Richard Joel, center, president of Yeshiva University and former president and international director of Hillel, presented Chief Visionary awards to Mark and Jane Wilf of Livingston, left, and Audrey and Zygi Wilf of Springfield during the May 28 Rutgers Hillel dinner.
Photos by Debra Rubin
June 5, 2008
Rutgers Hillel celebrated its future expansion and its role as a center for Jewish life during a dinner that drew more than 300 people to the Douglass Campus in New Brunswick.
The May 28 dinner honored Audrey and Zygi Wilf of Springfield and Jane and Mark Wilf of Livingston for their lead $2 million gift for the capital campaign funding a new Rutgers Hillel student center.
Also honored was Richard Corman of Westfield for his years of service to Hillel and the Jewish community.
Wayne Firestone, president of Hillel International, said the “passion and utter pride in being Jewish” on the Rutgers campus “made it one of the most exciting places to be Jewish in the entire country.”
Rutgers Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer told the gathering that the organization plays a vital role in the lives of many of the university’s 5,000 Jewish students by providing a haven where all religious streams feel comfortable.
“We now have one of the largest and strongest Orthodox Jewish communities in America,” said Getraer, in addition to communities representing the other major movements.
Getraer noted that Hillel president Avi Smolen of New Milford recently received a Rutgers Outstanding Student Celebration and Recognition award as outstanding student leader at the university.
Hillel itself received several awards, including the ROSCAR for outstanding annual program for its Days Without Hate, a campus-wide program promoting diversity. This year’s program, organized by Smolen and Emily Kaufman of Middletown, drew more than 2,000 participants.
Also voted as outstanding collaborative program was “From Swastika to Jim Crow: Black-Jewish Dialogue,” cosponsored with the Black Students Union.
Additionally, Rabbi Esther Reed, Rutgers Hillel’s associate director for Jewish campus life, this year received Hillel International’s highest professional honor, the Richard Joel Exemplar of Excellence Award.
Rising Star student awards were given out at the dinner to Michelle Rosenberg of West Orange, Covey Schnipper of Fair Lawn, Eytan Morgenstern of Montgomery, Ala., and Jillian Schlanger of New City, NY.
Rutgers University president Richard McCormick said Hillel has “a vital place in the life of Rutgers University.”
“It is one of our most important and greatest student organizations,” whose members have “helped shape student leadership on campus,” he said.
Rutgers Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer, left, chats with Michelle Rosenberg of West Orange, who received a Rising Star student award; Wayne Firestone, president of Hillel International; and Sam Master of Teaneck, student president of Hillel’s Orthodox community.
Joel called the Wilfs “a noble family” whose philanthropy has extended beyond monetary gifts.
“They are role models,” said Joel. “While it is important to invest in philanthropy, investment of yourselves is also important.”
Audrey Wilf said her family had always taken up the challenge “to resist complacency and build a better world.”
“Rutgers Hillel provides such meaningful Jewish experiences,” said Mark Wilf. “We’ve been impressed by how it’s grown and how it serves the entire state.”
Corman, a former board director at Rutgers Hillel, is chief operating officer of the Manhattan Jewish Experience and former executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains. He cited the impact Hillel has made on him from his days as a student throughout his adult life. His own sons met their wives at Hillel and gained such an intense connection to Israel that both made aliya.
“Hillel transformed my life,” said Corman.
He took note of the irony that he was receiving a Rabbi Julius Funk Alumni Award, named for the man who set him on his career path. Funk, who served as Rutgers Hillel’s director from its founding in 1943 until 1982, died in 2006.
“Rabbi Funk said to me, ‘Have you ever considered serving the Jewish community?’” recalled Corman. “‘I think you’d be good at it.’ Thirty years later I still think of Rabbi Funk and how he took an interest in an individual student.”
Hillel’s capital and endowment campaign, which is chaired by both Wilf couples, is seeking to raise $15 million to build a new headquarters at George Street and Bishop Place to replace Hillel’s cramped College Avenue site.
It has so far brought in about $5 million of that total to build the three-story, 35,000-square-foot facility, according to Getraer.
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