Hillel builds a home at Hopkins

Facility: A new center for a Jewish student group will hold its grand opening tomorrow on the Homewood campus.

May 01, 2004|By Lauren Harner | Lauren Harner,SUN STAFF

Visitors are welcomed by an inscription that reads: "Let your house be wide open."

The maxim in the lobby of the new Hillel building on the Johns Hopkins University campus is more than a cheery salutation. It is an affirmation of the building's purpose.

"A good Hillel is one that reflects the Jewish values of being welcoming," said Rabbi Joseph Menashe, the director of Hillel at Hopkins.

The recently completed Smokler Center for Jewish Life, Harry and Jeanette Weinberg building, will have its grand opening at 10 a.m. tomorrow, although students have been using it for several weeks. And while Hillel is a national, nonprofit organization for Jewish college students, officials hope that all Hopkins students will feel comfortable using the building.

"It's meant to be welcoming to everyone," said Beth Gansky, the acting executive director of the Greater Baltimore chapter of Hillel. "We certainly hope it's not just the Jewish students at Hopkins who take advantage of it."

The new building, a gift to the university from Hillel, was needed for several reasons. One of them was space, said sophomore Stephanie Hauser, president of the campus Hillel.

"The Jewish population at Hopkins has been growing over the last few years, and the active population as well," Hauser said.

Before the center opened several weeks ago, the group held its lectures, meetings and banquets in other campus buildings.

Hillel had another reason for building the center: to give the organization an identifiable home on the Homewood campus.

"The Jewish community at Hopkins needed a place to call their own," Gansky said.

Located on a 16,000-square- foot lot, the four-story, brown-brick Hillel center - built to blend with the architecture of the neighborhood - has facilities for students to read, study sacred texts, watch television and hold dinners for Shabbat every Friday.

The $5 million building was financed largely by contributions from several large donors, including alumnus Irving Smokler and his wife, Carol, and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

"The Smokler Center is going to be a wonderful addition to campus life in terms of Jewish campus life, but also in enhancing understanding among all our students," said university spokesman Dennis O'Shea.

The building's location at 3109 N. Charles St., O'Shea said, is a "wonderful physical location where important things can happen."

Tomorrow's grand opening will begin with the hanging of a Mezuzah - a small case containing parchment with passages from the Torah - on the doorpost, followed by remarks by dignitaries, a walk through the Baltimore Museum of Art sculpture garden and a reception at the center.

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