In a festive celebration Wednesday night, hundreds of members of the Miami community gathered to mark the dedication of The Braman Miller Center for Jewish Student Life at the University of Miami Hillel.
Amid a holiday atmosphere of the eight days of Hanukkah, students, alumni, parents, donors and other visitors shared laughs while marveling at the newly renovated, three-story building.
The building, which was made possible through gifts from two of Miami’s most philanthropic families, the Bramans and the Millers, along with Hillel International, provides a space for all students and the community to study, pray, eat, and spend time with friends. The common message throughout the evening was to create a welcoming place where the Jewish community and others, whether in Miami or from outside of the region, can gather and deepen their connections.
“Since students don’t always have breaks for the Jewish holidays, it will be nice to be able to come here and share experiences with students like you,” said Joey Newfeld, a junior majoring in Industrial Engineering. “Just knowing that there is somewhere you can go where you’ll always be accepted no matter what happens and be able to be yourself is really comforting.”
The dedication featured speeches from Eric Fingerhut, CEO and president of Hillel International; UM President Julio Frenk; and Chaim Shacham, Consul General of Israel to Florida. Each member touched on the main focus of the new center: to provide students an opportunity to gain a deeper connection with Jewish culture and strengthen relationships with others.
“Here at UM, Hillel gives Jewish students a place where they can call home, a place where they can connect with their culture, deepen their spirituality, energize their commitment to community service, and develop relationships that, as we heard, will last a lifetime,” said Frenk. “We want to create an environment where everyone feels like they belong.”
As part of the celebration, Felicia Knaul, director of UM's Miami Institute for the Americas and wife of President Frenk, lit four lights of the menorah signifying the fourth day of Hanukkah. Frenk, who is the first Jewish president in UM’s history, looked on with the couple's daughter as the crowd then rejoiced in song as part of the Hanukkah celebration.
Students want to have a sense of belonging at their university and the Braman Miller Center for Jewish Student Life will undoubtedly provide a home-away-from-home for them on-campus.
The evening began with a networking hour where guests enjoyed drinks, food, student led tours and a live performance by founder of the Guitars Over Guns Organization, Chad Bernstein. The tours took guests from the first floor, where conference rooms and an open ballroom greeted them, to study rooms and lounges on the second floor, to a third floor lounge area and roof-top balcony overlooking parts of the UM campus.