In the months after the Northridge earthquake, the Hillel House at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) became a makeshift classroom facility for hundreds of students as many university buildings had been damaged.
“It was an unusual experience for us,” said Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein, the CSUN Hillel director at the time. “Jewish students knew where Hillel was, but to have hundreds of students coming every day for their classes — anthropology, English, history, lecture classes — it was quite an experience for us to be hosting that.”
Goldstein recalled how, in order to reach the Hillel building, which had minor damage, students would walk past a new $11 million parking complex a few yards away that had collapsed during the tremors.
“I think all of us had a sense of wonder,” Goldstein, now 77, said. “Had it been a few hours later, that parking structure would have been filling with cars and students. That would have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.”
According to Goldstein, currently the secretary of the Sandra Caplan Community Beit Din of Southern California, the university’s Jewish student population had numbered about 4,000, with an average of 40 to 60 students at Shabbat dinner and services.
“It was really regarded with great pride by the students and by me to be of great service to the university community,” Goldstein said. “It symbolized the strength of Jewish survival that the Hillel house stood and could offer hospitality to anybody who needed help.”