Hillel goes from digs to digital

By Marcus Dysch, September 24, 2009
Right on cue:  Students take advantage of facilities at the non-residential Hillel centre in Euston

Right on cue: Students take advantage of facilities at the non-residential Hillel centre in Euston

Gone are the days of Hillel houses being seen as run-down, out-of-date digs for religious students who want to be close to a morning minyan.

In the past year, Hillels across the country have undergone substantial changes, with houses being transformed into modern student centres furnished with plasma screen TVs, wireless internet and kosher cafés.

Daniel Marcus, UJS Hillel chief executive, said the organisation is making a conscious effort to provide Jewish students with plush surroundings.

He said: “Things have changed. This is not your parents’ Hillel. This is not the Hillel with one type of student living here. It’s diverse and it’s a hub of activity.”

Refurbished homes have opened in Liverpool, Bristol, Nottingham and Sheffield, with new student centres created in Euston and in Leeds, where students began using facilities this week.

Mr Marcus said discussions are also taking place for similar new centres in Cambridge, Birmingham, Warwick and Brighton.

Where cities such as Hull have seen their Hillel House close, money from the sale of properties has been ploughed back into student life in the region through JSocs.

“We did the most incredible thing with Durham,” said Mr Marcus. “We saw there was a growing Jewish student community there and we opened a kosher kitchen with the university’s help.

“That is just as important as the opening of a huge centre. It’s not a numbers game. Where there’s need we will go in and set up a facility for the students.

“Hillel is the community’s best investment in the Jewish future.”

The opening of non-residential centres does not, however, mean the end of UJS Hillel-backed kosher accommodation.

In Leeds, agreements have been reached with the universities for students to live in kosher flats and houses in the same street as the refurbished centre.

Leeds JSoc president Daniel Grabiner said: “Hillel always had a feeling of home to it, but that could be off-putting for those who didn’t live there. You felt like you were intruding.

“The demographics of Jews on campus are changing and JSocs need to reflect that. Changing from residential accommodation to a student centre is the way forward for Hillel and a small step in defeating student apathy.”

Last updated: 2:57pm, September 24 2009