Towson University Hillel opens new space

Purim party in Towson Commons space
Towson University Hillel celebrates a pre-Purim unmasking event in their new Towson Commons space. (David Stuck)

Towson University Hillel has a new space at the Towson Commons building.

The 2,500-square-foot Commons space features a full kitchen, a large multipurpose room, workspaces, conference rooms, private offices and lounge areas. It opened on March 15.

This is “a revolutionary move for a revolutionary time,” according to the Towson University Hillel website.

Lisa Bodziner, the executive director of the Towson University Hillel, said that for the last two and a half years, in addition to their main lounge space in Newell Dining Hall, the Hillel also had a house on Chesapeake Avenue, which was donated to them.

“It was a sweet home and that was really our pilot, but it wasn’t big enough to do the mass programming that we were looking to do,” Bodziner said.

To find a larger space, Hillel put together a task force to research what students, staff, alumni and community members wanted. One of the most important aspects was the location.

“Being in the heart of Towson, it’s walking distance from campus and also convenient for students living off campus,” said Matthew Lipsky, chair of the Towson University Hillel governing board. “When polled by our students, they hands down love the location.”

The Towson Commons space is also significantly larger than the lounge, allowing the Hillel to hold multiple events at one time. Hillel staff and students are also excited about the kosher full-sized kitchen since their lounge space did not have that.

Jenna Heisman, the president of the Towson Hillel executive student board, is looking forward to bringing people together with cooking events. Leora Match, the program director of the Towson University Hillel, would love to have challah-baking events as well.

“Food is a huge way to show love, share community, and it’s an instant way to get people together,” Match said.

Match believes it is much more rewarding for students to cook their own Shabbat dinners, instead of having catered kosher food as they did in the past.

Additionally, Towson University is the fastest-growing university in Maryland, and the Jewish community is expanding along with the campus.

“Towson University’s footprint is also growing beyond the traditional map, so it really fits nicely with where we’re located,” Bodziner said.

The Hillel will still keep its lounge space, but this new space will provide an opportunity for the Jewish community to keep growing in the coming years.

Towson Hillel is an agency of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, which provides funding for the Hillel.

“As Towson University’s Jewish student population continues to grow, this new communal space will offer Towson University Hillel a chance to expand its programming to meet the needs of a growing and diverse Jewish student body,” said Marc B. Terrill, the president of The Associated.

For this project specifically, the Hillel received funding from multiple donors, but the most notable donation was a $50,000 grant from Becky Brenner and the Ronnie H. and Alli Russel Charitable Foundation.

“We’re very lucky that we have so many people that are so generous and see the goodness of having a strong and thriving Hillel in Towson and in Baltimore,” Lipsky said.

Towson Hillel has created a “safe space” for Jewish students on campus, and Match hopes the new space can continue to do that.

“You can come by the Commons to drink coffee in the morning before class or you can stop by on your way home to have a conversation with a staff member before going out in Uptown,” Match said.

In addition to being a home for students, the Hillel hopes that Commons can be a space for the Towson Jewish community in general.

This space will be able to benefit Towson University alumni, many of whom stay within the Baltimore metro area after graduation. As many young Jewish families move into Towson, this space can serve them, too.

“Families and community members, who might have been a little bit outside of the Baltimore Jewish bubble, now have a place to gather and a place to build community as well,” Match said.

The Towson Commons area will also be available to rent out for local businesses, work events, community gatherings and other events, according to the website.

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