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Illini Hillel Centennial Blog #10: Remembering Hillel's Bar Mitzvah

By Ezra Shelato

Rabbi Benjamin Frankel founded the first Hillel foundation at the University of Illinois in the Fall of 1923. During its first several years, the Illini Hillel foundation operated in small quarters on Green street. In the Fall of 1936, 13 years after the establishment of Hillel and nine years after Rabbi Frankel's passing, the Jewish students and faculty of the University of Illinois celebrated Illini Hillel’s Bar Mitzvah.

Below are some records from the journalists at the Hillel Post about how the community celebrated the event.

To Commemorate Bar Mitzvah Hillel Post, October 27, 1936

“Just thirteen years ago, a small group of students were organized as the first Jewish Foundation in the country, to meet the religious, social and cultural needs of the Jewish students who were on campus at that time.

Little did those first founders dream that within little more than a decade the institution would be a national affair, serving the needs of eight thousand students annually on the far-flung campuses of this country.

There are over 100,00 Jewish college students in the country, according to a recent survey made by the B’nai B’rith Hillel Commission at Columbus, Ohio. The future of Hillel looms large when we consider the vast numbers who have yet to enjoy the companionship, the guidance, and the cultural opportunities which a Foundation has to offer.

On this, our Bar Mitzvah year, we count our blessings with a sense of gratitude. But more important yet is that sense of vision which makes us look to the morrow, to see the large Universities throughout the country with Foundations in their midst, to offer to all 100,000 Jewish students what only eight thousand now enjoy.”

Hillelites Hold Celebration of Bar Mitzvah This Week Hillel Post, October 27, 1936

“One of the most impressive celebrations of the year will be the Hillel Bar Mitzvah week-end, October 30th, 31st and November 1st. It will mark the completion of thirteen years of service by the oldest Hillel unit in the country.”

“The week-end will begin on Friday evening with the usual Fireside Service in the lovely Chapel. The discussion of the evening will be led by Dr. Sachar. A rich program of music and entertainment has also been planned.

The celebration will be participated in not only by Jewish students and townspeople on the campus, but by hundreds of friends who will come from long distances.”

“Saturday afternoon [there] will be [an] Open House at the Foundation and leading townspeople will assist as hostesses during the day. On Saturday night the formal Bar Mitzvah dance will be held at the Social Center. More than 600 students will dance to the strains of Bob Lenz’s orchestra.”

“Friends of Hillel have every reason to expect a thoroughly successful and enjoyable week-end. Large attendance is expected at all special functions, and the present status of preparation seems to show that future Hillelities will look back fondly at the Foundation’s Bar Mitzvah celebration as one of the greatest events ever to be held on the campus.

On Sunday morning special Temple services will be held at Sinai with microphone extension to accommodate the overflow crowd which is expected.

At 2:30 in the afternoon, the Chapel, built through the courtesy of Ramah Lodge Auxiliary of Chicago, will be dedicated in the presence of Auxiliary representatives and friends from all over the state.

At 3:30 there will be a large rally at the Social Center which will be addressed by University representatives, President Alfred M. Cohen, Fred Bernstein, President of District Number 6, the Hillel directors and representatives of visiting organizations.

The busiest week-end in Hillel's history will be wound up by a cost supper served by the ladies of Hadassah in the Foundation quarters. A large number of Hillelites have lent its services to the success of the celebration of the Foundation’s thirteenth birthday.”

Chapel to be Officially Dedicated Sunday; As Part of Bar Mitzvah Hillel Post, October 27, 1936

“As a fitting adjunct to the Bar Mitzvah ceremonies to be held here this week-end, Mrs. Herzon will formally dedicate the new chapel on behalf of the Ramah Lodge Woman’s Auxiliary.

Alfred M. Cohen, president of B’nai B’rith, and Dr. Sachar are to officially accept the gift. The chapel is the newest and most prized part of the local Foundation. It was completed this summer. Mark Levy and Kay Klawans, students in architecture, designed the chapel. The room has a seating capacity of sixty and is open to all at any time. Orthodox services have been held in the chapel Friday nights and Saturday mornings since it has been available. Visitors and friends all marvel at the beauty of this welcome addition to the Foundation.”

According to these records, Hillel's Bar Mitzvah included several exciting plans, and it seems as though the events were a grand success! Over 600 people attended the Bar Mitzvah dance, and all other events had attendance in record numbers.

Foundation’s Anniversary Unforgettable Hillel Post, November 17, 1936

“Hillelites are still talking about the gala events which centered about the occasion of the thirteenth birthday of the Hillel Foundation on the weekend of October 30-November 1.

The Hon. Alfred M. Cohen, renowned as international president of the B’nai B’rith, arrived in Champaign Friday, October 30. [A] special Fireside program was held at the Foundation, at which Mr. Cohen was president.

Saturday night, the semi-formal Bar Mitzvah dance was held at the social center, where over 600 friends of Hillel swayed, tripped, and fell to the melodious rhythms of Bob Lorenz’s orchestra. The dance was an outstanding success.

Sunday morning, special Temple services were held at Sinai, and the overflow crowd was accommodated by an amplifier. At the services, Dr. Sachar introduced Mr. Cohen, who delivered an interesting address. In the early afternoon, the Chapel, gift of the Women’s Auxiliary of Ramah Lodge was dedicated by the Auxiliary’s representative before a host of friends. Following the dedication, a large rally was held at the social center, where representatives of visiting organizations spoke.

What is easily the biggest and busiest weekend Hillel has known in all her thirteen years of existence was just as easily the most successful venture to date, as any and all who attended will willingly testify.”

Bar Mitzvah Week-end Hillel Post, November 17, 1936

“The celebration of Hillel’s thirteenth birthday will long be remembered as one of the outstanding events in our history. Each and every activity planned for the week-end was carried out with unusual success, and it was a real source of pride to greet hundreds of guests from every part of the state. The huge throng which crowded the Temple at Sunday morning services, the Foundation at the chapel dedication, and the Social Center for the formal exercises, reflected a fine sense of loyalty which the Jewish communities of Illinois feel towards the Foundation.

Through the tireless efforts of all our committees, arrangements for the busy week-end went smoothly, and the hundreds of guests that Hillel entertained were given an insight into the various activities at Hillel.

We cannot refrain from mentioning a word of praise to the decorations committee who created in our Center a festive Bar-Mitzvah spirit very much in keeping with the mood of the celebration.”

Nearly nine decades later, we modern 'Hillelites' are eager to celebrate 100 years of the Illini Hillel's operations.

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