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Hillel gathering space built as Cal Poly senior project to honor Jewish student community

Courtesy: SLO Hillel
Aerial view of Makom Hillel pavilion site

Cal Poly graduates and their families gathered at a newly built outdoor Jewish community gathering space this weekend, June 12, for a commencement ceremony.

The new outdoor pavilion sits on a 10-acre gathering space known as Makom Hillel.

It’s a 60-foot-wide hexagon with an interior seating space that acts as a small amphitheater. It features a small fire pit in the center that can double as a prayer space.

It’s the first ever dedicated space for the Jewish student population and it was built for San Luis Obispo Hillel, a Jewish life community group for Cal Poly and the city.

Rabbi Micah Hyman is the executive director of SLO Hillel. He said prior to this site, local Jewish students didn’t have a proper space to gather.

He said the space’s design has religious meaning.

“The goal will be to have 6 tents, yurts, that will surround it,” Hyman said. “So, if you look from heaven, it’s a Jewish star.”

Eli Greenberg is a graduating senior at Cal Poly and the lead architect and engineer for the project.

He designed this space as his senior project and said it’s especially important to see it built right now, as the community reopens after the pandemic.

“We’ve all shared this year and a half of sadness and loneliness and it’s really great to be part of something that’s bringing people together after a year and a half of being apart,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg said there has been a lot of hate directed toward the Jewish community recently and he hopes this pavilion will offer a space for people to feel safe.

“I think it’s just really important for us to have a space that is our own,” Greenberg said. “I’m just really happy that I get to contribute something that is exactly that to the Jewish community.”

Rabbi Hyman echoed similar sentiments about the pavilion — hoping it will be used as a space to talk about big issues in the community.

“As we face these universal challenges of immigration and law, this is not just about Kumbaya, sitting around and having smores —which I love — Kosher smores,” Hyman said. “But I want it to be a real convocation.”

Makom Hillel is located at the Jewish Community Center-Federation Grounds at Laureate Lane.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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