As you squeeze into Hillel next week, seeking a place among the overflowing crowd to enjoy your Passover lunch, the leaders of the campus Jewish center are hoping you will recognize that the organization has outgrown it building and needs a new facility.
They’re also hoping you will make a pledge to help pay for that new building, because they need to raise $12 million to establish the Karen and Saul Gamoran Center for Jewish Life. Rabbi Dan Bridge, Hillel executive director, reports they already have $7.3 million pledged toward the effort, including a leadership gift from the Gamoran family.
The new Hillel, slated to break ground in early 2002 and expected to be completed by spring 2003, will include 26,000 square feet of multi-use space – dramatically larger than the current 6-year-old building of 3,200 square feet. The agency has already purchased three neighboring lots to accommodate the new facility without having to move.
Bridge said he was thrilled with the response from the community so far and optimistic that Hillel’s supporters will make the new building a reality. “The committee has done a great job raising funds and people are very excited about it in the community. We have had no refusals. No one has said no,” he said. “I hope this says that the general Jewish community in Seattle recognizes that Hillel has been effective in building a community for students and young adults and they want to invest in that.”
The light-filled Gamoran Center was designed by Seattle architects The Miller Hull Partnership, and will include an expanded library, multiple worship spaces (including the ability to host services for 400), a kosher café, a performance theater with seats for 175, offices for students, a dining room large enough for 200 to sit down, a kosher kitchen with both meat and milk facilities (and real plates and linens), a private space for professional counseling, a biblical garden, classrooms, more than 40 parking spaces and lots of places for young people to hang out or do their homework. Karen Gamoran commended the planning and thought that went into designing what she calls a flexible, multi-use, pluralistic, inclusive place for Jewish life.
The planning committee stresses that the most exciting part of the new building will not be its size or its beauty but its ability to meet the many different needs of young Jews in Seattle. For example, on Friday night, the Gamoran Center could host multiple Shabbat services to meet the diverse religious needs of students and young adults. Then all the different worshipers could gather together for one kosher Shabbat meal.
In the current building, it’s difficult to hold more than one class or activity at a time (unless participants are willing to meet on the couch downstairs), let alone more than one service.
Two to three years ago, the organization’s leadership created a strategic plan, in which students and community members envisioned their dream for Hillel. “We looked at our facility and realized we couldn’t reach near our dream with our current building,” Bridge said.
The new facility is modeled after successful new Hillels at Yale, Harvard, Tufts, Columbia and NYU. “They all said participation tripled after they built their new facilities,” Bridge said, adding that he believes Hillel is not reaching 70 to 80 percent of the young adults in the community. He believes the new building will make it possible to expand programming to appeal to a broader, more diverse community of young adults — to “find them and hook them up.”
Gameron participated in the Hillel “road trip” to tour some of these new Hillels and said her personal commitment to bringing a similar facility to Seattle jelled in the kitchen at Yale. “That’s where all good ideas come to people,” in the kitchen, she said with a smile.
Campaign Chair Michele Rosen said the new Hillel will also be a brand-new resource for the entire community — a beautiful new space for meetings and lectures and celebrations. “We want people to access it,” she said.
If plans work out, it could also be a new resource for the University of Washington. Bridge said Hillel is talking to university officials about setting up a kosher dining plan for students. The dream is to allow students to eat in the Hillel café with their dorm dining passes.
The $12 million campaign will pay for the land, build the new building and create an endowment for programs and building maintenance. The new building will cost a lot more to keep open and filled with activities, and the endowment will help meet that need. Jeff and Judy Greenstein have pledged to endow Bridge’s position. The endowed Leadership Chair was the first of its kind in the country when the Greensteins’ committed their gift.
Included in the $7.3 million pledged so far is a $60,000 grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s Capital Needs Committee. The federation also gave Hillel a $40,000 loan to get the project started. “We have many partners in this endeavor,” Rosen emphasized.
For the 15 months it takes to construct the new facility, Hillel staff and students will be “wandering Jews” — probably spread out over several campus facilities — but this part of the plan is not yet definite. “That’s a challenge I kind of look forward to,” Bridge said, adding that the students and young adults will have to be very creative and some new and innovative programming may result.
“There’s going to be an explosion of interest and involvement here. With the endowment being built into the campaign, we’ll have the wherewithal to support that,” Bridge said, looking ahead to the future. “We’ll be able to accommodate so many more different types of Jewish experiences at once.”
Hillel publicly kicks off its capital and endowment campaign on May 10, with a Debbie Friedman concert at Benaroya Hall. For more information, call 206-527-1997.