UW-Madison’s Hillel is ‘a work of art’
Less than a year after the Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life opened in Madison, the cultural hub faced its first big test.
In March, a Holocaust doubter posted an online ad through a University of Wisconsin–Madison student newspaper, leading more than 400 people to rally in protest at Library Mall.
Greg Steinberger, executive director of the University of Wisconsin Hillel Foundation, which is based at the Hochberg Center, said students — some of whom had never set foot in the Hillel center — gathered there to create posters publicizing the rally.
“There’s a whole group of students who didn’t come here before, who come here now,” Steinberger said of the center, which opened in May 2009.
The steel, glass and Jerusalem stone building quadrupled the size of the previous center that was on the same site. Supporters said they wanted a community center, Steinberger said, “that would make a statement, be a beacon on the street.”
“I think we achieved that,” he said.
With 41,000 square feet spread over four floors, the new building is the nation’s largest campus Hillel, serving the university’s more than 5,000 Jewish students. The former building only had room for worship spaces, offices and a lounge, Steinberger said.
“You couldn’t come there to study or hang out,” he said. “You couldn’t use it in the broader sense of a community center.”
The new center has multipurpose rooms, two decks, a library, a kosher café and a fitness center. One of the most popular spaces is a rooftop basketball court, Steinberger said.
The project team created movable worship spaces that let multiple services be held simultaneously to serve the conservative, reform and Orthodox Jewish populations.
But it’s the building’s design that has drawn architecture buffs and photographers seeking tours.
“The grand stair is a work of art,” said Steve Klaven, senior project manager with J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., Madison, the general contractor.
Concrete, stainless steel and drywall elements normally hidden behind walls became finishes, inside and out, he said.
“It pushed our crews to our limits in terms of creating finishes out of structural elements,” Klaven said.
The new beacon has strengthened the Jewish community, drawing more students to get involved in the 30 organizations Hillel sponsors, Steinberger said.
“Students said they couldn’t wait to get involved,” he said. “They want to see this place used.”