Jewish student center relocates near Temple

William Evans

On Saturday afternoon, University students, alumni and others celebrated the grand opening of the Bloom Hillel Student Center, a new Jewish student center on campus.

Hillel lies about ten feet from Temple Emanu-El, a synagogue on campus in between Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street.

In 2008, Hillel moved from its previous location near Bryant-Denny stadium on Wallace Wade Avenue, which had housed Hillel activities for more than 50 years. The University purchased the building to anticipate for expansion of the stadium.

Star Bloom, treasurer of the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation board, spoke about the vision University President Robert Witt had for giving the Jewish student population a place to congregate that would be close to the Temple.

Following Bloom’s introduction to the grand opening, University Vice President for Advancement Pam Parker untied, rather than cut, the ribbon for the ceremony. Because the ceremony fell on the Jewish day of rest, which disallows labor that includes using scissors to cut material, the ribbon had to be unraveled.

“You are going to witness your first ribbon-untying ceremony,” Bloom said.

The new Hillel building, which includes a kitchen, courtyard and multipurpose common area, comes at a time of expansion in the Jewish student population, Parker said.

“In 2007, we had a little over 170 Jewish students on this campus, and now we have grown to more than 700,” she said. “It is my hope that with this new home, that number will continue to grow and that Bloom Hillel will continue to serve as a home away from home for Jewish students at UA.”

Isa Dorsky, a UA alumni and past president of Hillel, said she found only 10 people at her first Hillel meeting in 2005.

Hillel grew in strength through the years by hosting events, she said.

“By the time we got to 30 students coming to each event, we realized we had hit it big,” she said. “I have been amazed to see what Bama Hillel has grown into now.”

Alex Grodner, co-student president of Hillel, said he enrolled in the University with two certain desires: to join a fraternity and to seek membership in Hillel.

Hailing from New Jersey, he said he expected to find a large Jewish student organization on campus in the form of Hillel, but he kept an open mind for surprises to his expectations.

“And when I envisioned Hillel at UA, I pictured a large building with a lot of Jewish students coming and going,” he said. “But what I found at UA was much better than I’d had in New Jersey, and that was a small, tight-knit group of Jewish students who knew each other and acted like a family.”

Kathy Merrell, program director of Hillel, said University President Witt has worked to recruit Jewish students to the University by traveling to major cities across the nation and showing the Hillel building along with the adjacent Temple to prospective students with a PowerPoint presentation.

“They realize that this is a growing segment of the population anyway, and they want to encourage it,” Merrell said.