Hillel Place runs for a block between Campus Road and Flatbush Avenue in the Brooklyn College area, in the heart of Brooklyn known by local denizens as “the Junction” where Flatbush, Nostrand and Avenue H meet. It’s also the southernmost penetration of the IRT subway, as its Flatbush Avenue station terminates the #2 and #5 trains here. The Place is home to fast food joints such as Starbucks and Quizno’s, serving students, faculty and shoppers.

The street was mapped and was known for the first few decades of its existence as Germania Place, named for the Germania Land Improvement Company, whose president, Henry Mayer, was — you guessed it — a Teuton. After the college’s Hillel Building was constructed on the adjoining campus in 1959, the Place was renamed for it. Its namesake was a first century Jewish philosopher, best known to Gentiles perhaps for two sayings, which, in altered form, remain with us today:

“If I am not for myself who is for me? And being for my own self, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?”

and what became the Golden Rule:

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow…”

I must confess, I was previously mistaken about the date of the name change; I had presumed it had come during World War I, when other German-sounding names on the map, such as Hamburg Avenue and Bremen Street in heavily-German Bushwick, and Berlin in what is now Maspeth, disappeared from maps. The renaming is relatively recent and came during my lifetime.


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