This past weekend, Dartmouth College Hillel celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Roth Center for Jewish Life, which opened in 1998 following a donation by Steven Roth ’62 TU’63. The weekend’s events included various services, meals and speeches by alumni, students and guests reflecting on how the Roth Center has fostered community at the College.
Hillel vice president Jaclyn Eagle ’19 said that the existence of the Roth Center on campus has drastically improved student membership and involvement in Jewish life.
“For a very long time, Hillel at Dartmouth was nomadic,” Eagle said. “They would sort of move from room to room and didn’t really have a space. Because of that, the organization itself wasn’t super strong and was made up of only those who were extremely dedicated and wasn’t able to attract other involvement as it does now.”
Alumni in attendance ranged from those who graduated in the 1950s to recent alumni from the Class of 2017, according to Hillel president Talia Lorch ’20. She added that this event was likely the most well-attended one in the Roth Center’s history, with over 50 alumni in attendance.
“The alumni commitment to the Roth Center and Dartmouth College Hillel was really beautiful to see,” Lorch said.
Roth Center director and head rabbi Edward Boraz said that the presence of many generations of alumni and students sharing their experiences created a deep sense of intergenerational connection and gratitude.
“There was a theme that ran throughout the weekend of the importance of continuity,” Boraz said. “Whether one was religious or not, rituals and tradition were important to their experiences at Dartmouth.”
Boraz said that among the most moving moments of the weekend was before Friday dinner when 110 people lined the walls of the Roth Center with arms around one another singing a traditional song sung on the Sabbath.
“You could just feel in the room a sense of intergenerational connection that was moving,” Boraz said. “I think the people that were there will remember that for quite some time.
On Apr. 21, Hillel held a ceremony for the dedication of its recently-restored 157 year-old scroll from Brno, Czech Republic, which was recovered after the Holocaust. The scroll was taken by the Nazis during their occupation of the country and was finally recovered in 2000, according to Eagle. She was among those who spoke at the ceremony about the importance of Judaism, not just as a religion, but also as a source of family, community and tradition.
“It’s not just a religious object, it’s also a historical and personal object,” Eagle said.
On Apr. 21, Thomas Buergenthal, who is a Holocaust survivor, former judge of the International Court of Justice and professor of comparative law and jurisprudence at George Washington University Law School, spoke at both the lunch and the dedication of the Holocaust scroll at the Roth Center. He was brought to Dartmouth through both the Dickey Center for International Understanding and the Tucker Center for the Rabbi Marshall Meyer Great Issues Lecture on Social Justice, and spoke to the public Dartmouth community on Apr. 19.
According to Boraz, Buergenthal spoke of the importance of history and remembrance of the past in order to participate in building a more just world.
Lorch said that Buergenthal not only offered his wisdom to the community, but was also very interested in speaking to and learning about the students and alumni present at the events.
“It was amazing when he spoke about how he came from the former Czechoslovakia and that’s where the Torah came from as well, and how it was special for him to be at an event where we were dedicating a Torah that could have so easily came from his own hometown,” Lorch said.
Roth himself was also in attendance at the weekend’s events, speaking on Apr. 21.
“It was really nice to see the man who was generous enough to donate the building where I spend most of my time on campus,” Lorch said. “I think all of us at Hillel are really grateful for the building itself … being able to meet the person responsible for it was really nice for all of us.”
Boraz said that the weekend’s events made it clear that the Roth Center has made a meaningful difference in the community of Dartmouth College Hillel.
“I dare say that without the Roth Center for Jewish life, we wouldn’t have the richness of community that we have today,” he said.
Eagle is a member of The Dartmouth senior staff.