George Washington University Hillel is being rebuilt from the ground up. Literally.
The old building at 2300 H Street was knocked down on Aug. 23, the same day many students were moving into their dorms. Construction is expected to finish by fall 2020.
“It’s a long time coming,” Hillel director Adena Kirstein said.
According to Kirstein, the original Gewirz Center was built in 1986. In recent years, it became clear that there wasn’t enough room to accommodate all the students, and others were being left out since the building wasn’t handicapped accessible.
The new Gewirz Center, which will cost $13.5 million, will be much larger than the old space. The building will be five stories plus a penthouse garden level, a sanctuary for services, offices for staff, and spaces for students to study or gather and that can be used by the community.
The renovation will also include a kosher café, which will provide new options for students who eat kosher food.
“[The café] will be another great thing. Lots of students do strictly observe kosher law. We have Char Bar on campus [but] it’s kind of out of the way,” sophomore Sarah Schornstein said, referring to a kosher restaurant. While there are kosher options available in the area, they’re not conveniently located and don’t take meal swipes, she said. So most students who keep kosher prepare their own meals.
“[Having on-campus options] is a really, really good way for students to save on money,” Schornstein said. “[I’m also] looking forward to having more space. I think they can do a lot with kind of creating a hub for Jewish students.”
The townhouse that Hillel now occupies can only hold 40 people.
“I’m really excited,” said junior Lila Gaber, a co-chair for Hillel’s Internal Affairs, “I’m an interior architecture major so I completely understand how a space can affect programs and the feel of what you want to host. The new building is a great asset to have.”
The new building will also mean everyone can be in the same room for services and dinners, instead being split up into two rooms, Gaber said. The new Hillel building will also be available for the public to use; people can rent it out to use for b’nai mitzvah and weddings, Kirstein said.
Donor Carl Gewirz, for whose family the building is named after, is said he is looking forward to the new building.
“[The old building] was functionally obsolete. It didn’t accommodate [for] programs. It was just worn out. I’m looking forward to the freshness, the ambiance [and] the amenities,” he said. Other donors are Mark Lerner, owner of the Nationals, and Louis Mayberg, a member of the ownership group of Mid-Atlantic Media, publisher of Washington Jewish Week.
It took six years from concept until construction began, Gewirz said.
Kirstein said, “We’re at the beginning of a new chapter.”