Growing up, Fredericksburg native Larry Silver spent many hours hanging out on what were then open fields of the nearby Mary Washington College.
How fitting that decades later, the real estate investor has established a place at Mary Washington for students to hang out. Silver, based now in Boca Raton, Florida, was on hand yesterday for a “socially distanced soft opening” of the Maxine and Carl D. Silver Hillel Center at University of Mary Washington.
“My parents loved Fredericksburg and they loved the university,” Larry Silver said during a small ceremony in front of the Center, at the corner of College Avenue and Payne Street. “This is a great way to honor them.”
Students will, in fact, do much more than hang out at the 9,800-square-foot red brick structure, built with white columns to mimic the architecture on the UMW campus. Rabbi Menachem Sherman, the Center director, has plans for programming in the Center’s meeting rooms and large gathering space.
“It’s surreal that it is finally here,” UMW senior and Jewish Student Association President Rachel Benoudiz, who has been waiting three years for just such a place, said in remarks yesterday. “It’s a space for students like me to reach their full potential academically and socially.”
With all the divisiveness in society today, Benoudiz said, “Having a place where students can feel safe is more important than ever.”
With COVID-19 restrictions, however, the Center can host groups of no more than 10 and everybody has to keep a distance of at least six feet. Those guidelines were what contributed to yesterday’s abbreviated grand opening. Construction of the long-awaited Hillel Center was completed in the spring, just as students were abruptly sent home from Mary Washington and coronavirus restrictions were put in place.
As students have returned this fall to the UMW campus, the Hillel Center is beginning to see some activity. Benoudiz said she likes to go there for a break and to take advantage of the Center’s espresso machine.
“This is a great day,” declared President Troy Paino, who said he looks forward to a full-fledged opening of the center, which he described as an “intellectual, social and cultural hub” for students and the broader Jewish community. “Thousands of lives will be blessed by this investment on the part of the Silver Foundation,” Paino said.
The high point of the ceremony was the dedication of the Center’s mezuzah, Hebrew for “doorpost.” Jewish tradition calls for a mezuzah, a small parchment scroll containing Biblical passages, to be encased and affixed to the doorpost of Jewish homes. It serves as a reminder that homes are holy places and those that enter should act accordingly.
Several speakers referred to the Hillel Center as a “home” for Mary Washington students. The casing for the mezuzah, which Rabbi Sherman, hammered into the doorpost, was molded from steel in rockets launched from Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
The symbolism, according to the rabbi, is that similar protection will be offered to those who enter the Hillel Center.
In closing, Rabbi Sherman mentioned Mary Washington’s mascot, the eagle. A passage in Exodus refers to God’s people being carried on wings of eagles. Why is that significant? Because, according to Sherman, in carrying its offspring on its wings instead of using its talons, the eagle is engaging in a selfless, sacrificial act. Danger to an eagle would come from below, not above, so the eagle puts the wellbeing of others before its own.
Just how he’d like to think of UMW Eagles.