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New chaplains, headquarters enhance religious community

Members of MIT's many religious communities may notice some changes and improvements this fall with the opening of a newly renovated Religious Activities Center and three additions to the chaplaincy.

Home at various times to the MIT Coop and the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Building W11 has been reborn as the Religious Activities Center, uniting formerly scattered religious services in one modernized and handicapped-accessible space. The ground floor houses specialized facilities for religious groups, such as the Muslim prayer room with an adjoining ablution room in which Muslim worshipers may wash their feet before prayer, and rooms for Jewish food preparation. These include a main kosher kitchen and a separate, smaller kitchen in which dairy products (which must be kept separate from meat under kosher law) are prepared.

Two other kitchens and two dining rooms-the larger one illuminated by windows forming one side of the triangular roof structures visible from the street-are nearby. There is also a sink for ritual handwashing by Jewish diners. Like the rest of the building, all the furniture and carpeting is new.

Also on the ground floor is the Hillel Center meeting and worship room, which features a Torah cabinet created by Newton artist David Strauss that was independently commissioned by Hillel. Beneath backlit Hebrew words, doors open onto a carved wooden waterfall (a reference to the Book of Amos), which divides to reveal the scrolls. There are also rooms for student-run religious groups and a conference room. On the lower level are offices for all the chaplains and a lounge area for students, with natural light coming through an atrium.

Before the renovation and relocation project, religious facilities were split up among 312 Memorial Drive, Walker Memorial and the basement of Ashdown House. Architects from Ondras Associates in Cambridge met with chaplains as they began planning the renovations. The finished building, with its modern interior and location close to the Student Center, has seen a noticeable rise in the number of student visitors compared to last year, according to Jewish chaplain Miriam Rosenblum, who worked with architects on the design of the Hillel Center.

"To have everything under one roof is wonderful," she said. "It's just such a pleasure to be here."

A version of this article appeared in the September 28, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 6).

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