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MIT Hillel Dedicates New Religious Center

By Eva Moy
Senior Editor

MIT Hillel formally dedicated its new Hillel Center in Building W11 Sunday afternoon. About 90 people attended the ceremony, including many alumni, students, and President Charles M. Vest.

The former Center for Advanced Visual Studies building, on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Amherst Alley, was renovated by MIT to be used as a religious center. The religious groups moved into their new space at the beginning of the term, after the renovations were completed.

The new building is beautiful and welcoming, said MIT Hillel Acting Director Miriam Rosenblum. It is also located at the center of campus, "and we're feeling that too," she said.

"It's such a world of difference to see all these people in a place we can call home," said Joshua D. Milner '95.

One of the highlights of the afternoon included the Mezuzah Ceremony. The mezuzah is a parchment containing two scriptural passages affixed on the door of Jewish houses and Jewish spaces, Rosenblum said.

Hillel also presented President Charles M. Vest with an art print entitled "God Created" after he spoke at the ceremony. The inscription reads, "In appreciation of MIT's support for making the Hillel Center a reality."

The ceremony was followed by entertainment: Jewish folk dancing with a klezmer band. Vest joined in the circle dance, Rosenblum said.

The religious chaplains were previously housed in Building W2. Hillel also held several of its functions at Walker Memorial, with a prayer room and kosher kitchen in the basement and a suhkah on the ground floor porch, Rosenblum said. Both buildings were old and not handicapped accessible, she said.

The new Hillel Center houses a Judaic library with over 3,000 volumes, and is a place for daily study, assembly, and worship, Rosenblum said. Hillel offers Hebrew classes during the term, and Rosenblum will teach a dance class during the Independent Activities Period, she said.

Other facilities in the building include the Muslim prayer room and the adjoining ablution - or cleaning - room, dining rooms, kosher kitchens, conference rooms, chaplains' offices, and student groups' offices.

The building will be formally dedicated in the spring, said Senior Associate Dean Robert M. Randolph, who has been working with the chaplains. Plans have not been finalized yet, he said.

Judaism is a culture

"Judaism is a social religion, and we need a warm environment for our youths to pray together, learn together, and socialize together," said Normal Leventhal '38, chairman of the MIT Hillel Board of Directors in his speech Sunday.

"Judaism is not just a language, it's a whole culture," including language, dance, and music, Rosenblum said. Hillel and the chaplains provide support to students and faculty, whatever their level of observance, she said. Some people just need a place to celebrate the High Holy Days, for example.

The role of Hillel is to "provide a sense of home away from home and enrich the lives of generations to come," Vest said in his speech.

Although the space for the Hillel Center was provided by the Institute, the furniture and architectural design were funded by Hillel. They are still in the middle of a capital campaign, Rosenblum said.

"So many alumni are so committed to insuring that religious life can continue to flourish on the MIT campus," Rosenblum said.

"Today MIT Hillel is the center of a vibrant Jewish community on the MIT campus," according to the dedication program. "A rich array of programs - social, religious, education, cultural, and social action - bring together MIT's students with faculty and staff to celebrate their Jewish heritage."

The chaplains have shared office space together for years, Rosenblum said. "We work together and find the common ground," mutual respect in terms of professions and religions, she said.

Deena Disraelly contributed to the reporting of this story.