24th of July 2014 / Serving Oregon & Southwest Washington since 1959

Student dinner marks birth here of Jewish campus organization

By Eleanor Goldberg

article created on: 2008-09-15T00:00:00

Lewis and Clark’s student body kicked off its fall semester in a typical co-ed fashion.

Freshmen anxiously meandered around campus, becoming familiar with the place they will call home for the next four years. Upperclassmen confidently reconnected with friends. Professors disseminated syllabi, while involved undergraduates flung flyers at fellow classmates, advertising their programs and organizations of choice.

While most of the happenings reflected traditions of the university’s past, one Minnesota-born junior has spent the start of the school year working to establish an unprecedented Portland cultural club, a Hillel.

Hillels are common on college campuses throughout the country, but only now is such an institution making headway on Portland campuses.

Since last spring, activists from Lewis and Clark College, Reed College and Portland State University have been collaborating to bring the world’s largest Jewish campus organization to town, to enable Jewish students from all three schools to connect with one another in a meaningful and social way.

“When I was a freshman, there wasn’t a lot happening on the Jewish front. There was a lack of community and programming,” Eli Cohn, 20, said. “From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to help change that.”

While the philosophy major spent his first two years organizing holiday events and socials within the the Jewish Student Union, he knew that with the backing of a Hillel presence, such programs would be more financially feasible to plan.

“Finding the funds to pay for a Passover seder, for example, is always a challenge. It would be nice not to have to worry about that,” Cohn explained.

Along with his fellow promoters, PSU junior Marcus Dorsen, 21, and Celia Gellman, 21, a Reed College senior, Cohn has been meeting regularly with Aaron Pearlman, PSU’s Director of Jewish Outreach to lay the groundwork for the budding local branch of Hillel.

On Sept. 12, after only a few months of brainstorming and petitioning, Cohn, Dorsen and Gellman organized and executed the city’s first ever Hillel associated event, a Shabbat dinner at Lewis and Clark.

The 40-person potluck dinner was held in the student center dining room where the undergrads first broke the ice by throwing around a volleyball with printed personality queries for participants to answer.

“The game was a way to get everyone to feel comfortable,” Cohn explained. “The questions ranged from have you been to Israel to do you have a phobia?”

Following the singing of the traditional blessings for the Shabbat candles, wine and challah, the students chomped on the pasta, chicken and salads they had prepared, often swapping seats to catch up with old friends and make new ones.

“It was really fun to have hosted the first event.” Cohn remarked. “I’ve never been involved in something from the ground up. I just think it’s going to be really good for Portland.”

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