Muhlenberg students celebrate Hanukkah in the Hillel House.


Muhlenberg’s Hillel House
Receives $1 Million Challenge Grant

November 14, 2008

Muhlenberg College has received an anonymous $1 million lead gift toward an estimated $3.5 million capital project to expand and renovate the Hillel House. In just the first few months of this challenge, Muhlenberg has received another $231,174 from donors in support of this important project. Muhlenberg has the only fully accredited Hillel Foundation at a small liberal arts college in America.

“This inspiring million-dollar commitment challenges us to realize our dream for a Hillel big enough to welcome all our Jewish students,” says College President Randy Helm. “We are already the most successful Hillel on any small liberal arts campus; this project will allow Muhlenberg to meet the increased space demands created by that success. Given by a Muhlenberg family – this is truly a gift from one generation to the next.”

“In the past 20 years, there has been a 300% growth in the number of Jewish students at the College,” says Patti Mittleman, Jewish chaplain and director of Hillel. “This trend has grown even stronger recently with a 49% increase in Jews over just the last four years. Participation in Hillel is at an all-time high. Weekly Shabbat Dinners routinely have more than 200 participants.”

The College’s Jewish population is the 9th highest, by percentage, in the country; Jewish students represent approximately 34% of the Muhlenberg student body. “The College now faces an extraordinary challenge,” Patti continues. “Rather than worrying about how to entice young Jews to participate in Jewish life, the Muhlenberg Hillel staff spends their time concerned with how to accommodate the overwhelming numbers of students who flock to its programs. Many weeks the number of students who want to participate in Shabbat Dinner far exceeds the numbers who can fit in the existing Hillel House. Currently, students hold religious services in attics and eat Shabbat Dinner on every available surface.”

Together with Hillel staff and student leadership, the College administration has created a vision for a renovation and expansion of the existing Hillel House that incorporates a magnificent addition including a Shabbat Dinner Hall with seating for over 300, a dedicated sanctuary, an institutional kitchen, additional student and staff office space and a student-designed lounge.

Commitment to the project is growing each day. In February 2008, a fully renovated Rhoda Plum Memorial Kitchen was named through a gift from Aaron Plum, grandfather of Lindsay Kutner ’08 in memory of his wife, Rhoda, who passed away in September 2004. “I wanted to do something to honor my wife,” says Mr. Plum. “Her house was always open and she loved to have people over to eat.” He adds that his granddaughter thoroughly enjoyed her Muhlenberg experience. “Lindsay blossomed at Muhlenberg. It’s such a homey place, and I knew it was the place for her. Just giving back isn’t what it’s about for me. This is something that students will enjoy and that will last. It was the right thing to do and the right place to do it.”

Muhlenberg College’s dedication of over $600,000 in funding allowed upgrades of existing space in summer 2008. Due to the pressing need for additional space to serve Jewish students, this project is on a fast-track schedule, but construction cannot begin until the necessary funds have been committed. “We hope to receive adequate commitments from members of the Muhlenberg community by April, so that we can break ground this summer,” says Patti. It is anticipated that, once operational, these newly renovated spaces will require an additional $88,000 in annual operating and maintenance costs.

“We are grateful for the extraordinary commitment to this project that has been demonstrated so far by several Muhlenberg families,” says Patti. “We hope that interested donors will also consider endowment gifts dedicated to the maintenance and operation of the expanded, renovated Muhlenberg Hillel House.”

For more information, visit Muhlenberg’s Hillel House capital project web page or call Patti Mittleman at 484-664-3244. For more information about the campaign, please contact the Office of Development & Alumni Relations at 484-664-3247 or

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