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Vol.25, No. 18 Mar. 31, 2000

Kraft Center For Jewish Student Life Opens April 2

By Suzanne Trimel

Columbia University and the Jewish Campus Life Fund will celebrate the dedication and cornerstone-laying on Sunday, April 2, of the Robert K. Kraft Family Center for Jewish Student Life, a new $11.5 million building that fulfills the long-held goal of creating a permanent home for Columbia's vibrant and diverse Jewish student community.

The dedication of the 28,000-square-foot, six-floor building on West 115th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive signals an historic juncture for the more than 3,000 students currently served by Columbia's Jewish Office in Earl Hall.

Scheduled speakers at the ceremony include President George Rupp; Barnard President Judith Shapiro; University Trustee Robert K. Kraft, the center's patron; Professor Robert Pollack, president of the Jewish Campus Life Fund, the alumni foundation that sponsors Jewish life at Columbia; Earle Kazis, chairman of the Jewish Campus Life Fund board; Rabbi Charles H. Sheer, the Jewish Chaplain since 1969; and Shira Brafman, BC '01, president of the Jewish Student Union.

The dedication ceremony, which is open to the public, begins at 1:00 p.m., followed by an open house and reception.

With the opening of the Kraft Center, the Jewish Office will move from its cramped three-room suite in the basement of Earl Hall, to the Kraft Center, which contains a grand hall and sanctuary seating 375, four classrooms, several student lounges and kitchens, a library, an auditorium seating 175, staff and student offices, the Beit Midrash Judaica Learning Center and an outdoor terrace.

Designed by Gruzen Samton Architects of New York, the Kraft Center is nestled between two brick apartment buildings and clad in " Jerusalem stone," a limestone quarried in the Negev that is used extensively in Jerusalem. The variety chosen for the Kraft Center, Ramon gray, is the densest type of Jerusalem stone and was chosen to stand up to the New York freeze-and-thaw cycles and the winds off the Hudson River, according to Jordan Gruzen, partner in the architectural firm that has completed more than two dozen synagogues or Jewish cultural and community facilities in the metropolitan New York area.

The Jerusalem stone wall appears throughout the building, including on the main floor of the Center.

"The wall is symbolic of the fabric of Jewish life," said Gruzen. "It connects all components of the facility, weaving together the various social, religious, cultural and intellectual functions."

The building is named for the family of Robert K. Kraft, a 1963 graduate of Columbia College and University Trustee since 1991. His lead gift in 1993 launched the building campaign for the Center.

Citing the strength of Jewish spiritual and cultural life on Columbia's campus, Kraft said: " Columbia has long needed this building as a symbol of support for this vibrant community and its strong tradition of spirituality on the Columbia campus. I am honored to have been part of the commitment to make the center a reality for today's students and for future generations."

Through the leadership of Rupp, the University embraced the Kraft initiative and donated the land for the building, formerly a parking lot. Contributions to the building campaign were made by alumni, parents, foundations and friends, and an endowment has been established to sustain the building's operations and programs.

The Kraft Center is sponsored by the Jewish Campus Life Fund, established by alumni in 1929 to sustain Jewish life on campus. The development committee for the Kraft Center campaign was co-chaired by Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, a 1951 graduate of Columbia College and chairman emeritus, chief executive officer and former publisher of The New York Times, and Herman Wouk, the author, a 1934 graduate of the College. Kazis, the former president of the Jewish Campus Life Fund and current chair of its board, served as building committee chair.

"Columbia has one of the strongest Jewish student communities of any university," said Rabbi Sheer, the Jewish chaplain at Columbia for 31 years. "I can hardly express the gratitude I feel to finally have a building that meets our needs and symbolizes our meaningful and vibrant existence at Columbia."

"This is a tremendous gift to the Columbia Jewish community and the University overall," Pollack said. "We expect the center will play a big role in opening to the campus as a whole the many aspects of Jewish culture through lectures, cultural events, film and classes."

The first public lecture in the new center will be the annual Blauner Lecture on Tuesday, April 11, featuring Rabbis David Saperstein and Avi Weiss, who will speak at 8:00 p.m. on the topic, "A Passion for Social Justice: Two Lifelong Activists Speak Out."

During this event, the Jewish Campus Life Fund will announce that the Kraft Center has been selected by Hillel to be a lead campus in the Tzedek Hillel Program for select campuses who have made social action a central part of their program through community service, advocacy, education and community partnerships.

The Tzedek program at Columbia has included a literacy project at neighborhood schools, visits to hospitals and home-bound elderly residents on the Upper West Side , a hunger project and work with homeless shelters.