a big, warm, inviting building seen from the street at dusk
Artist's rendering of the remodeled UC Berkeley Hillel building

UC Berkeley Hillel headquarters set for $9 million makeover

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Berkeley Hillel, where the university’s Jewish students eat meals, attend High Holy Day services and participate in social and educational activities, will undergo a major remodel starting in July. Construction is expected to last until the fall of 2018.

The 16,000-square-foot building will undergo a complete renovation, 30 years after its last remodeling. While maintaining its current footprint, the remodeled building will feature technological upgrades, advancements in security, handicapped accessibility and expanded outdoor areas. The cost of the project is estimated at $9 million.

Hillel was established at UC Berkeley in 1927, becoming the fifth Hillel facility in the nation. It now hosts more than 1,900 students each year and provides thousands of weekly BBQ meals and Shabbat dinners.

“For the past 90 years, Berkeley Hillel has been addressing the spiritual, emotional and philosophical needs of the campus’ Jewish students,” Executive Director Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman said in a news release. “As we move full steam ahead into the 21st century, it’s time our building meets the needs of new generations.”

Hillel is selling naming rights to many of the rooms and outdoor spaces at the new facility. The largest contribution so far has been $3 million from Gerson and Barbara Bakar, who will have their names on the auditorium and dining room.

The Bakar name is a familiar one at UC Berkeley. In the fall of 2007, the couple gave $25 million to the Haas School of Business to add five faculty members. To honor them, the Haas School named its faculty wing the Barbara and Gerson Bakar Faculty Building.

Gerson Bakar, who received a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley’s business school in 1948, is a San Francisco real estate developer.

“Hillel has been my home away from home since I was a freshman,” Rachel Marcus, Berkeley Hillel’s student leadership board president, said in the news release. “I am so proud of Berkeley Hillel for taking these steps to make this home more secure, more dynamic and more welcoming for anyone who walks through its doors.”

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.