400 attend Roth Center opening

by Jen Taylor | 11/10/97 6:00am

A rainy day could not dampen the joy felt by a crowd of nearly 400 students, faculty and alumni who gathered on Friday for the parade and celebration that surrounded the official dedication of the Roth Center for Jewish Life.

The official opening of the Roth Center marks the end of a more than 10-year quest by Jewish students at the College and Jewish members of the Upper Valley community for a permanent, serviceable programming space.

College President James Freedman, along with members of the family of Stephen Roth '62 -- who donated $1.1 million for the project -- dedicated the completed building by affixing the mezuzah to the front door of the center.

A mezuzah is a small box usually made out of ceramic or metal which is traditionally hung on the doorways of houses and contains within it the sh'mah, a proclamation of the Jewish belief in the oneness of God.

The mezuzah on the Roth Center door was designed by Dr. Daniel Nixon '55. It features two trees that represent the College, while its four colors symbolize the colors of the four seasons of Hanover.

Bruce Pacht '67, chair of the Jewish Life Foundation, delivered the welcoming address from the steps of the newly constructed center, located on Occom Ridge next to Delta Delta Delta sorority.

"We are given few opportunities to celebrate major completions, completions which contain within them the seed for even greater opportunities," he said, "but today is one of those days."

The dedication ceremony was followed by the presentation of the Torah -- the Hebrew scroll of the first five books of the Bible -- to the Center in a procession. The Torah was carried by four student members of Hillel under a green chupa, or canopy, around the building and into the sanctuary, as Hillel students sang to accompany the procession.

The main room was filled to its 225-seat capacity with standing people lining the walls and outer hall to witness the final presentation of the Torah and hear the remarks of Freedman and Roth.

College Rabbi Daniel Siegel presented a history of Hanover's Jewish community -- from the gift of the first Torah to Friday's opening of the Roth Center.

Siegel was nearly moved to tears as he discussed the evolution and development of Jewish life at the College. The Torah given by the Roth family directly to the students of Hillel symbolizes that the students "have come into their own," Siegel said.

"It is people which sanctify a place, not the building itself," Siegel said.

Following the Torah Ceremony, Roth took over the floor and casually lightened the atmosphere, with his first words: "Boy, this is really cool!"

To the amusement of the packed house, he joked, "We underbuilt this place."

Departing from his jesting tone, Roth addressed the crowd with seriousness. "We are all partners in this room," he commented, "generous of spirit, time and money."

He went on to thank those whose time and effort had been particularly valuable in making the dream of the center into a reality, including the architect and the Tucker Foundation.

Roth said the location of the Center, makes the building "as much Dartmouth as it is Jewish."

The ceremony concluded with remarks by Freedman, who was given a standing ovation.

"The turnout is truly gratifying," Freedman replied when the crowd of alumni had taken its seats once again. He called the Center a very important step in "the legitimization of the authentication of Judaism" at Dartmouth.