The Colleges now have a permanent, newly renovated home for Jewish culture, the Abbe Center for Jewish Life. Made possible by a gift from Board of Trustees member Richard Abbe ï¿½92, the renovations to Folwell House at 764 South Main Street change the way students of the Jewish faith and culture can experience the Colleges.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges first offered a Jewish Culture theme house in 1999. In the ensuing eight years, the theme house has been located alternately at 408 or 412 Pulteney St., both small houses that can accommodate about four or five students. Since the Jewish Culture House also was the site of Shabbat gatherings and other programs of Hillel, there was little opportunity for groups of more than five people to attend these events.
ï¿½It was great having a place to hold our Shabbat gatherings and other programs, but space on Pulteney Street was limited,ï¿½ explains Lorinda Weinstock, Hillel program director.
She says that the programming space couldnï¿½t be closed off from the studentsï¿½ living quarters sufficiently to prevent encroaching on students; likewise, students had to be aware that guests were in the home and be mindful of themselves during events.
ï¿½The size and scope of the Abbe Center solves these problems,ï¿½ Weinstock explains. The new building has pocket doors separating all spaces and the upstairs living area can be closed off. ï¿½Weï¿½re looking forward to utilizing the renovated space for all kinds of new and innovative programming that will enhance Jewish and campus life here at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.ï¿½
Abbe wanted to donate money to the Colleges in a way that would combine his interests with institutional needs.
ï¿½When I was a student, there were no formal Jewish programs. We went to the basement of Emerson for services,ï¿½ he recalls. ï¿½I liked the idea of doing something relative to Judaism but didnï¿½t want to alienate or segregate the Jewish community within the Colleges.ï¿½ His generous donation funded the renovation of the house so it could become the Jewish cultural center but in such a way that it is inclusive and a welcoming part of the HWS community.
One of the students who reside in the house, for example, is non-Jewish and non-religious and chose to apply to the house because she has been studying Judaism and often participates in Hillel events.
The new space accommodates nine students ï¿½ one senior, three juniors and five sophomores with a variety of majors, minors and interests. (Applications to live in the house doubled this year over last.) The homeï¿½s spacious dining room, living room, conference room and separate kosher-style and true kosher kitchens make it an ideal space for gathering not only for Shabbat, but hopefully as a larger community for Passover or Rosh Hashana, according to Evan Brown ï¿½08, the Abbe Centerï¿½s house manager and president of Hillel.
ï¿½With the new kosher kitchen designed to handle service for 50 people and the larger social spaces, we hope to expand our programming, possibly even bringing in a chef certified in kosher cooking for some of the larger holiday meals,ï¿½ he says. ï¿½We are also looking to add programming during the week, instead of just on Fridays, and are cooking for Shabbat most of the time.ï¿½
In addition to improved opportunities for events, residents enjoy day-to-day living in the Abbe Center. The house has a beautiful location among other historic homes on South Main Street and thereï¿½s a view of the lake from its front porch. It is also across from Temple Beth-El. According to Brown, the proximity to Temple has strengthened the relationship between students and the congregation. The students have been over for dinner already this semester and thereï¿½s more participation in services. Soon, they plan to host congregation members for dinner.
Even the furniture is something the students can feel good about, not only because itï¿½s brand new and members of Hillel had a say in choosing it, but because they requested that all furniture be environmentally friendly, ï¿½in keeping with the Jewish movement of being stewards of the Earth,ï¿½ explains Brown. All of the furniture in the home can be dismantled, recycled or repurposed.
Both Brown and Abbe hope that the Abbe Center has a long-term impact on recruiting. ï¿½Weï¿½ve created a place for people to go and to feel comfortable,ï¿½ says Abbe. ï¿½Itï¿½s also one more place we can point to on a college tour and show diversification at HWS.ï¿½
Brown emphatically agrees, ï¿½If we can show our ability to do more and better programming, we can recruit more Jewish students and hopefully more funding to support programs. I canï¿½t say enough how thankful I am for his generosity and how thatï¿½s going to change the future of Hillel and the institution.ï¿½