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Hillel to start on new center

Hillel to start on new center

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After 53 years in its "A-frame" building, the Texas A&M Hillel Foundation is making a major change.

The foundation will hold a groundbreaking for its new building Sunday at 11:30 a.m. followed by a reception at Messina Hof at 1:30 p.m.

The current building on George Bush Drive, which is only 5,000 square feet, is in ill-repair and has outlived its usefulness. The new building will be a state-of-the-art two-story building of 16,500 square feet. The entire building campaign was $8 million, with $4 million of that going toward an endowment to be used for programs at the center.

Demolition of the existing building will begin in December, and the project is expected to take a year.

"It's essentially a home away from home for Jewish students. It's not only a religious building; it's a gathering place," said Don Reiser, the building chairman and board vice president.

The building will be named the A.I. and Manet Schepps Hillel Building and will also house the Abe and Annie Center for Jewish Life and the Seibel Center for Crypto-Jewish Education.

A.I. Schepps is a Class of 1939 Aggie and World War II veteran. The Houston resident always attends the board meetings, Reiser said. The late Abe and Annie Seibel of Galveston did not have a direct connection to Texas A&M or College Station, but their foundation seeks to support the Jewish community of Texas, particularly as it relates to education. The Schepps family and the Seibel Foundation were the major donors for the project.

"None of us get anywhere in life without the backs of the ones ahead of us," Reiser said. "It was really important to me that this building was representative of that fact."

The new center will include a sanctuary, an auditorium, a balcony arbor, two kitchens, student workspaces, an exhibition hall, a media center, a music room, a snack area and a reception area.

"I really wanted a building that Bryan-College Station could be proud of," Reiser said. He grew up in Bryan-College Station and graduated from Texas A&M in 1966. His mother, Shirley Reiser, was the director of the Hillel Foundation from 1957 to 1980. He now lives in Houston but wants to give back to his hometown, he said.

The center will also include a replication of the Western Wall in Jerusalem on the side facing Dexter Drive. Reiser said he hopes the wall can become a new Aggie tradition, for both Jewish and non-Jewish students, who can tuck their prayers between the cracks of the stone. All the stone on the building will be imported from Jerusalem.

When the current building was built, there were about 120 Jewish students on campus, Reiser said. Now there are more than 1,300.

The A&M Hillel Foundation -- which was started in 1920 by Esther Taubenhaus -- is the oldest Hillel Foundation in the country. The name was coined by Taubenhaus, and she granted permission for other clubs to join the Hillel Foundation.

"Hillel at Texas A&M was Hillel before there even was Hillel," Reiser said.

The public is invited to the groundbreaking ceremony Sunday morning. Reiser is also still raising funds for the $4 million endowment. To learn more or to donate, visit tamuhillel.org or call 696-7313.

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