Slifka Center reopens after two years of $8 million renovation


Yale Daily News

The Slifka Center for Jewish Life, nestled just beyond Blue State Coffee on Wall Street, opened this semester for the first time since spring 2020.

After a four-year renovation process, the Slifka Center now welcomes visitors who come for Jewish prayer, kosher food, or just to look around. According to Slifka Center executive director Uriel Cohen, the 25-year-old Building Forward fundraising campaign — which funded the recent renovation — has raised more than $8 million in donations and loans. The planning process began in 2018 when Center management hired an architect and contractors and gathered feedback from students. However, COVID-19 posed challenges for the progress of the project. Construction only started in November 2020.

“We planned to start in the 20-21 academic year before the pandemic, but the outbreak of COVID first put a roadblock in the way and then paved the way for the project to continue,” said wrote Cohen in an email to the News. . “However, we weren’t counting on the COVID-related work stoppages, myriad supply chain issues, and other unforeseen circumstances that caused delays that made the project last much longer. We are [now] so excited that the building has reopened and is fully functional.”

With a completely renovated interior, the Center allows large groups of students to gather safely for religious and cultural events and academic programs. In addition to being a space for prayer and restoration, the center’s offerings include a specific LGBTQ+ Jewish affinity space, mental health resources through the Noah Wellness Center, and weekly classes, including study. of the Torah and an introductory course in Judaism.

The campaign also enabled the Center to completely renovate its kitchen and dining room, the former of which had not been updated since the building opened in 1995. The project was then extended as contractors discovered other structural problems in the building.

“During demolition, we found a number of unforeseen issues in the lower level infrastructure that would have caused major issues if not addressed,” Cohen wrote. “The project expanded at that time to include fixing these issues, and we feel lucky to have been able to fix these issues for good.”

The Slifka Center kitchen remains Yale’s only kosher dining facility. The renovations involved a 20% increase in the number of seats in the new, modernized dining room, as well as the installation of new security infrastructure.

“With anti-Semitism and hate on the rise locally and nationally, we have followed best practices and the advice of our security consultants and partners to ensure that we keep our community safe,” Cohen said.

According to an Anti-Defamation League survey, 2021 saw a 34% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2021. Cohen also pointed to specific instances on the Yale campus — including anti-Semitic graffiti in recent years — as evidence of the need for increased security. .

“The Slifka Center is committed to a vibrant Jewish community at Yale and is committed to anti-Semitism in all its forms,” ​​Cohen said. “The building can help protect us from external physical threats. What we do inside the building, both within and beyond the Jewish community, can help develop the understanding, empathy and human connections that overcome all forms of hatred.

Besides physical security, Cohen also noted the need for public health security. He said the “most urgent task” of the newly opened center is to help the community recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rabbi Jason Rubenstein, Yale’s Jewish chaplain, noted that having a physical space is especially important given the diverse Jewish faiths on campus.

“Without the architecture and scale of the Slifka Center – where people come together, study, gather for Shabbat and holidays, relax, sing, volunteer and just hang out or cry or laugh – we couldn’t not bring together the different sub-communities to form our larger and more diverse community,” Rubenstein wrote to the News. “Returning from our temporary and dispersed quarters to a very attractive, very functional space allows us to begin the real work of meeting and meeting.

Hillel student council president Maayan Schoen 23 agreed with the sense of pluralism between Jewish faiths, which she called a “trademark” of Slifka.

Other students were eager to return to the space and had positive opinions about the renovation. Leo Greenberg ’26 shared that although he’s only been on campus for a short time, the Slifka Center is “a great community space” that he hopes to explore further.

“I can imagine groups of people meeting there for Shabbat or holiday services,” Greenberg said.

Schoen shared that this past Shabbat, she got to watch old friends reconnect in the new building, which she called “simply a joy.” She hopes the new center will allow students in each school year to reconnect and feel comfortable participating in Jewish life on campus.

Cohen’s vision for Slifka’s future was also optimistic.

“My hope is that over the next few years, the Slifka Center will grow and prosper as the vitality of Jewish life emanates from here and the number of students – Jews and non-Jews alike – who participate in what we offer,” he wrote. “Jewish heritage and tradition have much to contribute to the Yale-wide project of trying to make the world a better place, and I hope we will succeed in contributing to this process through every channel we have to offer. .”

The official celebration of the reopening of the Slifka Center will take place on October 13 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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