GW Hillel leaders say new building space will unite Jewish community

Media Credit: Danielle Towers | Assistant Photo Editor

With students back on campus, GW Hillel's in-person Shabbat services have resumed in the organization's newly-opened building.

After unveiling their new building this summer, leaders of GW Hillel said they hope to use their new facility to host more in-person events and continue to grow a community for Jewish students on campus. 

The new four-story facility located at 2300 H St. opened in July, housing GW Hillel on the first two floors and the Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service on the third and fourth floors. Hillel’s new space features a rooftop, study lounges and a Kosher dining venue that may open in the next few weeks – all new facilities that Hillel leaders said will provide more space for students to gather and socialize with peers as the GW community returns to campus life.

Hillel’s previous building at the site was more than 30 years old when its reconstruction project began in 2018 in the wake of a nearly four-year legal zoning battle between neighbors around Foggy Bottom. Leaders of GW Hillel said the COVID-19 pandemic caused minor construction delays, slowing furniture orders and communication with contractors. 

Hillel has hosted a series of events in the new building to welcome students back to the on-campus community during the first week of class, according to the organization’s Instagram page. Hillel organized  “Bagel Brunch” for students to socialize and celebrate the first day of classes, a Shabbat dinner and a “Welcome Back BBQ” throughout the week.

Adena Kirstein, the executive director of GW Hillel, said she hopes events hosted  within the new building this year will give members the space to think critically about how their Jewish values can help create positive change in the world. 

“My dream for this space has always been that it’s a reflection of the mission of our organization – a place where students can build community, feel ‘seen’ and gain a sense of belonging and think critically about how their Jewish values can be used to do positive things in the world,” Kirstein said in an email.

She said the building’s full-service dining venue will accept GWorld and operate like a cafe with walk-up service open to all students on campus. She said the venue, located on the lower level, will give students a place to break bread and meet other members of Hillel. 

Kirstein said the second floor will serve as a living room for members with couches, snacks and coffee. She said she hopes the building will help students socialize and build community with amenities like food and common spaces.

“We have dreamed and worked toward opening this new home for over 13 years,” she said. “When I started my work at GW Hillel in July 2010, it was already a constant conversation.  To be able to cross the finish line and see friends showing one another the new space, to see new students who never knew how Hillel could be a part of their lives and to have it all happen after this challenging period we’ve all faced – it is leaving me in daily awe.”

She said she is grateful for the new building because it can be used to welcome students back to campus with “joy and intention” following the challenges and pain students experienced during the pandemic. She said she hopes members can renew old relationships, reshape Hillel’s priorities and think critically about their community because of the buildings reopening.

“I really view this space as first and foremost a community center,” she said. “I hope all at GW – not just Jewish students – will feel they can come, grab a bite, meet someone new and find a new space for belonging within the walls of this new home.”

Junior Jessica Carr, the co-president of the Jewish Student Association, said the new building will offer students spaces to study in addition to the penthouse floor with a campus view. She said the building will help satisfy the needs of a wider variety of students who can now host “niche” events simultaneously on different floors, like Shabbat dinners coinciding with orientation activities geared for sophomores acclimating to campus. 

“This building makes it easier for Hillel to have a permanent home on campus and gives students a place to come throughout the week,” Carr said in an email.

Junior Rose Kesselman, the other Jewish Student Association co-president, said leaders have already used the new building to host two Shabbat dinners and a pre-orientation for the incoming freshman class.

“The new building has improved my experience with Hillel by providing an amazing space that I and students alike can gather in and celebrate the Jewish holidays,” she said in an email.

She said the new building will give Hillel an opportunity to reinvent and reintroduce the organization to the GW Jewish community.

“I’m most excited for Friday night Shabbat services and dinners to unwind after a long week and spend time in the beautiful space with other members of the community,” she said. 

 

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