Neighbors, faith and community leaders and Muhlenberg alumni, students, faculty and staff, gathered for a Nov. 13 naming ceremony that recognized a gift to Muhlenberg Hillel made by Lisa and Michael Leffell, parents of two alumni.
The Leffell family's generous gift was pledged in 2008, just before the former Hillel House underwent major renovations to become the facility that it is today. The family chose to remain anonymous at the time, as Benjamin and Adam Leffell were still studying on campus. Now that Benjamin and Adam have graduated, the Leffells were formally recognized for their transformational gift.
While there were many leadership gifts the college received to make the project possible, the Leffells' gift was vital to its success.
Benjamin Leffell graduated from Muhlenberg College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in religion studies, with minors in Jewish studies and history. Adam Leffell graduated from Muhlenberg College in 2013 with a bachelor of arts in English, with a minor in Jewish studies.
"While we have a deep love of Judaism, that was not the driving force behind our initial connection to Hillel. It was the community…that drew us in and kept us involved,” said Benjamin and Adam Leffell in remarks at the naming. “Hillel was a place we went to grow as people and as Jews."
During their remarks, Benjamin and Adam added that the Hillel House has been their parents' favorite destination on campus since the time of their first visit and that their parents are energized and inspired by thriving Jewish communities, involving themselves in Jewish life wherever they go.
"We are honored to have the new Muhlenberg Hillel building named for our family. Hillel is a welcoming community that inspires students to explore and strengthen their Jewish identity," said Michael and Lisa Leffell. "Hillel was central to Adam and Ben’s Muhlenberg experience, and we hope that future students can find their home in this beautiful space."
The Leffell Center for Jewish Student Life, formerly Hillel House, was transformed into the facility it is today in 2010. The center was designed to serve the needs of an active Jewish student body that represents over 28 percent of all students and a vibrant Hillel community.
"Muhlenberg College is proud of our decades-long legacy of having strong Jewish life on our campus. Nearly one-third of Muhlenberg’s student population is Jewish. Over two-thirds of those students are actively involved in Muhlenberg College Hillel, making it the largest student organization on campus," said Muhlenberg College President John I. Williams, Jr. in remarks at the naming. "Hillel at The Leffell Center will enhance this legacy by developing Jewish leadership for the Jewish community locally, regionally and nationally by providing our students with outstanding staff mentors and the resources to become empowered, innovative and engaged Jewish creators, thinkers and leaders."
The building includes a Shabbat dining room with seating for over 300, a dedicated sanctuary, an institutional kosher kitchen, student and staff office spaces and a student lounge. The space is available to all Muhlenberg students, regardless of faith tradition.
Rabbi Melissa B. Simon, Hillel director and Jewish chaplain also spoke at the naming, saying, "In an age where we are more and more siloed, Muhlenberg College Hillel is a rare space where people come together despite their differences. Hillel welcomes everyone in the Muhlenberg College community, regardless of their denomination, faith tradition or background."
Muhlenberg College is committed to a welcoming experience for students and open doors to those engaged in Jewish life on campus. The college's affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America underscores a strong support for a variety of religious and non-religious traditions. Muhlenberg's current Jewish student body consists of over 600 young people from across the U.S. as well as Israel and Panama.
Muhlenberg College Hillel envisions a world where every student is inspired to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel.