Donation of $2.5 million boosts renovation of UM Jewish center

It’s one of the first buildings that visitors see when arriving on campus, but the University of Miami Hillel center is also sorely in need of a makeover.

Built in 1953, the building has become “outdated, obsolete and rundown,” according to University alum Jeffrey Miller. But a joint $2.5 million donation funded by Miller’s family — along with the family of UM supporter Debra Braman Wechsler — has kick-started a renovation plan.

“It will be more attractive, more geared toward common space, more computer- and technology-friendly,” Miller said. Both Miller and Braman Wechsler hail from well-known South Florida philanthropic families, both of which have served on the university’s board of trustees.

The new UM Hillel center, which will be renamed the Braman Miller Center for Jewish Student Life, is expected to be completed in mid-2015. It will feature a rooftop lounge, a renovated chapel and a multipurpose room for events. Although the building’s footprint will remain the same, a third floor is being added.

Hillel is an agency of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

The university is still fund-raising to pay for the renovation’s total cost of $5 million, along with a endowment goal of $4 million. In a statement, UM President Donna Shalala said, “This modern ‘home-away-from-home’ will help to inspire and shape the future leaders of the Jewish community.”

Miller said the center serves as community center and safe haven, while also providing a venue for older and younger generations to spend time together.

“It’s a way of connecting the Jewish South Florida crowd to our university,” he said.