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Georgia College's Hillel Opens House for Jewish Students

Georgia College Front Page (October 19, 2020)

Hillel House at Georgia College

Georgia College’s Hillel was established 12 years ago—but it never had an actual house. Until now.

Thanks to recent assistance from the GC Foundation, 200 Jewish students have a place to call their own.

“It’s mind blowing. This all coincided at the same time. The stars aligned,” said Dr. Karen Berman, artistic director and chair of theatre and dance and advisor of Hillel at Georgia College.

Dr. Karen Berman

“To find a house within walking distance to campus is remarkable on its own,” she said, “and we’ve found a beautiful house. It’s like the heavens opened up and rained down gifts on us.”

Hillel International—The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life is an organization named after Hillel the Elder, a Jewish sage in the first century known for developing the “Golden Rule.” Many universities and colleges have houses for their Hillel groups—which offer Jewish students a safe meeting space.

About a year ago, GC Foundation purchased a brick house at 321 N. Clarke Street as an investment property. The foundation’s Real Property Committee, led by Max Crook, had the house renovated, and many potential uses were considered. Berman and local donors hoped to lease the house, but they didn’t have the money for long-term payments.

In stepped Elliot Karp, CEO of Hillels of Georgia. He was impressed by what Berman calls “a small and mighty Hillel” and the group’s ability to achieve what larger schools accomplish without funding or resources, like hosting Holocaust survivor talks and art exhibits. Karp agreed to set up a sponsorship campaign to collect donations for the lease and additional programming.

The news was published in the Atlanta Jewish Times, and Georgia College President Dr. Steve Dorman provided the first donation.

“This shows the dedication of both Georgia College and Hillels of Georgia,” Berman said. “This tells parents of prospective students there’s a supportive environment here for their children. That makes a big difference.”

“Now, we’ll have the house and a sign out front,” she said. “It’s going to be real.”

Senior communications major Abbie Frankel of Marietta is president of Hillel. When applying to the university, Frankel was discouraged to learn there was no house for Hillel. But she was happy to find a Hillel group, because she said it’s important to associate with other Jewish students while away from home.

Hillel President Abbie Frankel (left) and Rachel Jeneff (right) hand out bagels for the Yom Kippur holiday.

Although a rabbi visits campus regularly, the nearest synagogue is 45 minutes away in Macon. This makes the campus Hillel a vital link, connecting Jewish students with their culture and religion. Having a house gives them a place to make meals that accommodate a kosher lifestyle. Recently, the group held a “Break-Fast” meal at sunset with bagels on their front lawn for the Yom Kippur holiday. They also held a grab-and-go boxed Shabbat dinner and a Rosh Hashanah event with traditional apples, honey and challah.

“It’s truly difficult for me to put into words what this means to me as a student,” Frankel said. “This home opens so many doors for our current and future students.”

“Getting this space makes me feel it’s official in a way. That may sound silly,” she said. “But, previously, we were an organization that couldn’t hold events if we couldn’t find a place to host them.”

Hillel Houses also act as an important recruiting tool for prospective students. Berman fields hundreds of calls from parents, inquiring if the university has a Hillel House. It’s not always enough to have a group. Without an actual house, she said, many parents simply hang up and look elsewhere.

Hillels of Georgia provides capital for multiple Hillel Houses throughout the state. So, Berman believes funding will continue for many years to come.

Hillel members in front of their new house.

The new house has plenty of room for meetings, study areas and a lounge for relaxation and movie nights. The group will hold game activities and multi-cultural events there, as well. The kitchen, bathroom, wood floors, screened-in porch and roof have been renovated. The front sidewalk was also repaired and landscaping done.

Due to COVID-19, dedication of the house has been postponed until large crowds can gather. All former Hillel board members will be invited. A rabbi will come to bless the house with doorposts containing the Ten Commandments.

Until then, the group will meet at the house in small numbers—social distancing with masks.

It’s more than they could’ve hoped for.

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