Joan, Irwin, Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs
Joan, Irwin, Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs took part in the Hanukkah celebration at the future site of the Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center. Photo by Chris Stone

At nightfall Sunday on the first day of Hanukkah, the candle on an oversized menorah was lit by members of UC San Diego Hillel for profound gratitude after many years of persistence akin to their forefathers.

With major donors including Joan and Irwin Jacobs, Herbert Solomon and Elaine Galinson sitting in the front row, about 100 supporters met Sunday morning on the future site of the Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center across from campus.

They celebrated a victory over obstructions that delayed construction for 20 years.

Irwin Jacobs told Times of San Diego that “just having it coming is very important … to the whole community. I think it’s going to be a wonderful addition.”

The 85-year-old philanthropist and Qualcomm co-founder was delighted for students “to have a new home here as well. We’ve been waiting a long time to have it happen.”

A recent court decision against a lawsuit by a small group of local opponents had special meaning for attendees on the first day of Hanukkah.

“Hanukkah is about miracles — the miracle of the oil (keeping a lamp burning eight days when only one was expected),” said Laura Galinson, fundraising chair and granddaughter of Joseph Glickman, who died in May at age 102.

“It’s not so much about the oil as it is about the small amount of oil that ignited the spark,” she said. “We are all sparks. We are all divine sparks.”

Glickman was the most divine spark in her life, she said, calling it a miracle that her grandparents’ vision of a Hillel in La Jolla was close to being realized.

“We are all part of the divine spark that keeps Judaism going,” Galinson said. “And it’s been my honor to carry on the legacy of my grandparents and my parents and my family. I can feel my grandparents here today.”

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Galinson was among several speakers noting that Jews, including her grandparents arriving in the 1920s, were not allowed to own homes in La Jolla.

The land off La Jolla Scenic Drive was purchased in 2006 for a Jewish student center, and the San Diego City Council unanimously approved the project. But litigation kept the project in limbo.

At the beginning of November, Judge Timothy Taylor denied the lawsuit by Taxpayers for Responsible Land Use challenging the City Council’s unanimous approval of the project a year ago. TRLU had argued that the center would adversely impact the neighborhood and that the City Council did not follow the law in its approval.

Joel Smith, president of the board of directors of Hillel San Diego, was direct in his assessment.

“Quite frankly, (the judge) accusing them of being NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard) is the kindest and most gentle accusation he could make,” Smith said.

What they don’t want in their backyard — “or in the case of the head of TRLU 300 yards down the road” — is not a waste treatment plant or a prison, he said. It was a small center for Jewish students.

“What they don’t want, those few opponents of ours, is Jewish students on the perimeter of their neighborhood, walking or in car,” he said.

Smith wondered what animus would motivate a person to wage a 13-year war against a small student center.

“When you knock down a building, it’s an act of violence,” the director said. “What is it exactly when you prevent one from being built?”

He added, “Both Judah Macabee and our Hillel have had to fight to win the right to have a Jewish building and be Jewish in a place that once forbid Jewish ownership.”

He warned that a window exists for opponents to appeal the judge’s decision.

“This is why Hillel needs you,” Smith said. “Be informed, be activated. [We] need you to be paying attention.”

But Smith promised that the Glickman Center — at 6,000 square feet half the size of the one originally planned — would be built “as soon as possible,” saying ground-breaking could happen in less than a year.

Smith noted concessions made in the project and parking to avoid problems with the neighborhood. An environmental impact study was completed, with no impact found.

Rep. Scott Peters, also present for ceremonies, said UCSD has become one of the leading universities in the world, and that Hillel is an important part of that in terms of Jewish life.

“So I want to make sure that this building gets constructed here,” the congressman said. “It’s a great use of land for this property. It’s totally appropriate, and I think that unfortunately we’ve seen abuse in the legal process — dragging on for far too long. So I’m here to tell them I’m still with them.”

Peters said UCSD has helped the Jewish community in La Jolla flourish.

“It’s become an important part of San Diego life,” he said. “It’s a symbol to say today that this facility should be on this property…Let’s get it done.”

San Diego Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who brought the project up for a vote, said it was clear from research and public testimony that it was legal for Hillel to build on the site.

“My hope is that Hillel will foster and promote an inclusive environment and build bridges with the neighborhood, the entire neighborhood. As we know, Hanukkah means dedication. And it’s my belief that Hillel is committed to encouraging both our youth and the surrounding community to better understand and appreciate Jewish teachings and tradition,” the Jewish councilwoman said.

She said she looked forward to coming to the groundbreaking, the opening and “many Shabbat dinners.”

Rabbi Gary Oren, executive director of Hillel of San Diego and SDSU, said: “Our golden age isn’t somewhere in the past but is still to come. It comes through our children and our grandchildren and in Hillel’s case it comes through our students.”

In his telling of the Hanukkah miracle, it was that people who share their light and love can banish darkness.

“In the world we live in, we all have that power,” he said.

Rabbi David Singer noted how the court upholding Hillel’s position pointed out “the audacity” of attempts to stop or delay it.

“We’re just extraordinarily grateful for the support that we’ve received within the community,” he told Times of San Diego. “We’ve already been able to raise $12.6 million toward our $15 million campaign goal.”

Joseph Glickman led the fundraising for the center by pledging $5 million.

Hillel programs exist for Jewish students at UC San Diego, San Diego State University, Cal State San Marcos and even the University of San Diego, a Catholic school.

UCSD Hillel operates out of temporary offices in a house across the street from the center site — said to be used by 80 percent of Jewish students at UC San Diego during their time in college through religious, social and educational programs helping students connect with each other and the Jewish tradition.

Singer, a member of Hillel staff, said the center would be a “convening space” for people to celebrate, grow, learn, thrive and live “and really beautify this empty lot, which has sat vacant for so long.”

UCSD student Elliot Yamin, Class of 2019, spoke of Hillel as a central part of his college experience.

He looked forward to the center “being huge” for Jewish life on campus and for UC San Diego as a whole, saying the group’s goal was to build a “radically inclusive” community.

“That means a place where everyone feels welcome, no matter their background … with Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews, Israelis and Persians, Americans and international students and students who are really, really Jewish and students who are just Jew-ish,” he said, triggering laughter.”

After the ceremony, Singer said it wasn’t a coincidence that Hanukkah starts on the darkest night of the year

“We light candles during this darkest moment to fill the void with light,” he said. “That’s what we see the Glickman Center being all about. That’s what the world needs. We need to fill the world with light. That’s how we banish hate, how we banish bigotry and we make the world a better place.”

Was the court’s decision a statement against anti-Semitism?

“The court’s rejection of the lawsuit against us,” he said, “is a clear rejection of any attempt to prevent any organization based on its identity from being able to be welcome in a specific part of town.”