Hillel first appeared at Michigan State University (then Michigan State College) in 1939, holding meetings at People’s Church and later quartering above Jacobson’s furniture store. Hillel became a permanent fixture on campus in 1947. In the years that followed, Hillel was guided by Rabbi Aba Feinberg and served Jewish students at MSU by holding religious services, hosting dances, radio parties, speakers, publishing The Hillel Post and offering housing for Jewish students. Under the guidance of different rabbis, Hillel continued to develop and expand, advocating Jewish culture and religion on campus. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Hillel appointed an executive director who was not a rabbi. From the 1980s through 2000, Hillel’s popularity with students ebbed and flowed – never reaching full stride.
In 2000, Cindy Hughey was appointed as MSU Hillel’s first female director and continues to serve today. Cindy’s immediate goal was to make Hillel a place where every Jewish student could feel welcome - to make Hillel a home away from home. Cindy and her staff initiated broad outreach programs, and based on student input and feedback, created innovative and dynamic programming, engaging more Jewish students than Hillel had ever seen.
By 2001, student participation was at an all time high. In fact, for Shabbat dinners both Hillel’s dining and living rooms were filled by students hungry for traditional Jewish foods and camaraderie. Initiatives to engage students were so successful that Hillel’s physical structure no longer could comfortably (or safely) accommodate the growing student community. A capital campaign was underway and, in fall 2002, after successfully raising $3.1 million, the Lester J. Morris Hillel Jewish Student Center was dedicated.
With the opening of the new Lester J. Morris Hillel Jewish Student Center, student interest continued to surge. Students flocked to Hillel to study, for meetings and events, Shabbat dinners and Sunday brunches, or just to hang out. Once again, Hillel outgrew its dining, office and chapel space. In 2006, Cindy’s efforts to transform MSU Hillel were recognized by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life when she received the Richard Joel Exemplar of Excellence Award. In 2008, Hillel launched a second capital campaign. With the support of generous donors, The Hattie and Moses Morris Wing was added, expanding the building by 25%. The building was rededicated as the Lester and Jewell Morris Hillel Jewish Student Center and continues to serve as a vibrant community center for a growing Jewish student community