Nearly a year after Hillel held a groundbreaking ceremony at Temple University to symbolically mark the start of construction on a new Jewish center there, students, donors and officials gathered for a short celebration marking the actual commencement of demolition and construction.
A project long in the works, the 13,000-square-foot Edward H. Rosen Hillel Center is expected to be completed in the fall of 2009.
According to Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, roughly 70 percent of the needed $6.9 million has been raised.
In order to make way for the building, three ramshackle rowhomes near the corner of 15th and Norris streets first need to be demolished. That project was begun on May 9. Workers have already destroyed the one structure farthest from the corner, which is connected to a still-inhabited home, so they had to do so by hand, using crowbars and sledgehammers. The other buildings will be taken down by a wrecking ball.
On May 15, several dozen people stood in front of the rubble, beneath a strong afternoon sun, and recited the Shehecheyanu.
"This is a kind of sacred occasion," said Rosen, a longtime member of the Temple board of trustees and for whom the future building is being named.
Yet two days before, a very different type of event occurred just across the street, roughly 30 feet from the building site. On May 12 at 11:30 p.m., a female was shot by a male near the security booth that sits at the corner of 15th and Norris, according to a Temple University statement.
The victim, who was not a student, was taken to Temple University Hospital for treatment. Police have identified a suspect and are pursuing an arrest warrant, said Temple officials.
"Philadelphia and Temple University police quickly determined the shooting was not random, and there was no additional threat to the campus community," the statement read.
The incident comes months after a high-profile attack that occurred nearby, in which a Jewish man was assaulted late at night in an alleged bias-related attack.
Rabbi Howard Alpert, executive director of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, said that safety is a concern on any campus in an urban area. But he asserted that it's no more an issue on Temple's campus than it is over at the University of Pennsylvania.
Matan Silberstein, president of Temple Hillel's student organization, who also happens to live a block from the building site, said that he's not worried about safety. He added that the corner will have a totally different feel when the abandoned buildings are replaced with a new, well-lit edifice.
In terms of fundraising, national Hillel announced that it had received a $5.6 million grant from an anonymous donor for capital projects at campuses around the country, with $250,000 of that money going toward the construction of the Rosen center in the form of a challenge grant.
The donor stipulated that he would offer matching funds for individual gifts starting at $25,000 up to $50,000, with a total cap of $250,000.