Hillel Announces Capital Campaign, Service Projects To Celebrate 80th Birthday

Beyond having more than 500 people come together on campus for Maroon& Gold Shabbat last week, Minnesota Hillel announced it’s preparing to celebrate its 80th birthday in style.

Benjie Kaplan, Hillel’s executive director, announced that Hillel will be embarking on a $7 million capital campaign to completely remake the building on University Avenue in the heart of Dinkytown. Hillel has been in the same location since 1953, when $350,000 was raised to buy what was there, tear the building down, and build what is currently there. The current building opened in 1955.

“The custom brickwork, phone booth, intercom system, having an outlet in every room were such innovative parts of the building when it opened,” Kaplan said. “But if you look at needs of today’s student life and community, things that were not thought about were security, handicap accessibility, fire suppression systems, air conditioning, energy efficiency, and milk and meat kitchens.”

The campaign is being chaired by a three-generation team with strong ties to Hillel: Elliot and Eloise Kaplan, their daughter-in-law and Hillel board president-elect Debbie Stillman, and their grandchildren Sophie Stillman, Max Stillman, and Zoe Kirshbaum. Elliot Kaplan was the second student president of Minnesota Hillel, Sophie was a student vice-president and is now in Israel serving in the IDF, Max is the incoming president at the University of Minnesota-Duluth Hillel, and Zoe is in the class of 2021 and sings with the Minnesota Chai Notes a cappella group.

Being dedicated to the cause of Minnesota Hillel isn’t just a job for Benjie Kaplan. His grandparents and great grandparents were donors to the 1953 building; his father’s college poker game was played at Hillel and his mother was a candidate for Hillel Queen.

“Hillel has been a part of my family for four generations, and working with a multi-generation team and having my own multi-generation ties makes this more than a campaign,” he said.

At 67 years old, the cost for upkeep in the current building has become prohibitive.

“The plumbing, the fixtures: everything’s falling apart,” Kaplan said. “It’s getting more and more expensive to keep the building from falling apart.”

Kaplan said that the Capp family had invested in the building four years ago, which helped them give the site a facelift to help in the work of re-engaging the students. Hillel Marketing Intern Talor Blustin said that this school year, Hillel’s engagement work reached nearly 650 students, with Kaplan adding the only thing holding them back was the state of the facility.

“Hillel has been recognized with four different awards in the last 18 months,” Kaplan said. “The community has helped us create an amazing program and tool for the next generation of Jewish leaders, but we could do so much more with the right facility.”

Over the course of the last year and a half, Kaplan said that they have been exploring options that included staying in the building that is gutted and renovated – the route they will be taking – selling the building and moving, or tearing down and rebuilding on the same space.

“When we looked at the mission, we felt strongly that could accomplish within four walls we have,” he said. “Many organizations are running major campaigns right now, and we want to be as fiscally conservative as can be and be in line with the college students of today and tomorrow.

The other major announcement at Maroon & Gold Shabbat is the Hillel@80 year of service projects.

“Eighty years is a big deal,” he said. “In order for us to celebrate, we thought it would be great for students, parents, alumni, and the community to connect and reconnect with fun activities.”

Mark Divine and Andrew Wieberdink are co-chairing the initiative, working with Hayley Saxon, Hillel’s community development associate.

Kaplan said that events will be scheduled throughout the year, but the known ones so far are the U Day Of Service on Sept. 28, Homecoming Shabbat on Oct. 4, and Good Deeds Day on March 29.

“How do you celebrate 80 years?” Kaplan said. “We tossed around the idea of a gala or big fundraiser, but really, at the end of the day, a lot of people do that. Let’s celebrate by doing what Hillel does best, and that’s building community and giving back.”