A $2.5 million gift to the University of Miami Hillel will transform the run-down Jewish student center into a state-of-the-art facility for Jewish and non-Jewish students alike.
“It’s out of date and doesn’t reflect what Hillel is or what Hillel can be,” Hillel’s executive director Shana Kantor said.
The renovation project is scheduled to begin in August and will conclude with a modernized building by fall 2015.
Built in 1953, the Hillel Student Center has since been designated as a historical building in the city of Coral Gables. The walls that make up the outer frame will remain standing during construction, while everything inside will be built from scratch.
“For this organization, it’s like a restart button,” Kantor said. “We get to redesign what Hillel will be, not just physically, but as an organization.”
The new building will be named the Braman Miller Center for Jewish Student Life after the two primary family donors. The Millers are the family for whom the medical school is named, as well as the university’s Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies. The Bramans are also well-connected in South Florida’s Jewish community, according to Kantor.
The current building is plagued by problems such as leaks.
“There aren’t a lot of reasons for students to want to come to this building right now,” Kantor said. “It’s dilapidated. … It rains inside the building. We have a lot of issues.”
The final result will match the look of the modern architectural style of the Student Activities Center (SAC) and forthcoming UHealth facility, according to renderings provided to The Miami Hurricane.
Junior Alex Rabhan, the president of the Hillel student board, said that giving the university’s substantial Jewish population an entirely new building is like a new opportunity for them.
“I think it’s going to completely revamp Jewish student life,” he said.
The completed Center for Jewish Student Life will feature a Kosher cafe, and the plan is to stay open late and offer free coffee throughout the day, according to Kantor. This would be the second Kosher dining option on campus. Oasis, the Kosher deli currently located in the UC, will be moving to the food court next year.
The new building will also have a pool table and a space for students to hang out and study. Students will have open access to the second floor, and a third floor will be built, featuring a rooftop lounge, according to Kantor.
“Jewish students and their non-Jewish friends can feel comfortable using this building, so that it’s not just a place for Jews, but a place that all students enjoy,” she said. “In some ways, it can be like a secondary SAC.”
Rabhan said that, in the three years that he’s been a part of UM Hillel, there had always been talk of renovating Hillel. He saw the first designs around this time last year, but when the official news came of the plans for breaking ground, his peers at Hillel reacted with surprise and excitement.
“It was like, ‘Oh my God, this is actually happening,’” Rabhan said. “Some of them said, ‘About damn time.’ Others, at first, were like, ‘Why? We’ve slept in here, prayed in here, cried in here.’ But then they saw the plans. Overall, it’s been overwhelmingly positive.”
In the year without a physical Jewish student center located on campus, the organization will become a “Hillel without walls” and seek alternate locations for hosting holiday services and events, according to Kantor.
“High Holiday services will be in the SAC next year,” she said. “We’re negotiating where Shabbat dinner is going to be. We’ll have an opportunity to be on campus more than we are and to integrate with campus as much as possible.”
For Jewish students like sophomore Willy Chertman, who is excited for the changes in the long-run, this renovation will mean adapting in the meantime.
“I’m mostly worried about people not knowing where the new [services] will be, and maybe getting less attendance because of that,” said Chertman, who helps lead Shabbat Unplugged, a Friday night service with singing and instruments.