CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — The Illini Chabad celebrated a historic milestone on the University of Illinois campus on Thursday: the dedication and unveiling of the first-ever combined Jewish student center and dormitory on campus.
The building was bought in 2020 and was meant to be a safe space for students of all backgrounds to come and be comfortable. Now, it is in its first year of allowing students to live in the building.
Faculty, students, community members and even Governor Pritzker came out to celebrate the Illini Chabad’s latest step towards inclusion.
“You like being the house on the hill. That’s our plan,” said Rabbi Dovid Tiechtal. “Beacon of light, a house on a hill for our entire East Central Illinois. And, of course, the entire Illini Nation.”
For the past two decades, Illini Chabad has been working to make students of all backgrounds feel welcome while on campus, but now that welcoming could be permanent.
“The biggest difference is that they actually have a home now,” said Donovan Patterson, a student at the Illini Chabad. “So, you actually have a place where you can stay and you’re not just gone in and out. Now you can stay here.”
Tiechtal said the building gives them the opportunity to spread their message to a broader audience.
“It’s not about how we came from, who we are,” Patterson said. “As long as you just come with love, just like we do, this is a very opening space.”
While it is the center of Jewish life on campus, the Tiechtal wants people to know that it is so much more than that.
“It’s not about the brick and mortar, until we have every person know that they have a home. We’re not done yet,” said Tiechtal, “So we’re just going to keep growing and continue going and continue going. Well, everyone finds their space, their level, their way.”
The rabbi is excited about entering phase two of the project, which will bring upgrades to the community areas, library and the exterior of the building.