Jewish culture thrives on campus with new Hillel House
by India Amos
Paul Silver ’75, who currently works as an associate professor of medicine at George Washington University, attended Kenyon at a time when there were not only fewer Jewish students on campus, but also no designated place for them to practice their religion or culture. “The genesis [of Jewish organizations on campus] was probably Marc Goldstein [’72] and I,” Silver said. Silver and Goldstein started the Union of Jewish Students: Dar’Khey Yisrael, a group that made way for Hillel, the world’s largest Jewish student organization, to come to campus.
Dar’Khey Yisrael, which, according to Silver, translates as “Path of Israel,” came into being when Goldstein was a senior. However, it was not until April 1975 that Kenyon had its first kosher Passover dinner, which Silver said attracted nearly 70 students. “I flew in from New York these trays of frozen food, which were specially sealed so they could be cooked in non-kosher ovens,” Silver said. It was this massive event that solidified Dar’Khey Yisrael’s presence on campus.
Alan Rothenberg ’67, namesake of the new Hillel House, noticed these issues from Silver’s time had not been addressed when his daughter came to Kenyon in 1992. “Kenyon was getting a very poor yield out of Jewish students who applied to the College,” he said. “What we discovered was a lot of Jewish kids who wanted to go to Kenyon and brought their parents along, their parents wondered … whether it was possible to be Jewish at Kenyon.”
Before the Rothenberg Hillel House’s dedication this past October, Hillel was held in what used to be called the “Kat House.” “It was a women’s dorm,” Jewish Chaplain and Director of Kenyon College Hillel Marc Bragin said. “It really used to be a house. It got donated to be used for Hillel in the ’90s.”
Bragin said the old Hillel house left much to be desired, which helped spring the construction of the new house. “[Conceptually, the house] worked great, but the house [itself] was really falling apart,” Bragin said. “The foundation was cracking, and I would get up from my office chair and it would just slide to the other side of the room, because it was so crooked.”
Not only did the construction of the new Hillel house allow for traditional amenities, such as two separate kitchens to ensure kosher cooking, but the additional space also allowed for certain aspects of Hillel to be separated for the first time since the organization arrived on campus. In past years, students lived in the Hillel house, but one of organization’s recent changes was to provide housing for its student managers outside of the Hillel House. “We wanted to separate out the living component with the program part,” Bragin said. “Living in the Hillel house was kind of an old model for Jewish life … and that’s kind of separated so that we now have an NCA [North Campus Apartment].”
The NCA is home to Hillel’s two programming managers, Julie Hartman ’15 and Julia Kaplan ’17. Hartman and Kaplan were able to choose their apartment’s other residents. Hillel also has a building manager, Ben Marx ’17.
Kaplan enjoys being a part of Hillel and especially likes being a manager. “It’s a really rewarding job,” she said. “I really enjoy creating [an event], planning it and executing it. And you really reap the rewards as a manager. I really like interacting with other students who are also interested in Jewish life, or just getting to know people in the community.”
From traditional Shabbat services on Friday evening to movie screenings on the weekends, all Hillel-sponsored events are open to both Jewish and non-Jewish students. Samantha Shanker ’17, who helps manage Hillel’s social media accounts, said, “I think things have been changing since the building [was built], and [Hillel] really want[s] it to be sort of a multi-purpose center because it’s such a nice space, where other clubs can use all the facilities. I don’t know if a lot of people know that, and it would be really great if they did.”
“I also don’t know if people who are Jewish or not feel included yet, and that’s something we need to work on,” she continued.
Hillel’s next event, to be held on Saturday, Feb. 7, at 6 p.m., will be a screening of Everything is Illuminated in the new house, accompanied by pizza and popcorn.
“We program things so that they are inclusive for everybody,” Bragin said. “If there are things you don’t know, we want to teach you and help you understand. But we also want you to feel like you can come no matter what and that you’re always welcome here any time, because our doors are always open.”