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New London - By next spring, the Jewish community at Connecticut College will have their own building and kosher kitchen, thanks to a $1 million gift from Farmington resident Henry Zachs.
The new house will "provide a space for the Jewish community to thrive and flourish on campus," said senior Spencer Francus, who is co-president of Connecticut College's Hillel organization.
"Just having a space where people know where to go is really helpful," said Adam Rosenberg, also a senior and Hillel's other co-president. Currently, the club meets at the nondenominational chapel on campus and other available spaces.
The dedicated building will help "legitimize" Hillel as the go-to place for the more than 200 students on campus who identify as Jewish, said Rosenberg.
Construction is underway on Connecticut College's Zachs Hillel House, the third funded by the entrepreneur and philanthropist, said media relations manager Amy Martin. The building is expected to be open to students by next spring.
The 6,700-square-foot building will include a kosher kitchen, something that is not currently available on campus. Shabbat dinners are held in one of the dining halls and are considered "kosher style" rather than fully kosher, said Martin.
Rosenberg said that he felt the lack of fully kosher meal options might be deterring some Jewish students who would otherwise attend Connecticut College. He said the college can't currently offer such meals because there's no way to guarantee that dining halls conform to all kosher laws, such as keeping milk and meat separate and not allowing pork and shellfish products in the kosher kitchen. At the Hillel House, students will be able to ensure all necessary rules are followed, he said.
Francus said the kosher kitchen will make the college "look stronger to students who are looking for a tight-knit Jewish community."
He said the kitchen will also enable the campus Hillel to receive more resources from the national Hillel organization, provide space for students to cook for high holidays and make it easier to donate homemade food to Jewish seniors in the area, something the student group has done in the past.
Although there had been no formal plan to build a Hillel House on campus before Zachs' announcement, there "has been talk among students for a while about wanting a house," said Rosenberg.
The building Hillel currently meets in is technically nondenominational, but still "has some kind of religious component to it," according to Rosenberg. The building is called Harkness Chapel, and according to the college's website, the other groups that use the building are Catholic, Protestant and Unitarian Universalist.
The new building will be used for religious observances related to Jewish holidays, said Rosenberg, but will also be used for secular activities. He said the group hosts a number of events open to students of all religions, including movie nights and monthly bagel brunches.
The house also help further the "intercultural dialogue" that Hillel tries to promote, said Francus. He said it will make it easier for the Jewish organization to hold its joint meeting with the Arabic club on campus, during with the groups' members discuss Middle Eastern politics and current events.
In addition to the kosher kitchen, the building will include a conference room, library and spaces for studying and socializing, according to a press release from Connecticut College.
The building is "definitely an asset" for the campus, said Martin.