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Davis, California

Friday, March 1, 2024

Five-million-dollar project lends Jewish students a new home

Fifteen years of designing and 14 months of construction later, the sprawling 9,700-square-foot Davis Hillel House recently opened its doors to the community.

Located at 328 A St. in Downtown Davis, the Hillel House has been dedicated to leading donor Sam Len, who passed away in January.

The house offers students a convenient stop of comfort close to campus.

“It is exactly as I envisioned it to be,” said Capital Campaign Manager Raphael Moore.  “It’s a home for students who need a warm place, a listening ear and a warm meal.”

Three levels are fully equipped with the only kosher kitchen in Yolo County, a café with wireless internet, a solar electric system, 14 toilets, an underground ballroom, religious spaces, meeting areas, elevators (making it wheelchair accessible), a den and a dumbwaiter.

“It really is a home away from home for students,” Moore said.

The café provides whiteboards, tables, chairs and a developing student-run bakery.

“The café is definitely my favorite room,” Moore said. “Café Hillel is a wonderful place for students; it’s a combination of everything: a place to eat, meet, chat and relax.”

As a UC Davis student 25 years ago, Moore was an involved member of Hillel when it used to be a 1,100-square-foot bungalow with a single bathroom.

“I didn’t feel like it was a very good Jewish home; it didn’t meet the students’ needs that it had promised,” Moore said.

In an effort to revamp the house into a place where both Jewish students and non-Jewish students could interact, study and relax, Moore joined the board of directors 10 years later.
“After 15 years of designing what I dreamed to be the perfect house, I know where every outlet, every light switch and door should be,” Moore said.
The house was designed to be eco-friendly and is one of the first “green” Hillel buildings in the country.
“It is up to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards in terms of green technology and green building,” said Hillel’s Programming Director, Maiya Chard-Yaron.
The facility provides spaces that can be rented out to the community for a myriad of events.
“The 625-square-foot commercial kosher kitchen allows us to host Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, graduation parties, anything you want,” said Hunter Launer, one of four student members on the board of directors and a senior neurology, physiology and biology major at UCD.
“Because the Dining Commons are not kosher, this kitchen also accommodates religious students thinking about coming to Davis,” Launer said.
In an effort to provide students with the option of using their swipes at the new kosher kitchen, the board of directors is working with the university to develop a plausible system.
The house already provides what they claim to be their “famous kosher Tuesday lunches,” which are lunches free to any student of any faith.
“We have students from various religious backgrounds who attend our programs or help plan programs here,” Chard-Yaron said. “We do like to partner up with other organizations on campus as well.”
And for those who do not have a place to go, Hillel is free to students of any religious background. No membership is required and their doors are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
“Obviously, there are a lot of Jewish-oriented events. You do not have to be Jewish to get involved,” Launer said. “Some of our most active members are not Jewish, such as Chris Brown – not the singer – a fourth-year student, who runs our bakery.”
“My goal here is to offer opportunities to students and to work with them on planning events and creating community,” Chard-Yaron said.
The Hillel House also offers students a paid internship program, and they are currently taking applications. The deadline is Friday.

“My hope for the future is that it will be used the way it was built to be used,” Moore said.

ANI UCAR can be reached at city@theaggie.org.


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