With Hillel Approval, Final Piece of DEVCO-Rutgers-Seminary Land Swap Falls Into Place

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Hillel House is poised to move into a much larger facility across College Avenue from its current location, an elegant but small house which has been slated for demolition.

The new Jewish worship space will include a cafe and dining facilities, keeping up with the recently-expanded Chabad House just a few blocks away.

Features of the new facility will include a three-story building with a prominent tower, a stone facade, spaces for relaxation and for teaching, spaces for religious services or other purposes, a cafe,  and an enormous dining area suitable for the Hillel's large Shabbat dinners.

Rutgers Hillel had previously been approved for a similar facility located on the site of the old Fiji frathouse at the corner of George Street and Bishop Place.  The fraternity building was demolished a few years ago.

New plans introduced just over a year ago call for the entire block to be transformed into an honors college for Rutgers and a new, compact home for the New Brunswick Theological Seminary.

At the New Brunswick Zoning Board meeting on June 24, neighbors on Mine Street expressed concern about the proposed building's height and design, as well as the future of parking and traffic in the historic neighborhood.

Rutgers Hillel needed a variance in order to build taller than the permitted height for that lot, along with others.

The planned Hillel House would be taller than the frathouse next to it, though. The permitted height is about 40 feet, and the new Hillel House will be 55 feet tall.

Earlier this year, Hillel and Rutgers University participated in a land swap with the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, with the result that Rutgers will have a more connected College Avenue campus.

The cafe, dining area, and some offices would be on the first floor.

The dining room space will have a folding wall in the middle and is the largest room in the building. In many New Jersey synagogues, the sanctuary is the biggest room, and it is separated from an area for eating food after services by a folding wall.

The dining room will open to a patio on its southern side, the side facing Hamilton Street.

The current Hillel House has a cramped "chapel" in the back, complete with an ark (Aron Kodesh, the cabinet that holds Torah scrolls) on its southern wall.  Traditionally, arks are supposed to be on eastern walls, rather than southern walls, as Jerusalem is to the east.

There is not enough space in the current house for a bimah (raised pavilion, on which Torah scrolls are traditionally read). It is unclear whether the new Hillel House will have a bimah, although it will almost certainly have an ark. 

Because Hillel serves multiple movements in Judaism (there are Orthodox and more liberal services, for example), services might occur in more than one room in the building.

There will be at least two multi-purpose rooms on the second floor, and there will also be a classroom, a library, and an "Israel Resource Center." 

The site, which is located on the vehicular entrance to a Rutgers faculty and staff parking lot, fills in a gap between the Theta Delta Chi fraternity house and the Delta Gamma sorority house.