Center for Jewish Life opens today

by Jennifer Hickey | 11/7/97 6:00am

Five years after the Board of Trustees approved the construction of a new home for the College's Hillel, the $4 million Roth Center for Jewish Life is complete, and the facility will officially open at a public ceremony this afternoon.

The dedication is expected to draw more than 400 people, including College President James Freedman and Steven Roth '62, the New York City real estate developer whose family donated $1.1 million for the project. The event begins at 3 p.m.

Participants will hang a mezuzah over the door and carry a Torah donated by the Roth family into the building. The facility will be used jointly by the Upper Valley Jewish Community and Hillel, the College's Jewish students' organization.

"It's a new beginning, a jumping-off point that makes it possible for Jewish students and community members to contribute more deeply to life up here," College Rabbi Daniel Siegel said in a statement. "Now it will be even easier for Jews who are serious about their Judaism to come here."

The 11,000-square foot building was designed by the New York City architectural firm of Kliment & Halsband and houses a main room which can seat 225 people. Adjacent to the main room is a restaurant-quality kosher kitchen, which is ideally suited for functions and Bar Mitzvahs.

The building includes classrooms for religious education, offices, a Jewish library and a game room.

Former Hillel President Shirley Sperling '98 said the most exciting feature of the Roth Center is its ability to accommodate a large number of people at once -- a vast improvement on the cramped Hillel House near Hanover High School on Summer Street. The building will now house the Cobra secret society.

"We knew that we needed a building for about 12 or 14 years," said Siegel. "We had no space and the Summer Street Hillel House was really just an experiment."

Hillel's move to the new lot next to Delta Delta Delta sorority met with controversy in 1993 when 70 Occom Ridge Road residents submitted a petition opposing the move to Freedman and the Board of Trustees.

However, after hearing the residents' concerns about parking, sizeand traffic, the Office of Facilities Planning reduced the Center's size and increased the amount of parking to accommodate them.

Since then, Siegel said the Center's neighbors have been "very friendly" and will actually be holding a meeting in the building in the coming months.