Drexel Announces Plans to Create Center for Jewish Life

Rendering of Jewish Center
A rendering of the proposed Center for Jewish Life.

Drexel University announced plans to build a new Center for Jewish Life that would become the first Jewish center in the Philadelphia area conceived by a university rather than by the Jewish community.

A proposal for the Jewish center, which would be located in a 13,000-square-foot building at 118 North 34th Street near Lancaster Avenue, estimates that the total cost would be $7 million. According to Rabbi Isabel de Konick, Drexel’s Hillel director, the center will be completed within 36 months once half of the funding is secured.

The Center will include a chapel, dining hall, student lounge, meeting space and a kosher café open to the public as well as a kosher kitchen for students.

“Now the Drexel Jewish community will have a place they can call home that they don’t have to pack into boxes,” said de Konick.

According to de Konick, the lack of kosher dining and a dedicated space for Jewish life has made it difficult to track Jewish events, but she says the new space should solve those problems.

The plans for the Center for Jewish Life were revealed at an April 18 dinner attended by Drexel students and alumni as well as prominent members of the Jewish community.

The initiative for the new center came from the Drexel President, John A. Fry, in response to a Jewish student body that has become more active in recent years — attending Hillel programming, Shabbat services and dinners, and traveling in greater numbers to Israel on Birthright trips.

“There’s been an enormous upgrade in energy and I think some of that can be attributed to the atmosphere President Fry implemented at Drexel,” said de Konick.

Drexel has already invested the resources to develop the initial design and is seeking funding to move forward with the project. Seed funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia was used to create other Jewish community centers on Philadelphia campuses, like Steinhardt Hall at the University of Pennsylvania, which was built in 2003, and the Edward H. Rosen Hillel Center for Jewish Life at Temple University, built in 2009.

According to Hugh Chairnoff, a Drexel alumnus and the chairman of the Drexel Hillel board of overseers, about five or six percent, or between 900 and 1,200 undergraduate students, make up the Jewish population at Drexel.