What can you say about a neighborhood where all the store signs are in Chinese and English; where there's a sports arena a block away in one direction and two (count 'em, two!) convention centers a block away in the other; and, if you crane your neck just a little, you can see the roof of the White House (that's where Martin Sheen lives in "West Wing")? This is one funky new neighborhood.
Let's forget for a moment, the history-making fact that the Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Building, new home of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center, is the first Hillel-owned headquarters in the organization's history. Let's forget that this is the first national Jewish headquarters building to open in the nation's capital in 50 years. Let's forget that this neighborhood was the original home of Washington's Jewish community. Let's forget the fact that this building reflects the excellence seen throughout the Hillel movement. Let's forget all that big-picture stuff and just enjoy Hillel's new home for a moment.
First, the building. It is nine above-ground stories of light wood and glass. The tightly clustered offices are open and airy. Floors one and nine will eventually serve as conference centers but, for the moment, they are a source of noise and fascination as workers add the final touches. Likewise, floor two holds the promise of becoming the staff lounge and gym. Hillel is renting the third floor to the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs and the Institute of Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union. When it is completed, the building will be a conference center and home-away-from-home for Jewish students, Hillel professionals and Hillel lay leaders whenever they travel to Washington, D.C.
Second, the neighborhood. This really is Chinatown and it's an exciting, growing, dynamic place to be. A beautiful, intricately carved Chinese gate arches across H Street welcoming visitors. Stores offer everything from Asian groceries, to martial arts devices, to dim sum. The MCI Center Sports Arena down the block -- owned by Hillel International Board of Governors member Abe Pollin -- attracts all kinds of events and spectators. The Washington Convention Center, located a block west, this week hosted an international convention of the deaf that brought 8,000 participants from around the world -- Hillel at Gallaudet College sponsored a packed reception. Need more space? A vast, new convention center is being built a block north.
This being Washington, D.C., the neighborhood also has its share of Western culture, media outlets, and button-down bureaucrats. Our next-door neighbor is the Department of the Treasury which is across from the Department of Justice and kitty-corner from the Veterans Administration. If you need inspiration, the National Portrait Gallery is down the block. And you don't need a receiver to hear National Public Radio: their headquarters building is within earshot. With construction cranes on every block, this neighborhood is changing by the minute.
Hillel professionals are relieved to be out of their packing crates after eight months of transition and happy to have fully functioning telephones, elevators and air conditioning. However, the building is not an end in itself but a tool to better serve Jewish college students and the Hillel movement. It is a tribute to Hillel's history, a symbol of Hillel's excellence, and a base from which to plan Hillel's future.