few Jewish students at UConn. “I ate lots of tuna fish and egg salad because there was no kosher food option. At that time, Hillel organized few religious services for holidays but was pretty inactive.”
The mission of Hillel is to serve as a foundation for Jewish campus life and to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world. Hillel at UConn was created by students in 1933.
Over the past ten years as UConn’s Jewish student population has grown (now at 10%, approximately 1,600 students) and the need for programming and religious services mirrors that growth.
The newly revamped Hillel building will allow Wolff, student program coordinator Leah Lubianker, and the numerous student committee leaders to roll out a full complement of programming to serve its mission. “We are open to all religions while focusing on Jewish culture.” says Wolff, “We are hoping that the students will utilize Hillel as a home, a resource, and a cultural place to have Shabbat, holidays, and other social opportunities. We truly are what the students would like us to be.”
During the renovation period Hillel operated out of leased space in the Towers residential area. “Over the past two years the lack of space really diminished attendance to Hillel events.” says Tracy Rosenblum (2011 Pharmacy). “The changes to Hillel will definitely attract more students to our activities.”
As the building nears completion, students are looking forward to having more room for Hillel activities. A kosher kitchen upstairs, a non-kosher kitchen in the basement, game room, large conference room, a great room, and a spacious outdoor patio are among the amenities awaiting student programming.
“Right now students are coming into a Hillel that is growing and will continue to grow.” states Daniel Speicher (2012 Actuarial Science), vice president of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity. “Being a part of Hillel has definitely enriched my college experience. Coming from a family with strong Jewish values it is important to me to stay involved with the Jewish community and Hillel is the perfect place to do so.”
An estimated 85% of the U.S. college-age Jews, approximately 400,000, attend an institution of higher learning. The rebirth of UConn Hillel is a testament to the Jewish community’s investment in the University and speaks of their commitment to help attract Jewish students to attend UConn.
Funds were also raised for UConn Hillel’s endowment. “Morris and I (and several other supporters) knew we would do whatever it takes to make the Trachten-Zachs Hillel a welcoming, beautiful gathering space for students” explains Zachs. Morris adds, “I have a three-prong plan for UConn. First provide a place for kosher food, then to improve Hillel and then to fund a major in Hebraic studies.”
When the paint dries and the grass is planted – Hillel will re-open its doors and a formal dedication is planned for this fall. Then Trachten will be one step closer to fulfilling his plans – and UConn will introduce yet another vibrant resource to students.
For more information about Hillel see uconnhillel.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org