Rutgers Hillel aspires to collect the history of Jewish life at Rutgers, and to share these stories with you here. If you would like to contribute to our history project, or order a copy of “The Jewish Experience at Rutgers” by Ruth Marcus Patt ’40, contact us at [email protected]
Rutgers Hillel’s history matches the remarkable changes in the University and the nation during its almost 7 decades on campus. From its earliest days Hillel played a significant role in campus life, serving not only the religious needs of the campus Jewish community but also providing a center for social, political and artistic expression.
The Rutgers Hillel Foundation was established in 1943, building on the student run Hillel Council of Rutgers which had been founded three years earlier. Rabbi Julius Funk, of blessed memory, was hired as the first Hillel rabbi, and led Rutgers Hillel for the next 43 years, together with his wife Pearl.
During WWII, Rabbi Funk’s first major project was to invite First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to campus, and she visited Rutgers Hillel in January 1944. Over 1,200 people attended the event and Mrs. Roosevelt raised $1.5M in War Bonds. During the Viet Nam War years Hillel was the focus of much campus debate and political action. In the 1970s, Hillel brought many famous dignitaries to campus, including such names as Chaim Potok, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elie Wiesel, Jan Peerce, Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik, Theodore Bikel, and Simon Wiesenthal. The annual Jewish Arts Festival, a two week extravaganza, was a major community event for many years.
Rabbi Funk retired in 1982, and was succeeded by Rabbi Norman Weitzner. Rabbi Weitzner was succeed by in 1995 by Rabbi David Gutterman, who oversaw the historic move to College Avenue and Hillel’s emergence as an independent organization, after over 50 years as an affiliate of B’nai B’rith. In 2001 Andrew Getraer was hired as Executive Director and in the last decade Hillel as seen a period of tremendous growth and expansion in all areas. A major highlight of this period was the Israel Inspires campaign in 2003-04, a full year of high-profile pro-Israel activity, highlighted by the largest pro-Israel rally in the history of the State of New Jersey, held on Busch Campus.
For many years Hillel was housed at different locations in downtown New Brunswick, before moving into a brand new facility on Ryders Lane, behind the Douglass Campus, in 1971. That facility was sold to the University in 1996 and Hillel moved to 93 College Avenue, our home until October of 2013. Hillel is now located in a temporary home at 8 Bishop Place in the middle of the College Avenue Campus. We are in the final stages of an $18M Capital and Endowment Campaign to build a brand new 33,000 square foot Hillel student center at 70 College Avenue, in the heart of the College Avenue Campus, scheduled to open on the fall of 2015.