Jewish visitors to Colonial Williamsburg often tell Rabbi Gershon Litt that the nearby College of William & Mary seems nice, but they see no sign of a Jewish community.
But with the opening of the school’s new Shenkman Jewish Center Nov. 14, he expects that to change.
According to Litt, the director of the school’s Hillel, the center will house the college’s Hillel operations and be a space for Jewish students to study and socialize. The 3,000-square-foot
building will also serve as a recruiting tool for Jewish families.
About 500 of William & Mary’s 8,000 students are Jewish, Litt said. Before the center opened, Hillel activities took place in various rooms around the campus.
“There wasn’t a place to unify. How would you actually be able to see a Jewish community without a place for the community to gather?” Litt said. “Now that we have that place, it’s going to drastically change the college from being a place where Jews attend and are just part of the William & Mary fabric, to it being a destination for Jewish students in Virginia and beyond.”
The center, which will include lounge and meeting space, study areas and a kosher kitchen, was the result of a $1 million donation from Mark and Rosalind Shenkman, whose son, Greg, graduated from William & Mary in 2003.
“I was always struck when I visited my son Greg at the College, how could the nation’s second-oldest college fail to have a visible Jewish presence?” Shenkman said at the opening, according to the student newspaper The Flat Hat.
“The more boxes we can check, the more Jewish families are going to send their kids with trust,” Litt said.
According to The Flat Hat, Bethesda native Sara Franklin Gilette liked the school so much when visiting that she overlooked the limited Jewish life on campus. But as a Hillel officer, not having a dedicated kosher kitchen available was a challenge.
Now a senior and Hillel’s Israel chair, she thinks the center will be a plus.
“It’s definitely going to bring more students to the school, because anybody that keeps kosher couldn’t come here before,” she told the paper. “But now that there’s the kosher kitchen, that’s not going to deter people.”