UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State Hillel has acquired property in downtown State College for the construction of a new center for Jewish student life.
The site of the future center — the corner of Beaver Avenue and Garner Street — was acquired with the help of three Penn State alumni. Hillel is now focusing on a capital and endowment campaign for construction of the center.
The property, a former Citizens Bank drive-thru, formally changed hands Tuesday, Feb. 15, said Aaron Kaufman, executive director of Penn State Hillel.
Kaufman wouldn’t disclose the sale price, but he identified three Penn State alumni — David N. Pincus (’48) and Bernard (’51) and Nancy (’52) Gutterman — who were instrumental in purchasing the property.
“We’re not talking publically about numbers yet, because the process is still ongoing,” he said, “but it’s because of them this is happening.”
The design for the center is still being worked out, but Kaufman said Hillel’s goal is to build a 20,000-square-foot facility.
That would dwarf the 1,400-square-foot space Hillel currently occupies in the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on the Penn State campus.
“We have four offices, a small kosher kitchen and sanctuary space,” he said. “We currently have five staff and four offices [and] we’ll have six staff next year.”
When Kaufman arrived at Penn State four years ago, the Hillel had 20 to 30 students for Shabbat every week. That figure has risen to 100, as well as 400 for services and 300 for its Passover seder.
“It (the Pasquerilla space) is not accommodating the programs we have,” said Ryan Gianola, president of the Hillel student board. “The way we’re growing right now, it can’t accommodate us anymore. We just need a place to accommodate Jewish life on campus.”
Additionally, Gianola, 21, a junior hospitality major from Fox Chapel, said the current Hillel location inside the Pasquerilla Center does little to recruit Jewish students to Penn State.
“It’s not anything that has our name on it,” he said. “People don’t really know where to find Hillel at Penn State; we’re just a couple offices in a building.”
The new center will afford Hillel the “freedom” to program in ways that will attract students, he added.
The new site, which is at one of the highest traffic blocks in State College, is anticipated to become a mini-student union, where even non-Jewish groups can rent space.
“We want it to be open to the entire university community,” Kaufman said.
Penn State Hillel serves an estimated 6,000 Jewish students, of which Gianola estimates, 500 actively affiliate, meaning they attend programming beyond an occasional Sabbath or holiday dinner.
Penn State Hillel is considered one of the fastest growing in the nation, according to Hillel International.
The new property was purchased directly from Citizens Bank, which was using only one of the four drive-through stalls at the time.
“It was a beautiful piece of land that was underutilized,” he said, “and we thought we could convince them they didn’t need it. It worked out for the best, I think.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)