Founding Brandeis family refreshes student lounge
The Justice spoke with Ruth Maffa of the Office of Institutional Advancement, and Esther Feldberg, part of one of the University’s founding families, on the renovation of a student lounge.
The Feldbergs, founding donors of the University whose gifts helped Brandeis emerge as a university in 1948, made a donation towards renovating the Feldberg Lounge in the Hassenfeld Conference Center. The Feldberg Lounge, built in 1955, was the first space on campus the Feldbergs funded. The lounge, adjacent to the Stein, underwent renovations beginning this past October and was opened to students in April.
On a May 18 Zoom call, Esther Granofsky Feldberg explained that her family fundamentally believed in Brandeis’ mission as a Jewish-affiliated university in 1948. “We love the University,” Mrs. Feldberg explained, regarding her family. “We’re so proud of it.” In the seven decades since the University was founded, the Feldbergs have continued to make donations to Brandeis.
In a document written by the Feldberg and sent to the Justice by Ruth Maffa — senior regional development director from the Office of Institutional Advancement — the University’s inaugural president, Dr. Abram Sachar, was cited from an earlier letter. In this letter, he called the Feldbergs the University’s “inner family” and among the University’s “most devoted supporters.”
In the 1960s, the Feldbergs donated one million dollars to the University for the Feldberg Communications Center, which brought computers to campus at the start of the world’s technological revolution.
In the mid-90s, the Feldbergs made a donation that brought internet connection to residence halls, allowing community members to access “off-site information for the first time in the University’s history,” according to the “Feldberg Family and Brandeis University” document.
Maffa, also on the Zoom call, described how the renovation process of the Feldberg Lounge this year was a seamless one, a rarity within the University bureaucracy. “We were really lucky,” Maffa said. “We had complete control.”
Mrs. Feldberg’s one stipulation was that she use her own decorator from Florida to renovate the space, rather than the University’s contractor. Mrs. Feldberg’s decorator worked to create a window so students could see into the lounge from the lobby of the Hassenfeld Conference Center. The Feldbergs’ $130,000 gift towards the space also covered reconfiguring the ceiling, replacing the carpeted floors with an easily-washable surface, and installing new lighting fixtures and furniture.
“We’d like it to be a hub,” Maffa explained, where students can purchase food from the Stein and eat, work, and spend time with friends. Mrs. Feldberg explained that, “When we were doing the make-over, they [University administrators] told us we couldn’t put in a speaker because they’d be having meetings and needed a place for a [television] screen.” She continued that University staff have dozens of places to hold meetings across campus, and that she pushed back against that decision, saying “this isn’t for anyone but the students.”
When asked why she decided to renovate the lounge in the first place, Mrs. Feldberg answered simply: “It needed to be redone, it was created in 1948, and that’s a long time ago.” She continued, saying that “I wanted to help out Brandeis and refurnish it, and I was hoping if we made the lounge nice, students would love it.” Mrs. Feldberg hopes to add a table with an umbrella by the outdoor entrance of the lounge.
Though most students have left campus for the semester after the finals period concluded, the newly-renovated lounge will be ready for use for students in the fall. Mrs. Feldberg, who currently resides in Palm Beach, Florida, has not yet seen the renovated lounge. “I’d love to come and see it for myself,” she said.