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Penn State Hillel Begins New Era With Grand Opening Of Gutterman Family Center For Jewish Life

On Friday, September 9, Penn State Hillel will host the grand opening of its brand-new Gutterman Family Center for Jewish Life. The event will feature a tour of the building, as well as remarks from Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi and State College Mayor Ezra Nanes.

Penn State Hillel’s executive director, Aaron Kaufman, believes the new building will provide “inspiration and continuity” for generations of Jewish Penn State students to come. 

“It will connect alumni back to campus, it will make parents of Jewish students feel comfortable, and it will create incredible possibilities for the future,” Kaufman said.

Shannon Smith | Onward State

Hillel will continue to operate on a limited basis at its former home, the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, in order to maintain an on-campus presence. 

“We don’t think of it as ‘moving out.’ We think of it as expanding,” Kaufman said. “Our organization has grown so dramatically since we’ve been there, that the four offices, while wonderful, were simply not sufficient for the thousands of Jewish students that we have on campus.” 

Shannon Smith | Onward State

Hillel’s new building occupies the first two floors of The Maxxen, a high-rise apartment complex that opened as “HERE State College” in 2020. To guard against potential antisemitic attacks, the building is well-protected. The front door has an alarm and security personnel, while the outside-facing windows are bulletproof. 

Hillel’s atrium was constructed with acoustics in mind. The large, open space accommodates Kiddush (a sung wine prayer), as well as the occasional musical performance during Shabbat. To the left is a spacious study area, complete with a flat-screen TV, board games, and a Keurig coffee maker.

Hillel’s study area | Shannon Smith | Onward State

To the right is Hillel’s Kosher kitchen, which has separate cooking spaces for dairy and meat, as well as a window that opens into the adjacent dining room for large gatherings. One such gathering is Hillel’s Shabbat dinner, held every Friday, which is free and typically draws up to 60 attendees. 

A tiered set of steps, reminiscent of the HUB, lead up to the second floor. A windowless “wellness room,” designed for relaxation, is at the top of the stairs.

Hillel’s Wellness Room | Shannon Smith | Onward State

Nearby is the game room and the outdoor terrace, which provides an appealing view of downtown. Down the hall is the nucleus of Hillel — the chapel, conference room, and rabbi’s office. The chapel holds Hillel’s Torah, the Jewish holy book.

Hillel’s chapel | Shannon Smith | Onward State

Mezuzahs are mounted on every doorway in the building. They are decorated cases — here, in the shape of the Nittany Lion Shrine — that each contain a small piece of parchment, known as the klaf, with Hebrew verses from the Torah. Some people touch the case as they go by and kiss the hand that touched it to remind them of their unity with God.

A Mezuzah at Hillel | Courtesy of Gabe Herman

Vice President Gabe Herman is in charge of getting Penn State’s population of 5,000 Jewish students acquainted with Hillel. Herman approaches students on campus or meets them at Hillel’s table in the HUB. He also works with their THON organization, LEV (Live for Every Victory). 

“I remember when I was a senior in high school and came to Penn State to visit, they told me about this new building,” Herman said. “It got delayed a little bit because of COVID, but I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time, and a big reason I joined the student board was because I wanted to be on the first board in this new building.”

Shannon Smith | Onward State

While the Gutterman Center was built with Jewish students in mind, Kaufman encouraged non-Jewish students to visit Hillel as well, stressing the “educational component” of learning about another culture.

“We want to make sure we maintain that connection and that everyone is welcome to be here,” he said. 

For more information about Hillel’s grand opening, you can visit the organization’s website.

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About the Author

Adam Babetski

Adam Babetski is a senior double majoring in broadcast journalism and medieval history and is one of Onward State's associate editors. He's from the only part of Virginia without tractors and southern accents, except Richmond (reportedly). You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBabetski for hot takes about sports. For serious inquiries, email [email protected].

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