Renovated Hillel at WSU is cause for celebration.
It was a housewarming of sorts — a community celebration of the recently renovated Hillel of Metro Detroit’s (HMD) offices at Wayne State University. A group of 130 Jewish community leaders, Hillel supporters, students and university officials cheerfully crowded together on the sixth floor of the Student Center on April 15 for a reception and dedication.
There were many compliments on the modern, attractive facilities, but the event was equally a celebration of Jewish student life and the Jewish community’s strong connection with Wayne.
“While Hillel of Metro Detroit promotes Jewish student life at six local schools, the investment that Wayne State has made in Jewish life on campus merits special recognition,” said Miriam Starkman, HMD executive director.
Hillel has been housed at Wayne’s Student Center since it opened in 1969, and the space had become somewhat outdated. Fortunately, WSU decided to redo the entire Student Center, including a complete renovation of Hillel’s 3,500-square-foot offices.
The new space includes a comfortable lounge with a large flat-screen television, more desks and study areas with laptop connections, a library, conference room, printing center and offices. There are two kosher kitchens as well, but Gold ‘n’ Greens, the university’s dairy kosher cafeteria that opened in 2012, is popular with students who keep kosher as well as many others.
Student Chavivah Bluth created a mezuzah that adorns the HMD entrance. The event was chaired by Elaine Driker and sponsored by Talmer Bank and Telemus Capital.
Home Away From Home
For students such as Rachel Miller, a senior from West Bloomfield, Hillel provides a chance to be with other Jewish students.
“I’m here all the time,” she said. Initially she knew a few people at Hillel, but soon met more and began to participate in activities. Miller is vice president of the Jewish Student Organization at Wayne, one of five Jewish organizations on the WSU campus.
Hannah Fine, a sophomore who lives in Detroit, is a peer network engagement intern for Hillel. She helps students find a Jewish connection, especially those who “maybe wouldn’t have come through the door without a little push.” Fine also works on Hillel’s “Jewish in the D” activities that attract students, young professionals and community activists.
Hillel officials estimate that 300 of the approximately 400 Jewish students at Wayne participate with the organization in some way. While activities promote Jewish values, holidays and Israel, all are welcome to participate, according to Margo Lazar, Hillel’s development director.
To HMD President Sidney Katz, who spoke at the celebration, participation in Hillel promotes “a strong, viable Jewish community. Hillel is a home away from home for Jewish students.” He believes that having a Jewish presence on campus is increasingly important because of growing anti-Semitism and support for divestment from Israel.
Starkman described HMD as a “scrappy Hillel” that does a lot with its resources, serving students who are mainly commuters on six Detroit-area campuses. “We have amazing relationships and partnerships,” she said.
Dr. M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State, spoke of the “Jewish community’s close and enduring relationship with the university.” In his travels around campus, he has noticed that most of the names on university buildings are those of Jewish donors.
Wilson expressed pride about the law school’s newest faculty member — Carl Levin, who recently retired from the U.S. Senate. He said that Eugene Driker, a prominent lawyer and former member of the WSU Board of Governors, will chair the board of advisers for the Levin Center, a project of the WSU Law School named after the senator.
Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, praised those present for their “support of Jewish life in Metro Detroit.” According to the Pew Research Center, attending college is one of the main commonalities of American Jews, regardless of their religious affiliation. Fingerhut said there are 400,000 Jewish undergraduates in the U.S. and Hillel is active on 550 campuses in North America.
“We have Jewish students and future Jewish leaders in our hands,” he said, “and their choice to be part of the Jewish people matters to all of us.”
By Shari S. Cohen, Special to the Jewish News
HMD At A Glance:
- Hillel of Metro Detroit was founded in 1948 to connect Jewish students at Wayne State University.
- HMD serves students at six Detroit-area campuses: Lawrence Technological University, Oakland Community College, Oakland University, University of Detroit Mercy, University of Michigan-Dearborn and Wayne State University.
- HMD involves more than 1,000 local Jewish students annually in social get-togethers, community service, holiday and Israel celebrations, and Jewish education programs.
- The HMD staff and headquarters are based at the newly renovated Hillel offices in the Wayne State Student Center Building on the Gullen Mall.
A Midtown Bus Tour Shows Jewish Links
Approximately 35 individuals took advantage of a bus tour of Midtown Detroit that preceded the celebration at Hillel’s newly renovated quarters.
Eugene Driker, former member of the Wayne State University Board of Governors and now president of the Wayne State University (WSU) Foundation, was the official “tour guide,” with additional comments provided by WSU Dean of Students David Strauss and Elaine Driker, a board member and past president of HMD.
Eugene Driker provided some historical background about the Jewish community and Wayne, which had its origins as the Detroit College of Medicine in 1868.
“Wayne has a long and deep history with the Jewish community,” he said, pointing out that 15 campus buildings are named after Jewish donors.
He highlighted the economic growth in the Midtown area, evident by new residential, retail, academic and medical buildings recently completed or under way. The bus route included the Shinola and Whole Foods locations in Midtown; both stores have received national news coverage for their success.
“Universities are economic engines,” he explained, noting that 40 percent of the jobs based in Detroit are located in what is now called “Greater Downtown Detroit,” encompassing Midtown, the Central Business District, Corktown, Lafayette Park and the Riverfront.
The tour bus stopped outside Techtown, a business incubator on the northern part of the campus, which he described as “a building bursting with young people.”