MAIN STORYNovember 2014

Melvin Garb Hillel Center Opens at SDSU


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By Erin Philips


Hillel of San Diego has a new building next to the San Diego State University campus, and people can’t stop talking about it.

“Students at this campus deserved this building a long time ago,” Jackie Tolley, Hillel’s Campus Director at SDSU, said.

Discussions about building a new facility for Hillel of San Diego have been ongoing since 1987. A series of delays over the decades prevented the project from moving forward, but in April, just in time to host Passover Seder, the new building was complete. All those years of waiting gave project leaders, students and staff a lot of time to think about elements they wanted to include in the building. Designed by MW Steele Group Inc., the 10,500 square-foot, LEED Gold certified Melvin Garb Hillel Center is booming.

Following the summer lull, a dedication ceremony was held on October 12 to celebrate the milestone and recognize the leadership and generosity of the organizations and individuals that brought the building into being, including the Melvin Garb Foundation which gave the naming gift of $2.5 million, and Hebert J. Solomon, an alumnus of SDSU and long-time Hillel leader who led the $9 million capital campaign to fund the project.

“We didn’t want an institutional feel,” Tolley said. “We wanted something that students felt like was for them.”

The result is warm and inviting—two-stories of state-of-the-art design and architecture. A pool table, coffee bar, free Wi-Fi and snacks have quickly made the lounge area a popular hangout, and late night hours during exam periods ensure that students can take advantage of the library and boardroom to study. Staff offices are on the first floor to facilitate interaction with students, and on the second floor, a large, multi-purpose space with a fully-equipped kosher kitchen can accommodate large-scale events. The building is also environmentally friendly—solar photovoltaic panels on the roof supply more than 30% of on-site energy demands.

Michael Rabkin, Hillel of San Diego’s executive director, said students are looking for a home away from home. The dedicated, flexible space in the new building greatly expands the options for student programming, including Shabbat dinners, banquets, films, and lectures. Friday night services and dinners alternate with Friday Lunch & Learns with a local rabbi.

“The building itself is designed for building Jewish life on campus,” Rabkin said, “but we also are opening it up to other student groups.”

The building has hosted rush activities for a new sorority that doesn’t have a house yet, and a business fraternity frequently rents out space for events.

“Diversity and inclusion are important values that the university itself holds dear, and that is certainly the set of values that Hillel holds dear,” Rabkin said.

“We’re seen as a really important partner to the university in pursuing those goals.”

Hillel of San Diego has a youthful Board of Directors and partners with two student-led organizations, the Jewish Student Union and Students Supporting Israel (SSI), to create programming.

“Everything we do is that partnership between staff and students that makes for success,” Tolley said.

Upcoming events include an Alumni–Student Networking Shabbat Dinner on November 14. The dinner will be an opportunity for students to ask questions about life after college, and for alumni to share their professional insights and experience the excitement and energy the new building has brought to the campus community.

Over the next five to 10 years, Rabkin predicts more niche, interest-based Jewish groups, more students taking part in more events, and more staff to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly involved Jewish population on campus. “What we’re creating is very much a Jewish community that builds pride and ownership of Jewish life, that builds Jewish leaders,” Rabkin said.


For more information about Hillel of San Diego, the Melvin Garb Hillel Center, and upcoming events, visit


Erin Philips is a freelance writer based in San Diego. Email her at


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