It was a celebration of the past and the future at the Central Florida Hillel building on Sunday March 27.
CFH, the largest center for Jewish student life in Central Florida, hosted a dedication ceremony in honor of Alan Ginsberg, the philanthropist largely responsible for the building’s construction.
The center, located in the $60 million NorthView apartment complex, opened its doors in fall 2013 to cater to the 6,000 Jewish students at UCF.
The building has since been renamed in remembrance of Ginsburg’s late son Jeffrey, who died in a plane crash 13 years ago and his late daughter-in-law Diane, who committed suicide two years ago.
“I’m sure they’re looking down from up above with approval with a smile,” Ginsburg said.
The current name is the Jeffrey and Diane Ginsburg Center for Jewish Student Life at Central Florida.
Hillel board members, building donors and UCF representatives, such as President John Hitt, populated the ceremony.
The Central Florida Hillel staff expressed both excitement and relief for the ceremony to finally arrive.
“To bring so many people involved in this project from day one, from concept all the way to making it reality all together in one room, it’s humbling,” said UCF alumnus Dan Samuels, director of Development. “I’ve been here six months, and to meet the people who make my job a reality, who make this organization a reality, who allow us to connect with 6,000 students, it’s just humbling.”
Aaron Weil, the executive director and CEO for Central Florida Hillel, gave a speech to the crowd highlighting the progress Hillel has made in two years’ time.
“When we started here two years, we knew about 600 Jewish students, about 10% of the Jewish population on this campus” Weil said. “With this investment, we are able to hire a significant staff, not just in numbers, but in stature. Without these individuals, how would we have seen in 24 months, a 400% increase in the number of students we’ve reached.
Because of this investment, we’re now in contact with 2400 Jewish students in just two years and this is just an idea of where we need to go.”
Once Weil finished, Alan Ginsburg walked up to the podium to give his own speech.
“I’ve been thinking about this for ten years,” Ginsburg said.
He went on to talk about his son Jeffrey’s passion and involvement for Hillel when he was in college.
After his son’s death, Ginsburg decided to build something for Hillel in honor of his memory.
And so became the Central Florida Hillel building, a self-perpetuating gift to the 6,000 Jewish students at UCF. Once built, it was decided it should be named after Ginsburg’s son.
Two years ago, Ginsburg’s daughter-in-law committed suicide.
“Never thought her name would get on the building also, but it is,” Ginsburg said, fighting back tears. “I said ‘We better do this pretty quick before my name ends up on that wall also, we’re running out of wall space’.”
The ceremony ended with a donation from the audience to Central Florida Hillel, with a generous twist: the money donated was matched and doubled by both the Ginsburg family and Hillel International.
As the audience shuffled out of Central Florida Hillel building, Dan Samuels already had his mind on tomorrow.
“This feels good, but the works never done,” Samuels said. “We move on from this, and we connect further in the community, and to continue to make this a home for the student at UCF.”
Harry Sayer is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.