The Hillel building became a reality Thursday afternoon, when the Milton Roisman Jewish Student Center officially opened its doors.

Approximately 200 people gathered in the Lehrer Family Garden and Courtyard to celebrate the grand opening and ribbon cutting of the new Hillel building, located at 781 Embarcadero del Mar. The ceremony, which opened with klezmer music by Bob Ledner and included short addresses from community and university members, began a four-day series of events celebrating the grand opening.

Rabbi Steve Cohen opened the ceremony by welcoming the attendees and thanking them for their involvement in the UCSB Hillel program.

“By coming today you also have helped to complete this dream … because this building is meaningless if it is not filled with people coming here to be together,” Cohen said. “All of us today have brought this place to life.”

The project was funded by private donors who have made lasting contributions to the UCSB Jewish community, Cohen said.

“I have to thank our donors who have made gifts and pledges totaling $5 million,” he said. “Together we have made a home for thousands and thousands of Jewish students, many of whom are not even born yet. I think we have done a good thing.”

The project’s primary donor and the celebration’s first speaker, Milton Roisman, addressed the crowd briefly. “I am happy to be with you and am thankful that I could help,” he said.

UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, who followed Roisman, thanked the project’s donors for their contribution to UCSB and the I.V. community.

“It was just a little over a year ago that we gathered here to break ground for this beautiful and important facility. I said then that this project will not serve only as a spiritual and cultural center for our students, but will also strengthen our ties to the community. By your presence here today I can see that you agree,” Yang said. “The donors who have supported this project have done a wonderful thing. Their generosity will help students far into the future. This facility offers a place for worship, a quiet garden for contemplation, space in the library for discussion, debate and learning, and of course, for eating. … This place will become an important place for students and the community.”

Third District County Supervisor Gail Marshall said she hoped the new Jewish center would serve as a meeting place for students to grow academically and socially.

“I know that the major purpose of Hillel is to provide a Jewish identity and Jewish programs to the college students,” Marshall said. “But beyond the socializing and enhancing the cultural and spiritual well-being of your community, I believe that this building will provide a meeting place for students to explore public policy, to build leadership skills and to pursue service and social justice for the entire community.”

The new center is an example of the growing Jewish community in Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Jewish Foundation President Ron Fox said.

“On behalf of the greater Santa Barbara Jewish community and especially the Santa Barbara Jewish Foundation, I would like to congratulate the Hillel and the opening of this magnificent building,” he said. “It is just another manifestation of a growing and vibrant Jewish community here in Santa Barbara.”

UCSB Hillel Student President Tomar Kleinman related experiences he had during a recent trip to Israel to the crowd. Kleinman said he hoped the new building will help strengthen the Jewish faith in others, and that it will also be inviting to non-Jewish students interested in Judaism.

“Hillel gives Jewish students a feeling of acceptance. Although we are not all able to go to Israel to find our Jewish identity, I feel very confident that many students will have the same type of awakening that I did with the opening of the new building,” Kleinman said. “The new building will be a place for students to study, pray, relax, and most importantly, schmooze with other Jewish students. When we cut the ribbon Hillel will be receiving a second birth, but more importantly Jewish students in Isla Vista will have a place to call home.”

The project has been in the works for seven years, Hillel member and sophomore global studies major Danny Paz said.

“In the past we have shared the University Religious Center building with other groups, but now that we have our own building, we hope to increase student and community involvement,” he said. “The students are extremely excited; this is truly a joyous occasion. We hope this will expand the Jewish presence at UCSB and in the community.”

Hillel member and senior biopsychology major David Vaknin said the new facility will allow Jewish students a greater ability to come together.

“I think it will localize the Jewish community, to feel established, now that we have a house to grow spiritually, academically and socially in.”