The Jewish Student Foundation on the campus of the University of Wisconsin was founded in 1924 as the second Hillel Foundation in the country. Today, it is part of a network of more than three hundred and fifty Foundations in the United States and throughout the world serving Jewish college students.
Prior to the establishment of the Hillel Foundation, a chapter of the Intercollegiate Menorah Society, organized at Wisconsin in 1911, served the religious, cultural, and social needs of the small number of Jewish students on the campus. Organized by philosophy instructor Horace Kallen, Menorah served as a training for Jewish intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century.
From 1919 to 1922, Semitics professor Louis B. Wolfenson brought a Jewish Student's Association to the UW campus, part of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations effort to help college students maintain their Jewish identity. In 1924, there were 300 Jewish students at the University of Wisconsin; today their number has increased to 5,000.
Rabbis/Executive Directors who served the Hillel Foundation at the University of Wisconsin:
Solomon Landman (1924-1931)
Max Kadushin (1931-1942)
Theodore H. Gordon (1942-1948)
Max D. Ticktin (1948-1964)
Richard W. Winograd (1964-1972)
Alan Lettofsky (1972-1982)
Irving Saposnik (1983-1999)
Greg Steinberger (1999-present)
For its first thirty-one years (1924-1955) the UW Hillel conducted its activities in rented quarters on the second floor of 508 State Street, currently used as a restaurant space.
On April 3, 1955, ground was broken for a Hillel Building. Completed in 1956, the cornerstone for the new building was laid on October 23. The building, located at 611 Langdon Street on the old Kiekhofer estate with its once famous “Kiekhofer Wall,” was built at a cost of $250,000 (including furnishings.)
The architect was Eugene Wasserman, of Sheboygan, with Kaeser and Mc-Leod, of Madison, as consulting architects and engineers - George Nelson & Sons was the contracting firm. The building was named the Behr Memorial in honor of Louis Behr who was a student at the University from 1924 to 1928. He was captain of Wisconsin's basketball team, president of his chapter of Phi Sigma Delta, and president of Hillel. In his senior year, Louis Behr received the Kenneth Sterling Day Award for “exemplifying the finest principles of Christian character among senior class students.” Louis Behr, who passed away in 1946 at the age of forty, was a prominent insurance executive and philanthropic leader.
In 2008, after serving the Jewish students on campus for more than 50 years the Behr Memorial Building was torn down and The Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life was built. Dedicated in October of 2009, UW Hillel provides students with over 43,000 square feet of space for study, special events, dining, exercise and even includes a rooftop basketball court.
Today, Hillel serves 5,000 Jewish students from across the nation and the world. Home to more than 30 Jewish student organizations, Hillel nurtures every expression of Jewish life. Religious, cultural, political, and social activities provide something of interest to all students who come to visit Hillel.
UW Hillel is honored to carry Barbara Hochberg's name and loving memory in our everyday operations at the Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life. The UW Hillel sets the standard for what Hillel can offer students on campus with our state-of-the-art facility.
Barbara Hochberg, born in Chicago, was recognized nationally and internationally as a talented business executive and a compassionate and dedicated leader of Jewish and secular causes. In the 1970's she helped publicize the plight of Soviet Jews who were denied the right to emigrate. She served as the first chairwoman of the Chicago Jewish Federation in its 98-year history. Barbara was a strong supporter of Hillel, always understanding the importance of having an active on-campus support system and strong community for Jewish students. She was a passionate advocate for human rights. Barbara was a woman of courage and valor who worked tirelessly as a civic leader.