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W&L Cuts the Ribbon on New Hillel House

Joan Robins, director of Hillel at W&L, addresses the dedication of the Hillel House.
Joan Robins, director of Hillel at W&L, addresses the dedication of the Hillel House.
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Jeffery G. Hanna
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Washington and Lee University officially dedicated its new Hillel House on Saturday, Sept. 25, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and expressions of gratitude to the many individuals whose contributions made the $4 million, 7,000-square-foot facility a reality.

"At Washington and Lee, our buildings reflect our values," W&L President Kenneth P. Ruscio told the gathering. "Our buildings are more than a collection of bricks and mortar, of shingles and roofs. In a letter that he wrote to the oldest synagogue in America, George Washington wrote: ‘In America, we give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.' The Hillel House represents a place for Jewish students and the rest of the community to gather. But it is also a deep reflection of the values we hold dear here at Washington and Lee."

Ruscio, like all the other speakers, paid tribute to the numerous individuals who had worked tirelessly over the past five years on the project. Among others, he cited the work of Joan Robins, director of W&L's Hillel, and Dennis Cross, vice president for advancement at W&L, in raising the funds for the project.

"This is personally meaningful to so many people, and Dennis and Joan took such pride, themselves, in, as much as anything, having those conversations with people about their time at Washington and Lee and about their experience as Jewish students at Washington and Lee," Ruscio said.

In her remarks, Deb Geiger, director of the Soref Initiative for Emerging Campuses at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, singled out the partnership the new facility represents. "This Hillel House is proof of a university that truly invests in Jewish student life and in support of a Jewish community," Geiger said. "It is unprecedented in Hillel's history that a building has been funded by as many trustees, emeritus trustees, alumni and community members who are not Jewish, along with Jewish donors, as has occurred with construction of this structure. This house is a leader in showing what partnership can and should look like."

Connectedness was a theme of the remarks made by Mark Grunewald, interim dean of the W&L School of Law and a longtime supporter of the University's Hillel.

W&L President Kenneth P. Ruscio cuts the ribbon on Hillel House. From left, Steve Marks of the Class of 1959, senior Graham Sheridan, Ruscio, and W&L Hillel Director Joan RobinsSpeaking about the relationship between the University and the Jewish community in Lexington, Grunewald noted that with the services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in Hillel House earlier this month, members of the Jewish community in Lexington and at the University were finally able to observe the holy days in Lexington, rather than having to travel elsewhere.

Said Grunewald: "This house which stands behind me, with its many links to Jewish life and tradition and its prominent position on campus and in town, provides in ways that many sincere efforts never could, a practical and a symbolic connection for Washington and Lee Jewish students, faculty, staff and alumni with the place in which they live, work and learn."

On behalf of his fellow students, Brian Cherry, a Washington and Lee senior from Dresher, Pa., and president of W&L Hillel, said that the facility had surpassed the expectations that he and other Hillel members had.

"I spend a lot of time in this building, so it is nice, of course, to enjoy its aesthetic and modern features," Cherry said. "But the building is much more than this. It gives me great pleasure to say that Jewish students now have a home at Washington and Lee."

In his invocation, Hank Dobin, dean of the College, said that "Jews don't use the term miracle lightly. Miracles are at the heart of the central story of Jewish history - the liberation from slavery in Egypt. So to say that standing here, in front of this beautiful building in the company of our friends and our family on this beautiful day, to say that this is somewhat of a miracle, then you know that the collective determination and action of all those who made this possible have, in fact, made real God's hope for us to act like human beings and to build a better world of justice, understanding and peace."

The ribbon-cutting was preceded by the hanging of the mezuzah on the door of the building, and followed by a performance by Cantatrici, the University's new, all-female choral group. They performed "Shalom Chaverim," arranged for the occasion by Shane Lynch, director of choral activities at W&L.

W&L Hillel is a member of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world. Alumni and friends of W&L contributed more than $4 million to make the project possible. The building is located at 117 W. Washington St., adjacent to R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church.