As Abbie Frankel walks around the recently established Georgia College Hillel House on North Clarke Street, she describes what each of the rooms will be used for.
There is space for students to hang out, study, dine together and participate in programming together. It is clear Frankel is excited about what the house represents for the campus’s Jewish community.
“We want our students to just feel welcome that they can come and hang out here,” said Frankel, a junior mass communication major and photography minor from Atlanta who currently serves as the president of the Georgia College Hillel.
GC Hillel started moving into the house during the fall semester, realizing the efforts of many invested individuals, including recently retired GC Hillel faculty advisor Dr. Karen Berman and CEO of Hillels of Georgia Elliot Karp. Karp also acknowledges the role the university administration played in making the project possible.
“Hillels of Georgia is grateful for the tremendous visionary leadership of Dr. Steve Dorman who sought to provide Hillel at Georgia College with a house to become a Hillel House as a Jewish home away from home for Jewish students on campus,” said Karp.
The Georgia College Hillel was created in 2008 as a registered student organization dedicated to celebrating Jewish culture and customs with any interested students on campus.
When Frankel arrived for her freshman year, she admits she had initial reservations about joining her twin brother at Georgia College.
“One of the things I was kind of on the fence about was the Jewish life here,” said Frankel.
Frankel grew up attending a private Jewish school through eighth grade and she remained involved in her faith throughout high school, serving on the executive board of her youth group and as president of the Jewish organization at her school. Being accustomed to having many other Jewish people around her, she was uncertain how she would adjust to life in Milledgeville.
When a dear family member passed away during her freshman year, Frankel sought out GC Hillel for the comfort and support she desperately needed.
“When I lost him, I was feeling very lost, so I went to … fall back on my Jewish community,” said Frankel.
Frankel attended her first Hillel event and it did not take long for her to get involved. Wanting to help grow the organization, Frankel became the public relations executive for the group the next year before later going on to the presidency.
Georgia College Hillel hosts regular events such as monthly Shabbat dinners, educational programs, social events and more. The high holidays of Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are also recognized.
“We also host holiday dinners for our students who can’t go home,” said Frankel.
The GC Hillel group also collaborates with other faith-based organizations on campus each year to offer interfaith dinners during the winter and spring holiday seasons where students can discuss similarities and differences between their various religious backgrounds.
In the past, the group had to search for venues to host its events, often settling for using a member’s apartment. Now, with a dedicated space in the Hillel House, the group hopes to continue to expand its program offerings while being able to welcome more students than ever before.
Hillels of Georgia currently serves approximately 5,000 students across 24 campuses in Georgia. Georgia College joins only two other Hillels in the state, the University of Georgia and Emory University, that provide a Hillel House on its campus. Frankel said that the GC Hillel is regarded as a “small and mighty” Hillel by the statewide organization with great growth potential, thus explaining the great level of recent support from Hillels of Georgia and its CEO Karp.
“Our commitment is to supporting all Jewish students and Jewish communities on campus, regardless of size of population,” said Karp.
“We’ve definitely grown a lot,” said Frankel of the GC Hillel. “We know that the Jewish population on Georgia College’s campus is about 200, so tapping into that audience is kind of where we’re at right now.”
With Berman’s recent retirement, Emily Jarvis, GC’s Director of Parent and Family Programs, has stepped up to be the organization’s interim advisor. Despite Jarvis not being Jewish herself, Frankel said she has been immensely supportive in getting the Hillel House off the ground.
“She stepped in and has truly been so wonderful,” said Frankel of Jarvis. “She is so willing to learn, so willing to help.”
Recently, the GC Hillel participated for the first time in the Daffodil Project, partnering with community members to plant daffodil bulbs in front of the Hillel House and the Old Courthouse downtown in honor of children lost to the Holocaust.
Frankel said she feels that by continuing to participate in more visible projects such as these, the GC Hillel can be ambassadors for bringing cultural awareness and understanding to not only the Georgia College campus but to the entire Milledgeville community. Frankel is extremely grateful to people like Berman, Jarvis, Karp and local resident Allison Bloodworth, who raised the funds for a public menorah display in Milledgeville last year, who continue to help raise awareness of the Jewish culture.
“My appreciation is overflowing for people like that because that representation just truly matters for the next generation,” said Frankel. “I want the next generation of Jewish kids that grows up in Milledgeville to see people like them and to feel comfortable in their town.”
Frankel is thankful for the community she has found through GC Hillel. She hopes other students can continue to benefit from the welcoming spirit the Hillel provides.
“Being able to fall back on my faith and my people that are similar to me has definitely provided me with a safety net,” said Frankel. “I feel very lucky to have the community that I have here.”