Phoebe Goodman picked up another page of browned photographs and squinted slightly, holding it close.
“That’s my husband!” she said, happy to have located him in the photo.
Goodman was one of about 75 people crowding around Columbia’s Hillel Center on Saturday to celebrate the rededication of the building Hillel occupies.
The newly renovated Danciger House, 1107 University Ave., accommodates the activities of Hillel, a national organization helping students “do Jewish,” according to hillel.org. The local foundation, one of 500 centers worldwide, supports MU’s Jewish Student Organization.
The building is at the center of a celebration of rededication coinciding with the start tonight of Hanukkah — which means rededication in Hebrew. Goodman, who attended Hillel when she and her husband moved to Columbia in the 1950s, flipped carefully between pictures.
In the next room, Judy Heartsong quickly kissed Michael Goldschmidt.
“Mazel tov,” she said.
Goldschmidt, the architect for the renovation, graciously accepted her congratulations.
“It’s almost accidental that most of this work was done right before Hanukkah,” he said. “I think it’s a good omen because it ties in with the theme of rededication.”
The largeness of the building became superfluous when Congregation Beth Shalom, Columbia’s only synagogue, moved to its own building last fall. Hillel now shares its building with the International Community Church.
“It’s win-win,” Goldschmidt said. “We’re self-sufficient with plenty of space.”
He also disclosed what he calls a little-known secret: The sanctuary used to face south. Traditionally, the sanctuary is supposed to face east. After the renovation, services now face the correct direction.
Hillel's director celebrates
Kerry Hollander, Hillel’s director, greeted Heartsong with a joyous hug. Hollander flitted among visitors and alumni, current students and old friends. She directed people toward a table with food, shows off the building’s new layout and answers questions.
“This is a huge day for her,” said Aaron Bernstein, a sophomore involved with Hillel.
Hollander has worked with Hillel for almost 25 years. She became director in 1997, intent on sharing her faith with students and helping them grow in their own.
As the sun began to set, Hollander called the crowd into the sanctuary. She thanked everyone who had a hand in the building and in Hillel. She then explained the one problem with the evening: the inability to fully rededicate the building.
Affixing the mezuzah
This year, the plan was to affix a mezuzah — a small, decorated case containing a piece of the Torah scroll — to each doorway in the new building. To follow Hebrew law, the scroll must be handwritten with kosher ink and kosher paper. The scrolls, Hollander explained, aren’t quite ready yet.
“I guess Kerry didn’t care for a Xerox,” said Rabbi Yossi Feintuch, grinning.
Instead of hanging each mezuzah, which means “doorpost” in Hebrew, the cases were displayed on a table. The Hebrew letter shin, the first letter of the name of God, is written on the outside of each case.
“There is something holy in the doorposts, a connection,” Feintuch said. He referred back to the time when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. When, according to Scripture, God killed the first-born in each Egyptian family, persuading the pharaoh to release the Hebrews, the Hebrews smeared lamb blood on their doorways to keep their children protected.
“It’s not about what you stick on the outside of the doorways,” said visiting rabbinic student Joshua Neely. “If you don’t get it right inside, you’re not getting it right.”
Neely is part of the Koach program at the Zeigler School of Rabbinic Studies, part of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.
“Rededication is important because it’s very easy as you go through life and feel like you’re on a path,” he said. “Hanukkah does that every year for us.”
Celebration of Hanukkah
Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, which usually falls in early December. Hanukkah celebrates the moment Judah Maccabee and his army reclaimed the temple in Jerusalem from the Syrians in about 164 BCE. The army cleaned it of all Greek gods and symbols and rededicated it to God. Wanting to light the N’er Tamid, the eternal light present in every house of worship, they looked for oil but found only enough for one day. The light burned for eight, however, until more oil could be found.
“Nes gadol hayah sham,” Jewish people remember at this time of year. “A great miracle happened there.”
The mood at Hillel grew solemn as the sun set and the stained glass windows grew dark. It was almost time for havdalah, the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat. This Sabbath day of rest begins each Friday at sundown and ends Saturday at sundown. Havdalah signifies the separation of the holy from the profane.
Neely lifted a small wine glass and began reading a blessing. His voice lifted and the crowd responded,“Amen.”
“‘Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain,’” Neely read from Psalm 127. “Now that we have this (new building), we can go back to doing what Hillel does.”