More room to grow: Hillel of Silicon Valley celebrates new San Jose home

After years of squeezing up to 50 students and staff attending Shabbat dinner in a space designed for half that number, Hillel of Silicon Valley is finally getting some breathing room. 

“This Hillel has thrived despite the facility we’re currently in,” director Sue Maltiel said. “Yet, the longer we stayed in this facility, the more it negatively impacted what we had to offer.”

Hillel of Silicon Valley celebrated its new location at 44 S. 11th St., a former private home a block from the campus of San Jose State University, with a reception to thank its first wave of donors and lenders. The list includes local realtor Al Guggenheim, architect David Fenster and project manager John Nadler, all whom provided their services at no cost.    

The new Hillel house in San Jose is one block from the SJSU campus.

Yet the fundraising effort is far from over, as officials attempt to raise $3 million, approximately three times the cost of the house and upcoming renovations.

 “We’ve been really fortunate that the community has responded so generously,” Maltiel said. “But we don’t want to give the impression that it’s complete.”

Escrow closed last week, and about 60 people attended the first Shabbat dinner in the new house Sept. 11. Usage will be put on hold, however, as soon as renovations begin, on a date yet to be determined.   

The main floor of the house is 2,000 square feet, with an unfinished 800-square-foot basement. To be in accordance with building codes (and ready for a pool table), the bottom floor will be given a new foundation and concrete slab.

The main floor will include offices, a conference room that doubles as a sanctuary, and a lounge room with computers, couches and a dining room table for Shabbat dinners. Cooking classes will be held in the kitchen, which was remodeled within the past 10 years. 

“We are on the verge of really being able to make a difference for our Jewish students attending schools that have not traditionally been centers of Jewish life,” Maltiel said. 

Made up of students primarily from San Jose State, Santa Clara University, and DeAnza, West Valley and Foothill community colleges, Hillel of Silicon Valley has 1,400 on its mailing list, according to Maltiel. 

The new property will come as a welcome change from the current location on E. William Street, a 625-square-foot house a few blocks from campus that originally was a Togo’s sandwich shop. Alan Werba, who chairs the campaign committee, said when 50 students show up for Shabbat dinners, they are “squeezed” in.  

“It’s energizing the community,” Werba said. “We’re all very jazzed and excited.”

Amanda Pazornik