Hillel’s 30-year dream a reality at groundbreaking

Courtney Cook

Leaders of the Hillel of Kent community with President Lester Lefton break ground for the new Hillel facility on Summit Street yesterday afternoon. The new facility will be 11,000 square feet. Gavin Jackson | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

WATCH an audio slideshow of Hillel’s groundbreaking ceremony.

Hillel of Kent broke ground for the new Jewish student center with gold and blue painted shovels last night at 613 Summit St.

Guests of all ages — including current Kent State students, alumni, community leaders and regional Hillel executives, President Lester Lefton and Ohio Sen. Kevin Coughlin — addressed the event.

The celebration began at 3:30 p.m. with a student carnival including games, raffles for Best Buy and Target gift certificates and free frozen drinks and popcorn.

Jennifer Chestnut, director of Hillel at Kent, started the celebration by thanking the dozens of people involved and saying the occasion would have been impossible without their help.

“What we are building here is much more than temporary,” Chestnut said. “This is a place where we hope to host many celebrations for many years.”

Joel Abramson, student chair of Hillel of Kent, said when he came to Kent State from Florida, the organization reached out to him and allowed him to reevaluate his religious beliefs.

“This building means so much because it’s not just a place for shabbat,” Abramson said. “It’s a place to study, do laundry or get coffee — a place I plan to spend a lot of my time.”

Lefton expressed his excitement that Hillel of Kent is able to make this dream, which has been anticipated for decades, a reality.

“Thirty years is a long time to wait,” Lefton said. “But good things come to those who wait, and this is definitely a good thing.”

Lefton said that Hillel’s commitment to diversity at Kent State goes way beyond members of the organization, and way beyond the Kent campus.

“This is a big job and I extend recognition to all who helped in any way,” Lefton said. “I can’t wait for the next celebration when we begin to use the building we’re celebrating here today.”

“This is the first Hillel of its kind on state land and the first in the country to obtain state funds for the facility,” Chestnut said.

Joseph Kanfer, honorary capital campaign manager, said that Hillel has already raised $3.1 million toward the project, but it still needs $400,000.

“Really, in the end, it’s just about making things happen,” Kanfer said. “This here, today, is a miracle. We are building not only for today, but for future generations.”

Coughlin praised Hillel on their dedication to preserving diversity on the Kent campus.

“Jewish students who come through this university will now have a wonderful new place to celebrate their beliefs and their religions,” Coughlin said.

David Silverman, senior sports administration major, and Alyse Rothenberg, senior early childhood education major, expressed their anticipation for the new facility, even though they won’t be around next year to use it daily.

“I’m excited it’s finally taking place, but it’s a shame that I can’t take full advantage of the new student center,” Silverman said. “I’m very excited, however, to return and visit as often as I can.”

Architect Marc Cohen, a Kent State science and architecture alumnus, was among those involved in the designing of the building. He was involved in Hillel as a student.

“The best part about this is I have the opportunity to take their vision and their dream and turn it into a reality,” Cohen said.

Contact religion reporter Courtney Cook .