Over the summer, the William and Mary Real Estate Foundation and Hillel announced that construction on a new facility intended to serve as a gathering place for Jewish students would begin in January 2018. When completed, the facility will host cultural, spiritual, social and educational programming, after a “seven-figure” contribution from Mark and Rosalind Shenkman. The facility will be called the Shenkman Jewish Center.
Previously, students practicing the Jewish faith had no dedicated space on campus for social and educational gatherings. When the Shenkman Jewish Center is completed, it will house meeting rooms, study lounges and a kosher kitchen.
While Mark and Rosalind are not alumni of the College of William and Mary, one of their sons, Greg, graduated from the College in 2003, and Mark was inducted as an honorary alumnus of the Raymond A. Mason School of Business in 2015. Mark said that his passion for history, something that started when he first visited Williamsburg in his childhood and grew when he was stationed at Fort Lee, is what motivated him to contribute to the Center.
When Greg graduated from the College, the Shenkman family decided that creating a center for students practicing the Jewish faith would be a way to provide an enriching opportunity on campus.
There are numerous factors behind our decision to make a transformational gift to William & Mary,” Mark Shenkman said in a press statement.
“There are numerous factors behind our decision to make a transformational gift to William & Mary,” Mark Shenkman said in a press statement. “In addition to our love of American history — including William & Mary’s impressively long history — President Reveley has shown tremendous support and enthusiasm for this project. We also believe in Rabbi Gershon Litt’s vision for the Center and know that his leadership will pave the way toward a very successful future for Jewish students benefitting from all of the activities the Center will offer. In my view, the Center will help attract talented Jewish students who might not have ever considered applying to William & Mary, which could lead to a larger pool of applicants for the school. In so many wonderful ways, this facility will strengthen the Jewish identity on campus.”
As the director of Hillel, Litt will lead operations at the Shenkman Jewish Center. Once a special use permit is granted for the property, the building will be managed by the Real Estate Foundation in conjunction with the City of Williamsburg. This means that the Board of Visitors does not need to formally vote on a resolution to approve the decision to construct the facility.
The Real Estate Foundation, an independent nonprofit corporation, acquires, manages and leases property for the College. It currently manages and owns Tribe Square, and purchased the Days Inn hotel on Richmond Road last year, which is now Richmond Hall.
Once completed, the Shenkman Jewish Center will be approximately 3,000 square feet, located at the intersection of Jamestown Road and Cary Street. Currently, the site is undeveloped, but it is on the same block as the Confucius Institute, the Christian Science Reading Room, Temple Beth El and the Wesley Foundation. Plans for the building’s architecture include a two-story facility with a brick facade to fit the character of the area.
According to Alexina Haefner ’19, the president of Hillel, the Shenkman Jewish Center is something that Jewish students on campus have wanted for many years.
“Jewish students have been waiting for something like the Shenkman Jewish Center for ages. A place we can call our own, where we can gather for Shabbat meals and holidays and hold regular Hillel events,” Haefner said. “The kosher kitchen will also be a huge step forward, as currently we have to get our kosher meals from Norfolk. The center will be a permanent symbol of the vibrancy of William and Mary Jewish life and of how welcome Jewish students are on campus.”
Hillel is the largest Jewish student organization in the world, and it exists at approximately 550 colleges and universities. The Hillel organization at the College was established in Williamsburg in 1993, and students in the program participate in around 30 events each semester.
According to College President Taylor Reveley, the Shenkmans are helping to create an inclusive environment at the College.
“William & Mary cares enormously that our students be a part of a diverse, inclusive and welcoming environment, and physical space plays an important role,” Reveley said in a press statement. “Mark and Rosalind are helping us take a major step forward in this realm through the marvelous center they are making possible. This splendid gift provides the means for so many of our students to thrive in ways they have never been able to before and for that we are truly grateful.”