UConn Hillel receives first major pre-campaign gift
By Judie Jacobson
The planned capital campaign to erect a new Hillel House on the campus of UConn at Storrs, and enhance the Jewish student organization’s programming, will not be launched officially until late February. In what campaign leadership hope is a sign of things to come, however, the campaign has already received its first major gift from a benefactor whose history of giving has helped measurably to enhance Jewish life at the university.
Morris N. Trachten and his wife Shirley, recently jumpstarted the $6 million campaign to build a new Hillel facility on North Eagleville Road with a donation of $1 million.
“Those who have been fortunate throughout their lives see that now it’s time to give something back,” Trachten told Momentum, UConn’s alumni magazine, in presenting the gift.
A 1948 UConn graduate, Trachten previously helped to create the Morris N. Trachten Kosher Dining Facility. Opened in 2003, the facility is part of the school’s Towers Dining Hall food court and serves three meals a day, seven days a week n between 300 n 400 meals daily n under the supervision of the Hartford Kashrut Commission.
“The idea was for UConn to attract more traditional Jewish students by offering a serious kosher dining option,” says Jay Rubin, a longtime friend of Trachten’s who served as executive vice president of the International Division of Hillel at the time the kosher dining hall was constructed. According to Rubin, until the arrival of kosher dining at Storrs, UConn “was not on the radar screen for most traditional students.”
Now, Trachten hopes to help make UConn even more attractive to top-shelf Jewish students with a new state-of-the-art home for Hillel that will include a coffee house, dedicated study space, kitchen and religious and social facilities. The building will sit on the same site as the current structure, which opened its doors in 1950.
“After the kosher kitchen opened, a number of parents called to ask me about it and find out what else UConn was doing for Jewish students,” says Trachten, who is an observant Jew and a longtime member of Westville Synagogue in New Haven.
“Now with Hillel, we’ll be able to attract an element of Jewish students, including graduate students, who we just couldn’t before. It’s the old saying n if you build it, they will come.”
Rubin, who now serves as Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Community Association of Austin, sees Trachten as one of the key players in bringing more Jewish students to UConn.
“In partnership with Hillel and the university, Morris has become the catalyst for making UConn more and more attractive to Jewish students regionally and nationally. From the Morris Trachten Kosher Dining Facility to the soon-to-be new Hillel Center for Jewish Life, Morris has sparked a renaissance of Jewish life at his alma mater and Connecticut’s flagship university.”
To be sure, the Jewish student population at UConn appears to be rapidly increasing during the last few years n and with it an impressive rise in the number of Jewish students taking advantage of Hillel programs and services.
According to Debbie Rubenstein, former executive director of UConn Hillel from 1993-2003, UConn’s Jewish student population stood at approximately 800 in 2003, when kosher dining came on campus. Today, that number has doubled. Estimates for the 2006/2007 academic year place UConn’s Jewish student population at 1,600, just about 10 percent of its general population. Of those students, about 1,200 are served by Hillel.
“When you think of Hillel across the country, you can see they are viable and important parts of their university communities and serve as gathering places for both Jewish and non-Jewish students alike,” Henry Zachs, who is co-chairing the campaign with Claude Bernstein, a member of the Hillel Governing Board, and Herbert Dunn, a 1961 UConn grad and a member of the UConn Foundation’s Executive Committee, told Momentum.
“The University has been very supportive of our campaign, both by endorsing the need for a new building and by offering the support of its staff as well. A gift to the Hillel campaign is a gift to the university,” he said.
Likewise, says Rubin, Trachten is a gift to the campaign, the university…and to the entire Jewish community.
“Morris Trachten has been a generous supporter of Jewish institutions and causes his entire adult life,” says Rubin.
“His support of UConn and UConn Hillel are the latest manifestations of his passion, purposefulness and philanthropy. He deserves not only our deepest gratitude, but our active emulation.”
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