Dedication of Abbe Center for Jewish Life
Remarks of Lorinda Weinstock
Hillel Program Director and Director of the Abbe Center for Jewish Life
October 20, 2007
"Know from where you came and to where you are going." Ethics of the Sages. At significant moments in our lives, it is appropriate to take a few moments to look back and reflect.
Back in the fifties, the first large influx of Jewish students began to arrive on campus, using their GI bill to get an education after the War. A lot of them were probably first exposed to the Finger Lakes when they were stationed out at Sampson, just across Seneca Lake from where we stand today. At the time Hobart still had a Chapel requirement, and they formed the Temple Club as a way to fill that requirement by attending services at the newly established Temple Beth-El. By the way, when the founders of that synagogue, celebrating it's 60th anniversary just this year, looked for a place to buy a building, they were influenced to purchase the home at 755 S. Main Street more by it's proximity to campus than it's lovely lake views!
The Chapel requirement was abolished along with other reforms of the late 60's. About 1974 a group of students, including a former Temple Beth-El Rabbi, Garson Herzfeld H'78, and some William Smith women, decided it was time to form a new group for Jewish Students. They called the new group ATID, Hebrew for 'future.'
The students in Atid had been petitioning for Hebrew to be reintroduced into the curriculum (I say reintroduced because Hebrew was part of the initial curriculum of Hobart College in the 1820s, an essential element along with Latin in a Liberal Arts education) and in 1987 Hebrew was one of the languages introduced with the new Self Instructional Language Program.
So, now we had a local Jewish student organization, ATID, and Hebrew being offered as a full credit class under SILP. I was the Hebrew facilitator. I remember coming to the first meeting of SILP Hebrew one term in the early 90's and meeting three new students - Richard Abbe, Scott Kirshenbaum, and Andy Golkin. We were meeting in the then Harris house, now the CTL. Sometime later I learned that Richard really wanted to take Hebrew, and he had convinced his fraternity brothers, Scott and Andy, to take it with him! Now, Richard has his stories about our SILP Hebrew experience, and he can tell them if he wants to, but this is my turn, and this is the way I remember it. I remember an earnest conversation I had with Richard when he decided to register for the second term. He couldn't convince Andy and Scott to continue - but Richard really wanted to keep going. I wanted him to understand that it was going to get a lot harder, and make sure that he knew what he was in for. The way I remember it, to paraphrase Hatikvah, he had in his heart "the Jewish spirit that yearns with eyes turned eastward, looking towards Zion." Richard had that Jewish soul, with that yearning. I'm glad that he also found his heart and soul in Israel, with Merav!
Now, in the late 80's, early 90's, ATID was holding weekly Shabbat celebrations on campus, but like the proverbial wandering Jew, without a home. They met in the Emerson lounge, the Hoskins room, DeLancey House, the Blue Room and the big round table in SAGA, Dean Butler's house, a student apartment... This continued into the mid-90's, when ATID affiliated with Hillel: The National Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. In October 1998 when I came on board in the newly created position of Hillel Program Professional, Lesley Adams gave me the keys to the Hillel office in the undercroft, and the student officers gave me a suitcase for making Shabbat.
A suitcase you ask? A 12" x 16" brown nylon suitcase from Kmart, which held two candlesticks, Shabbat candles, matches, a lighter, some kippot and a few prayer books. Add two challahs, a white tablecloth, a bottle of Manischewitz and some small plastic cups - voila! Shabbat!
That spring of 1999 the Hillel student board decided to sponsor a Theme House - the Jewish Culture House, and in the fall of that year we moved into 412 Pulteney Street. We unpacked the suitcase, we had a home.
Two years pass. September 11, 2001. A few days later the announcement of our loss of 3 Hobart alumni, Michael Simon H'83, Scott Rohner H'01, and Andy Golkin H'93. I remembered that class so vividly. Of course Rich, because he had taken two terms with me. But Andy - I remembered his big smile. How good natured he was about studying Hebrew - not an easy subject for him. How, for the rest of his time on campus, he always greeted me with that big smile and a wave, even from a distance. He was easily the sweetest football player I've ever met. Andy is part of my memories of Jewish life here at Hobart and William Smith.
So, we are now in the 21st century. We have a home for Jewish life on campus, the Jewish Culture House, first at 412 Pulteney and later at 408, but we're not really homeowners, we're more like renters. We have to reapply each year; we have to pack up our Judaica and other possessions and store them over each summer. One Friday two years ago, we invited the Gearans to a Shabbat dinner at 408 Pulteney. It was November or early December; there were over 30 of us there that night, and the house was so full that students were even sitting outside on the front porch!
It wasn't too long after that that we heard we had a benefactor - Richard Abbe. Would anyone have believed back in the 50's, when they were crossing S. Main Street to attend Jewish Chapel at Temple Beth-El that one day there would be a Center for Jewish Life at Hobart and William Smith Colleges? It is an amazing and wondrous thing. We are so excited about the additional programming that we can provide in this beautiful space, and how we can enhance not just Jewish life, but Campus life in general at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. So, I want to say to Richard and Merav, todah rabbah, many thanks, and I'll conclude with the traditional prayer we say at all new beginnings, Baruch atah haShem, elokeinu melech haolam, shehehiyanu, v'kimanu, v'higiyanu lazman hazeh - Blessed are you, Ruler of the Universe, who has kept us in life, and preserved us, and enabled us to reach this season!