TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Bloom Hillel Center for Jewish Student Life at The University of Alabama held a groundbreaking ceremony Sunday for the expansion of its building.
The expansion, scheduled for an August 2018 completion, will add 50 percent more space to the center, growing its capacity from about 140 to 250.
“This building was built in 2011, and since that time we’ve had such an explosion of participation with Jewish students,” said Lisa Besnoy, director of Bloom Hillel. “Right now we’re set up for probably a typical Friday evening Shabbat (the Hebrew word for Sabbath, which is on Saturday starting at sundown Friday) crowd of 100 students. By the time you add a place to put your food and additional crowds, we fill our current space each week.
“We need more room to seat our students on a weekly basis, but we’re also seeing more students throughout the week coming here to study and to have meetings, and we serve Sunday brunch. We have just outgrown our space and need opportunities for the program growth and our expanded intern program. This will provide more of a living community for our students so they will have a place to relax and eat.”
Star Bloom, co-chair of the Bloom Hillel Board of Trustees, said the expansion will nearly double the size of the main room at the center.
“Our growth has really mirrored the University’s growth,” said Bloom, whose family the center is partly named for. “We have active participants from 35 states. We’re guessing that when we opened the building in 2011 there were maybe 650 to 700 Jewish students on campus, and now we’re guessing there’s 900 to 1,000.
“I think the students are attracted to Bloom Hillel because of the opportunity to celebrate their cultural holidays, to eat the family type meals they celebrated at home and just a home-like atmosphere.”
UA President Stuart R. Bell said Bloom Hillel was founded in the late 1920s with strong support from then president Dr. George Denny and the Jewish community in Tuscaloosa. It was one of the earliest Hillels in the nation.
The center was relocated in 2011 from its original spot across from Bryant-Denny Stadium to its current Ninth Street location.
“I’m so pleased to see our students finding a home and a place to belong and connect with other students here, so I’m especially excited for the University to be involved with the expansion of Bloom Hillel,” Bell said.
In addition to its increase in students, Bloom Hillel has also expanded its activities to better serve its students.
Besnoy said they now hold Shabbat dinner every Friday instead of every other Friday, have Sunday brunch every other week, Sunday night study sessions and have Israel education with documentaries, speakers and an annual 10-day trip to Israel so students can connect to their birthright.
“We had our first group last year,” she said. “It’s amazing and life-changing for our students.”
Ward Scott Architecture and Bob Morrow Construction are designing and constructing the expansion.
Bloom said the center will stay open and accessible to students until after finals in May, despite the construction.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.