After many, many years of planning, coordination between various organizations, fundraising and construction, the long-awaited new Cleveland Hillel Foundation building has been opened. Dubbed the Albert and Norma Geller Hillel Student Center, it boasts plenty of space—12,720 square feet to be exact—for learning, worshipping, sharing experiences and so on.
As a proud Jew myself, I could not be happier with the results. It is a beautiful building to say the least; I am truly appreciative of the fact that I saw it completed during my undergraduate tenure here at Case Western Reserve University. What I did not know initially is that it includes classrooms for CWRU students, too, after the proper coordination with our great university. I wish to personally express my gratitude to President Barbara R. Snyder and the other administrators who were involved in this undertaking.
Among many other reasons, I decided to attend CWRU upon learning about the university’s efforts to increase the Jewish undergraduate student enrollment in the coming years; this happened because of a chance visit to the original Hillel building. This initiative made me feel extremely welcome, to say the least. This was especially elucidated after being asked to deliver the D’var Torah, which is similar to a sermon, on that week’s portion of the Torah at the Cleveland Hillel Foundation’s Annual Meeting of 2013 during my freshman year.
It was wonderful to be able to be honored in this way almost immediately after becoming part of the CWRU and Cleveland Jewish population.
Largely speaking, the goals of the Cleveland Hillel Foundation are starting to be reached: Jewish undergraduate student enrollment at CWRU has indeed risen since I was accepted—quite a lot actually according to recent data. Cleveland is historically a metropolitan area with much diversity—including a large Jewish presence. This combined with CWRU’s recruitment efforts seemed like an unparalleled opportunity for me to continue developing my Jewish identity.
A little background: I am not very religious. But my Judaism manifests itself culturally and through my inclination toward activism. Ever since I was a little kid, I always stood up for the underrepresented, disabled or bullied. Social justice is at the core of our Jewish teachings and acting upon such issues fulfills my obligations as a Jew.
It is this and the inclusion I have felt at CWRU that has galvanized me to want to help those on campus, off-campus and throughout our community in general who feel alienated and undervalued. And the staff at Hillel, most notably the Cleveland Metro Director, Jill Ross, has facilitated this passion of mine. This is why I am optimistic that the opening of the Hillel Center will symbolize a positive turning point in diversity efforts here at CWRU. The struggle for all of us to be fully respected and appreciated for our differences will indeed take time, but I see how the Jewish community has addressed feeling underrepresented as “a step in the right direction.”
It is my sincere hope that every CWRU student, faculty and staff member, administrator and whomever else wishes stop by and check out the new Hillel building. It is also my hope that members of our community will see this new innovation on campus as an inspiration, as it marks CWRU’s progress toward recognizing and celebrating traditionally excluded and disaffected minorities.
In the words of the historical Jewish religious scholar Hillel, “If I am not for me, who is for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Josh Lehrer is a fourth-year student at CWRU who is trying to start developing interfaith outreach programs with other religious student organizations on campus.