New UGA Hillel Location Being Remodeled, Reimagined
The Red & Black (November 17, 2022)
The University of Georgia is home to over 1,000 Jewish students, according to UGA Hillel, the local community of an international Jewish student organization.
UGA Hillel offers opportunities for these students to embrace Judaism, give back to Athens through community service and experience a feeling of familiarity at a huge Southeastern Conference school.
Wayne Keil, the interim CEO of the Hillels of Georgia, felt that UGA needed to expand its Hillel program to make it more accessible, widely known and interactive. Construction on a new center on Baxter Street began in the spring.
“This has been planned for a while,” Keil said. “Now it is getting executed and becoming a bigger priority. As the UGA Jewish population grows and Hillel at UGA becomes more successful, it is more imperative that we have this building. Now is the time to go.”
The former Baxter Street Bookstore was purchased by philanthropists Bernie and Billie Marcus to make Hillel’s vision a reality. The new space will be 10,000 square feet with two stories.
The current Hillel House is located on Milledge Avenue, but the new building will be much different.
“Compared to our old building, it’s three times the size,” Keil said. “It is also almost in the center of campus, making more opportunities for connection and partnership. This will also create opportunities for relationship building among students, staff and administration, as well as the Athens Jewish community.”
On April 24, Hillel broke ground on the building to bring the Jewish students at UGA a space they could call their own.
Hillels of Georgia set a goal of raising $8 million to fully renovate Baxter Street Bookstore into a modern space. $6 million has been put into the purchase and renovation of the space, and $2 million for upkeep and programming. So far, almost $7 million has been collected.
The vision for the new Hillel Center is for it to be exceptional and inclusive. Jeremy Lichtig, the UGA campus director of Hillel, hopes this will be the reputation UGA Hillel has for years to come.
“Any student that wants to come and hang out is welcome. We are a welcoming organization, we break down barriers and build bridges,” Lichtig said.“ It is a way to show that Judaism is a part of this community ... We want to give students the opportunity to live their best lives.”
The space will be the hub of many programs that aim to enrich the lives of Jewish students. Some of these activities offered through UGA Hillel include Jewish Learning Fellowship, Shabbat dinners, community service, Onward Israel internships and Birthright trips to Israel.
“The purpose of building this building is that it now allows the university and Hillel to be commensurate,” Keil said. “We are acknowledging that we are a big university, and a big university deserves a big Hillel.”
The new Hillel Center will be complete with a kitchen stocked with snacks, coffee and more for students.
“Imagine, you’re rolling out of bed and you think, ‘I’m going to walk across the street to get a coffee and a Danish before I go to class,’” Lichtig said. “We want this to be a fun place in the morning. We also want to create a place for students to hang out and get out of their dorms for an hour or two.”
Not only did Hillel want to create a space centered around Judaism, they also hoped to create a space that would allow for more casual get-togethers to accommodate the hustle and bustle of student life.
“There will be lots of opportunities for everyone,” Keil said. “The library and Tate Student Center get very crowded with studying, but here is a place nearby where people can do group study sessions. There will be moveable walls and tables to create your own study area.”
The Hillel Center is expected to open in fall 2023.
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