Renovated Hillel building expected to open starting Fall Quarter after months of construction

The+Northwestern+Hillel+building+at+629+Foster+St.+prior+to+renovations.+Hillel+partnered+with+the+Religious+Action+Center+to+host+a+teach-in+on+civic+engagement.%0A

Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

The Northwestern Hillel building at 629 Foster St. prior to renovations. Hillel partnered with the Religious Action Center to host a teach-in on civic engagement.

Grace Wu, Reporter

Northwestern Hillel, which has been recently housed in 1835 Hinman Ave. due to construction, is anticipated to return to its 629 Foster St. location in time for Fall Quarter.

The building will be renamed the Abel and Judy Friedman Center for Jewish Life in the Louis and Saerree Fiedler Hillel in honor of Abel and Judy Friedman, benefactors whose contribution allowed for the renovations to occur over the past couple of months, according to Executive Director Michael Simon.

On Nov. 15, 2019, Hillel moved out of the Louis and Saerree Fiedler Hillel Center, where it had been housed since 1999, into its temporary home in the 1835 Hinman dorm, according to Simon.

“It (has) always been a space where students have come and hung out — whether they were doing their homework (or having) meetings and study groups,” Simon said. “But it hasn’t been anywhere near the potential because it hasn’t had that kind of user-friendliness.”

Weinberg senior and Hillel student executive board member Adam Downing said he was briefed on the overall plan.

“Essentially, it’s just a re-look at the space and say, ‘How can we make it more conducive to student life, and how can we make it a space that fits the 21st-century student on Northwestern’s campus?’” Downing said.

Simon cited two purposes for the renovations: making the space more engaging for the students and “reimagin(ing) what Hillel can be for the campus.” The renovation plans include redesigning the interior spaces to create mobility for student activities, with multiple mobile partitions that can redesignate space for activities and alcoves with snacks and coffee, and creating an integrated glass-windowed staff office.

Weinberg senior and president of the student executive board Tamar Jacobsohn discussed what the renovations and new space mean for the Northwestern Jewish community.

“The renovations have been a long time coming,” Jacobsohn said. “It’s been something (the Hillel community has) been thinking about: (making) the building not only just a center for Jewish life, which it is, but also a place where students can come and spend time with other Jewish or non-Jewish students and just enjoy the space as a space on campus.”

In addition, the renovation plans include the installment of more technology, such as updated AV systems and video-conferencing abilities, Simon said. These plans — made well before the pandemic — will allow students and their families to continue to participate in Hillel-sponsored activities, such as Shabbat, while there are still restrictions on gatherings.

Construction of the Hillel building continued under a modified timeline due to physical distancing requirements during the initial months of the pandemic, Simon said. The building is owned by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and not the University, so the construction timeline is independent of the University’s plans, according to Simon.

The renovations are expected to be finished within four to six weeks, Simon said. The staff’s belongings and other furniture are expected to be moved into the new space sometime in August.

However, upon reopening, the physical space is not immediately available for its intended use: large student gatherings.

“It’s complicated, and it’s something we will face as a community,” Downing said. “The initial reaction (is) it’s super frustrating. We want to have a space, we want to be able to congregate, we want to be able to be in these big ruckus groups of people celebrating the things that we’re passionate about. But we also understand the realities. That’s not the world we live in right now.”

As is the reality for all student groups, executive boards have been or will be making plans for how to engage their communities when there are restrictions on gatherings. Hillel leadership has repeatedly emphasized prioritizing student health and wellness and not rushing to utilize the renovated space, both Simon and Jacobsohn said.

“When we were designing blueprints for the space, we weren’t envisioning a global pandemic coming in a few months later,” Downing said. “The world’s in an entirely different place, and by comparison, Hillel is in an entirely different place.”

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Twitter: @gracewu_10

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