Expansion elation at Stanford Hillel

Adina Danzig remembers being a high school senior in the late ’80s and visiting Stanford with her rabbi father. She couldn’t help but notice the absence of visible Jewish life on campus.

Of course, there were Jewish students. But at that time, Hillel was housed in a 700-square-foot basement office and the Rohr Chabad House (a few blocks from campus) didn’t yet exist.

And when she saw Memorial Church — with its tiled mosaics and giant arched windows — towering in the quad, she asked herself if she would be comfortable on a campus without prominent markers of Jewish life.

So she went to U.C. Berkeley.

But eight years ago, Danzig returned to Stanford to work at Hillel. She said Jewish life on campus today couldn’t be more different.

“It used to be that students who cared about Jewish life chose Stanford despite their interest in Jewish life,” she said. “Now students can choose Stanford because of their interest in Jewish life.”

Since Danzig returned, Hillel’s staff has grown 50 percent — from six to nine — and that old basement office has been replaced by a 3,500-square-foot on-campus home. In the three years since having a Hillel house, attendance on Friday nights has doubled from about 40 to 80, sometimes even 120, students.

Hillel staff expect continued growth with the addition of a second building, the 9,500-square-foot Koret Pavilion. Hillel will officially celebrate the completion of the construction project with a reception and tour April 13.

The Koret Pavilion and the Taube Hillel House together make up the Harold and Libby Ziff Center for Jewish Life.

The buildings are “a visible reflection of the vibrant Jewish life that exists at Stanford,” said Danzig, executive director of Hillel at Stanford. “And when you have more space, it does invite more activity.”

Lizzi Heydemann, a 2004 graduate, remembers that being an active leader in Hillel meant spending a lot of time finding campus space for student programming.

“I never felt like not having a building got in the way of the vibrancy of the programming, but it did mean we had to be more resourceful,” she said.

“Today, students and staff won’t have to waste their time reserving rooms in other buildings; they can invest that

time in more productive ways.”

Heydemann is currently a student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

During a telephone interview from her Jerusalem apartment (where she’s spending her third year of school), she talked about how Hillel defined her college experience, and gave her a “spiritual second home.” As an undergraduate, she led Shabbat services nearly every week; since being a rabbinical student, she has returned to campus to lead High Holy Day services.

Though Heydemann won’t see the Koret Pavilion until the fall, she was around three years ago, when the organization first moved into the Taube Hillel House.

She and her friends held Shabbat services and ate dinner in the empty house.

“The house wasn’t ready to have us, but we were ready to move in. We were just so excited to have a home,” she said.

Hillel at Stanford’s growth resulted from a convergence of factors: a desire to have a home like other top-tier universities, an influx of funds from interested donors and the availability of a building on campus.

The new Koret Pavilion is located behind the Taube Hillel House. It includes a café, kosher kitchen, prayer space, dining hall, lounge and meeting space.

“We’re seeking to create meaningful Jewish experiences and also be a resource for the whole community,” Danzig said.

Highlights include Kehillah Hall, which can be a prayer space or a multipurpose room. It’s a room that is serene in midday, thanks to the warm glow from a row of stained glass windows created by Northern California artists David and Michelle Plachte-Zuieback, who designed them with the input of dozens of Jewish students.

The series of 14 stained glass windows features a pomegranate tree with branches engraved with universal Jewish wisdom written in Hebrew and English, such as “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “If not now, when?” The colors are rich and warm, reminiscent of a crisp autumn day.

“The windows make you pause and breathe and think, and that’s important for a campus with a really intense setting,” Danzig said.

Other highlights include a Gaga pit, for the popular Israeli game similar to dodgeball, and a 600-square-foot commercial kitchen, which Hillel staff hopes will someday provide the space for a full-service kosher meal program that rivals other top-tier universities.

In line with all the celebrating, Jewish students at Stanford have two campus-wide events this week: an open-mike night planned by Jewish undergraduate student groups Thursday, April 3, and an inaugural “bar mitzvah” dance and party planned by Jewish graduate student groups Saturday, April 5.

Time to hang the mezuzah

Hillel at Stanford celebrates the opening of the Koret Pavilion and the completion of the Harold and Libby Ziff Center for Jewish Life on April 13.

The event begins at 3 p.m. at Kresge Auditorium, 555 Abbott Way, Stanford (behind the law school building), and continues with a 4:30 p.m. ribbon-cutting, mezuzah-hanging and reception at Hillel, 565 Mayfield Ave., Stanford.

The event is free and open to the public.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.