Upon entering the doors of the Berlin Chapel, one is immediately met with  warm light emanating from the enormous abstract windows in the front of the building. The ambience of harmony, peace and faithfulness can be felt almost immediately. 

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BUILDING A COMMUNITY: Students were granted money through the Community Enhancement and Emergency Fund. 

This past Thursday, March 14, the Berlin Chapel held an open house for the newly renovated structure. Established in 1955, the chapel was named after Dr. David Berlin in remembrance of his mother. The Berlin Chapel was renovated by a group of students including Alex Friedman ’19, Marissa Farkas ’20 and Max Silverstone ’19, over the past couple of years. At the event, Friedman spoke about the efforts the group had put in to clean up the chapel and keep it maintained for future classes to enjoy and hold as a sacred space of worship and camaraderie for their peers.

There were only a couple rows of people in attendance at the beginning of the event, but soon more students started to show up, as well as rabbis who came to pay respects and put up the mezuzah (a piece of parchment inscribed with Torah verses) at the front of the chapel. It was a very intimate gathering and reflected a lot of the core values explained during Friedman’s speech. Additionally, the menorah held in the middle of the synagogue has “Truth” inscribed in it, reflecting Brandeis’ motto: “Truth unto its innermost parts.” 

Before the renovation, Friedman said that “The Cohen Study simply wasn’t being utilized, and I realized that we had the ability to, in a way, create space without building a new building. I think it has the potential to recommit Brandeis students to each other and to their shared community.” 

In December 2018, the Berlin Chapel revitalization project received funding from the Student Union’s Community Enhancement and Emergency Fund. “CEEF was actually the end of a process, not the process itself. When the CEEF idea first came along, I wasn’t completely aware of how many administrators it would take being on-board before I could begin to get to work,” Friedman said. “The Chapel, because of its history and unique position in our administration’s constellation, required a lot more buy-in from a wider group of people than almost any other building would have.” 

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THE PROCESS: From start to finish, the journey to remodel the Berlin Chapel took two years. 

The team ended up writing a 1,500-word proposal on top of what CEEF wanted just to get the idea across to as many people as they could. As a result, they missed the 2017 deadline. Friedman said that missing last year’s deadline was a “blessing in disguise, as it gave me more time to develop the soul of the project, grow it in scope, and build up the relationships with administrators and students I would need to make the project happen. Without people like Marissa, who is working on the Berlin Reading Nook library that CEEF cannot cover and has been my partner for this whole chapter of the project, Max, who was instrumental in cleaning out the basement, and Anthony Mantia of Facilities, who has gone above and beyond for me and the project at every opportunity, this project wouldn’t be happening.” 

Even though the CEEF grant enabled the team to transform the Chapel, they originally sought  to only bring in a few items: a coat rack, a whiteboard, a wheelchair ramp and new blinds. But, as Friedman came into conversation with more students, he said he, “realized there was a lot more to be done to fundamentally change how the Chapel is used and thought of by the student body. That’s how the project grew.” 

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LOOKING AHEAD: The student leaders in charge of the revitalization hope that future classes will benefit from the fruits of their labor. 

Overall, the experience at this event was calming, eye-opening and reassuring that there is a community for everyone, and that the Brandeis community is willing to give everyone a chance to be heard and loved. 

—This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the logistics of the Berlin Chapel—