by ETHAN ROPP
Mary Washington’s Jewish student center, known as Hillel, has come to an end fewer than three years after its opening.
What was originally named the Maxine and Carl D. Silver Hillel Center opened in late October 2020 with a soft opening and a miniature ceremony celebrating the donor, Larry Silver. The Hillel Center provided Mary Washington students with multiple study rooms, an espresso machine and snacks, a Shabbat dinner once a month, Jewish holiday activities and a Rabbi: Menachem Sherman.
This past spring, the Silver Foundation—the building’s sponsor—decided to replace Hillel with a larger Jewish campus organization, known as Chabad. As of now, students have not been able to enter the building, and there have been no events held despite the signage change on the exterior of the building, which denotes the center as the Maxine and Carl D. Silver Chabad Center. Many Jewish students on campus were in shock and upset about this sudden change, and those sentiments still stand.
“Hillel was a Jewish organization that worked with the Silvers to provide Jewish students with a community on campus to develop their relationship with Judaism and form relationships with other Jewish students,” said UMW Jewish Student Association President Logan Kurtz, a senior history major.
The organization officially known as Hillel International is present on over 850 college campuses and serves over 150,000 students, according to their website. Hillel International not only provides a social space for Jewish and non-Jewish students alike but also a space to celebrate Jewish holidays. Hillel International also provides students with birthright trips to Israel.
“As far as I understand, the Silvers were dissatisfied with the financial arrangement they had with Hillel and decided to end their relationship,” said Jennifer Hansen-Glucklich, associate professor of German, faculty advisor for the Jewish Student Association and a member of the Jewish faith.
Chabad, a different Jewish campus organization, was chosen by the Silver Foundation to replace Hillel at Mary Washington to serve the Jewish students. According to the Chabad organization’s website, Chabad is located on more than 850 campuses worldwide and works to nurture Jewish identity and uphold Jewish pride on college campuses.
As of now, the organization has held no events and the doors have been locked, despite the Jewish High Holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur having just passed.
As to what this transition entails, Hansen-Glucklich said, “This meant ending Rabbi Sherman’s employment. Chabad will be moving into the center at some point, but we don’t know yet when.”
Neither the Silver Foundation nor Hillel nor Chabad made an official statement as to why the change occurred, leaving many Jewish UMW students feeling lost and disappointed.
“I miss the Hillel and having a safe and comfortable place to go to. I spent a lot of time at the Hillel building studying and I have felt a lot less productive since the change,” said Nathan Fimbres, a junior computer science major.
Hansen-Glucklich commented on the purpose behind Hillel as well as her own experiences attending events at Hillel.
“The building that served for a few years as UMW’s Hillel Center was provided by the Silver family, a Jewish family from Fredericksburg, and was designed to provide a space and programming for UMW’s Jewish student population,” she said. “I attended Yom Kippur services at Hillel, showed films there with discussion and went there regularly to talk with Rabbi Menachem Sherman, who was hired by Hillel to act as the Hillel Center’s Rabbi.”
The former Rabbi of Hillel at UMW, Rabbi Menachem Sherman, discussed the Hillel Center’s successes over the past three years.
“I am very proud of the work that we did at UMW to expand the offering for Jewish students and creates such a special place for many students,” said Rabbi Sherman.
Rabbi Sherman also commented on the work both on the part of the Silver Foundation and Jewish students on campus.
“The facilities that the Silvers generously provided are beautiful and laid the foundation for the growth Hillel experienced. The lion’s share of the credit, however, belongs to the dedicated student leaders who poured their hearts and souls into Hillel. They worked tirelessly to engage with and connect students and build a Jewish community,” he said.
Based in Boca Raton, Fl., Silver Companies is a real estate investment and development firm founded in 1941 by Carl D. Silver, a prominent real estate investor. As a division of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, Fl., Silver Companies developed The Deborah & Larry D. Silver Center for Jewish Engagement, which is “a major initiative developed to reach deeper into the local Jewish community to connect Jewish residents to Jewish life and to each other,” according to the Silver Companies website. The goal of the initiative is “to connect Jewish neighbors to each other, to synagogues, to agencies and organizations, and to elements of Federation that align with their individual interests and concerns,” according to the site.
In light of the work that students contributed to Hillel, Rabbi Sherman continued, “For that reason, I wish their voices, and the voices of Hillel participants, were considered when the making the decision to make such a substantial change. All that said, I am incredibly grateful to have been in that role for three years and I miss Hillel, the UMW community and Mary Wash culture very much.”