A ‘new era’ for Jewish life

Updates to Berelson Center exemplify renewed commitment to religious affairs

Kathryn Nicolai, Investigative News Editor

This past Homecoming weekend, on Nov. 4, faculty, staff, students, and alumni gathered at the Berelson Center for Jewish Life for a two-part program that included the recognition of recent upgrades made to the building this past summer, as well as a Torah scroll dedication ceremony. Fourteen Jewish alumni from the class of 1967 donated the scroll, the second of the Berelson Center.

President John Bravman started the program by speaking about the religious history of the University and recent religious progressive efforts. Bravman said he considers himself a man of faith and emphasized the necessity to be “cognizant of what faith means to all people.”

The University was started by Baptists and “quickly took on a secular character.” Currently, the University is in a “better place, but not the last place it should be in recognizing all faiths,” which Bravman sees as a “never-ending task.” Bravman recognized commitments to all forms of religions on campus, which are expressed through methods such as improving the structure of the Berelson Center and raising funds for the first ever faculty member in Islamic Studies.

Improvements to the Berelson Center noted during the program include the implementation of air conditioning, a new Kosher kitchen, and new furniture. Rabbi Chana Leslie Glazer, the Chaplain for the Jewish Community, noted that the new Kosher kitchen serves as a meaningful message to parents and students alike in that it symbolizes the University’s investment in Jewish life and gives the University the “ability to reach out to different types of Jewish students” so that “everyone feels welcome regardless of their Jewish observance.” The new furniture also “made [The Berelson Center] feel much more comfortable.”

Hillel President, Jake Rubin ’19, said that he considers the Berelson Center a second home, and expressed gratitude on behalf of all students for the improvements made on the house to make “it as homely and welcoming as it can be.”

“It’s great to see it back on its feet, moving forward and walking on a path,” previous Jewish chaplain for 15 years, Rabbi Serena Fujita said.

Arnold Cohen ’67, returned to campus this past summer for his 50th reunion with a number of his brothers from Sigma Alpha Mu (Sammy), a previously functioning fraternity on campus. Cohen and his fraternity brothers label themselves as “Sammies” who were “proud of what we were” despite not always being “the sweethearts of campus.”

According to Cohen, Sammy was the Jewish fraternity on campus, and the only place you could express Judaism. Sammy “was the only place that would take us.” The campus’s Sammy House burnt down years ago. This past summer, Cohen found that “the place we felt was home didn’t exist” and there was “nothing to commemorate our years at Bucknell as Sammies.”

Meeting Rabbi Chana altered this feeling for Cohen. An awareness that specific services were unable to be held in the Berelson Center due to the lack of a second Torah scroll prompted this recent donation, allowing the Sammy brothers of 1967 to “memorialize, enrich, and ensure Jewish life on campus.”

The Berelson Center was an important symbol for Cohen. “Despite not having a house on campus, we’ll have a home,” he said.

Rabbi Chana echoed this, stating, “This is now a home we share together, all Bucknell students past, present, and future,” and that recent efforts symbolize a “new era for our Jewish community.”

Joel Berelson ’85, son of Stuart “Stu” Berelson, who led the fundraising and donations to the Berelson Center, was present at the program. Joel stated that it was important for his father and family to provide a place on campus to study and relax. The last time Joel was a student on campus, he attended Jewish services at the Martin House. Attending services at the Berelson Center was “very special.”

“It’s important to have a safe and welcoming space for Jewish students on campus,” Joel Berelson said.

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