By RACHEL FINSTON
The Jewish community in Fredericksburg is relatively small compared to other cities, but the University of Mary Washington has a smattering of Jewish students who call campus home. Unfortunately, these students do not have a designated space of their own, while many other student religious groups do.
However, that is soon to change. Recently, the university has stated that a Hillel house will be constructed across the street from the University Center on College Avenue.
Juliette Landphair, Vice President of Student Affairs, explained that the project originated with Larry Silver, son of Carl and Maxine Silver. Silver approached the Office of Student Affairs about the project, wanting to help foster a more robust Jewish community on campus, in memory of his parents. Silver’s organization purchased the property, which was an ancestral home previously owned by the Snelling family. However, after hearing about the prospective addition, they were happy to be a part of increased multiculturalism in Fredericksburg.
The plans are currently in the works, and student affairs wants to break ground as soon as possible, with construction concluding within a year. However, before beginning work on the site, there are some bureaucratic hurdles the administration must leap.
On Feb. 8, Landphair, a representative from the Silver Company, and UMW foundation director Jeff Roundtree attended a meeting of the Fredericksburg Building Commission. The plans have to go through the city to get approved, as the building would be a non-residential property. The neighbors have expressed some concern about the size of the project and parking, which is always a contentious issue on and around campus.
The planning commission voted 3-2 in favor of allowing the use of the site for religious purposes, but the vote was 5-0 against allowing an exception for a larger building. The next step will be Landphair and her team appearing before the city council. The sooner that these problems get resolved and plans are finalized, the sooner they can get to work on the facility.
David Rettinger, professor of psychology and the faculty advisor to the Jewish Student Association, has similar sentiments regarding the project. “If this building is built the way it looks like it will be, this will be a night and day difference,” he said. Rettinger pointed out that Jewish students do not tend to get involved in Jewish life on campus because they think that there’s nothing here for them.
The food at the University Center and other dining facilities is not kosher, andcandles cannot even be lit on campus for ritual purposes. Rettinger emphasized the importance of creating infrastructure for Jewish life on campus, in order to make Jews feel welcome. He believes that the Hillel center will be a great place for religious education, for Jews and non-Jews alike. Rettinger also speculated on recruitment opportunities for the future.
“Jewish students are rightfully concerned about anti-Semitism,” Rettinger said. Having strong support from the administration and a house would contribute to making Jews feel comfortable on campus, and more likely to choose UMW.
Rettinger further said that the Jewish Student Association has always had strong ties to the rest of the multicultural community on campus, with as many Muslims as Jews attending JSA events. Rettinger also concurred with Landphair that a year is not an unrealistic time frame for the project.
In a best-case scenario, that would put the center opening to be in Jan. 2019. Rettinger said that he is looking forward to having a Jewish professional on campus, as the house will include an apartment for a Jewish educator. Having the house staffed by someone with Jewish ritual expertise will certainly be a big change for the JSA, which is mostly student run. In the future, Rettinger hopes that the center will be a part of making Fredericksburg a more welcoming place for Jews.