Texas Hillel opened its doors to hundreds of students, supporters, community members, university administrators and local government officials yesterday to celebrate its new facility and new identity as the Texas Hillel Topfer Center for Jewish Life. Though Texas Hillel moved into the 18,000-square-foot building in November, the event was the first opportunity for the entire community to come together, tour the center and hang a mezuzah on the front entrance.
The daylong program included a morning brunch for 300 donors and an afternoon reception for more than 500 people. Mort Topfer, a former vice chairman of Dell who provided the lead gift for the center, addressed the audience, along with University of Texas System Chancellor Mark Yudof, Hillel International Board of Governors member Stacy Schusterman and student leaders. Other notable attendees included Hillel International Board of Governors Co-Chair Lynn Schusterman, University of Texas System Board of Regents Chairman James Huffines, legendary Texas football coach Darrell Royal and musician and gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman.
"We have a wonderful community of supporters. The hundreds of people who came felt invested in Hillel," said Doris Thompson, director of development at Texas Hillel.
The Topfer Center is a radical change from Texas Hillel's former facility, which was half the size and built in 1950. Students can now enjoy a kosher cafeteria and coffee shop, wireless Internet service, a game room, meeting spaces, a library and a projection screen for students to watch movies and sporting events.
"The building exceeds the vision we had. It's a place to come not only for the Jewish community but for the entire student body," Topfer told News 8 Austin during the event.
And students have wasted no time in putting the Topfer Center to good use. Its "premiere party" the previous weekend drew more than 600 students, many of whom had never been to Texas Hillel before, according to Executive Director David Komerofsky.
"We've found that the students who have traditionally attended our programs are even more engaged, and we're also able to engage more new people than ever before," he said.
The new building was also a factor in encouraging Komerofsky to join the Texas Hillel community. The former director of the rabbinical school and dean of students at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Komerosky began his tenure in Austin only one month ago and is excited about the organization's future.
"There's such energy here right now. It's critical point in Texas Hillel's history, and it's not to be missed," he said.