Ground Broken for Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life

At the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life Wednesday, Ron Perelman perhaps put it best.

“My father is a man of few words and great deeds,” Ron said of his father, Raymond, who did not speak at groundbreaking.

Gathered with dozens at the site on the 100 block of North 34th Street where the center will eventually stand, Ron shared what he learned from his father over the years.

When it’s finished, the Perelman Center for Jewish Life will be Drexel’s first-ever free-standing facility for students to experience Jewish life on campus together.

Rabbi Isabel de Koninck, leader of Hillel of Drexel University, speaks about Jewish life at Drexel in front of the site for the building that will become the organization's home.

Drexel Hillel Rabbi Isabel de Koninck — whom Fry said was one of the inspirations for the new building — described Raymond Perelman’s efforts to create the center using the words of Theodor Herzl, a Jewish activist during the 19th century: “If you will it, it is no dream.”

In that vein, Fry said Perelman has consistently “lift[ed] the spirit of the University.”

“You have been so fantastic and so wonderful to us over the years,” Fry said. “Thank you for your presence and your vision.”

In 2013, the groundbreaking was held for Raymond G. Perelman Plaza, which was created with a $5 million gift from Perelman. In 2014, that site was dedicated and opened.

In 2016, Fry expects to be in Perelman’s company yet another time.

Raymond G. Perelman, left, shaking hands with Drexel President John A. Fry, right, before the groundbreaking ceremony.

“Less than one year from now, we will be back together with Ray to do it again when we’re ready to open the Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life at Drexel University,” Fry said.

The center will serve a population of approximately 1,000 Jewish students that Fry said is “rapidly growing,” and  house Drexel Hillel, the campus chapter of the world’s largest Jewish student organization.

Fry described the center as something that has been “a long time coming.” 

“Here at Drexel and around the world, the deep bond within Jewish communities is historically hard-earned and well-deserved,” Fry said. “I can’t wait to see this beautiful building take shape over the next year.”

Stanley Saitowitz, principal of Natoma Architects, described his vision for the center, with spaces set aside for the observances of different sects of Judaism. When working on the design with students from across the faith, he said he was struck by how each student strove to accommodate the others.

As such, Saitowitz designed the building so that there would be open space going through each floor of the building that would allow sunlight to come through and touch each space.

“This building will be a space of light,” Saitowitz said.