Hall takes lead on Portland Hillel programming
By JENN DIRECTOR KNUDSEN
article created on: 2008-12-15T00:00:00
Recently established and quickly moving forward, Greater Portland Hillel now has on board Rachel Hall, its first program associate, to keep up the pace. Lace up those running shoes—Hall’s helping lead PDX Hillel at a fast clip.
“We were one of the largest urban communities that didn’t have a Hillel” until September, Hall, 27, said by phone from her home in a Sellwood duplex. Now, PDX Hillel has specific challenges to overcome.
One of which, Hall says, is the lack of a model Greater Portland Hillel can emulate.
PDX Hillel’s programs and services potentially could serve 1,500 college-age Jews along the Jewish spectrum—from secular to orthodox—Hall said.
But it’s tough to figure out how to reach all those Jewish students across three spread-out campuses, each with its own flavor.
Reed College, for instance, historically is uncomfortable having religious organizations active on campus, Hall observed. And Portland State University—the likely permanent home of PDX Hillel’s office space—educates a large contingent of commuter and non-traditional students.
“Students on campus are missing and craving a Jewish home base … (that) they can enjoy,” she said.
She envisions individual PDX Hillel programs on each of the three campuses, also including Lewis & Clark College, as well as certain events—such as a speakers’ series beginning in January—that will draw as many Jewish students as possible to one venue.
She believes PDX Hillel’s success hinges on making it into a warm, welcoming, comfortable community for all of Portland’s Jewish students. Including those exploring Judaism on their own for the first time and those struggling with identifying themselves as Jews.
An Arizona native who got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at universities in Massachusetts, Hall has noted in her relatively short time in Portland how much easier East Coast Jews self-identify. Here, more Jews tend to remain unaffiliated; she wants PDX Hillel to help form and solidify their Jewish identity.
She intends to plan regular Shabbat dinners and bagel “brunches” in the wee hours for the night owl students. Events like these, she said, Jewish kids could count on and enjoy “for a nurturing, family feel.”
Hall, who also teaches Hebrew School at Congregation Neveh Shalom and is a Young Judaea program coordinator at Congregation Shaarie Torah, has help in her on-campus efforts.
She’s guided by Aaron Pearlman, Greater Portland Hillel’s executive director, and has a group of about 10 student leaders—from all three campuses—providing input, energy and creative ideas.
Eli Cohn, Greater Portland Hillel’s president and a Lewis & Clark junior and philosophy major, reviewed the more than 20 program associate candidates. Hall wowed him by her communication skills, ability to understand an organization and create its short- and long-term solutions, Cohn, 20, said.
Pearlman added Hall has an “impressive background of developing and implementing innovative programs with a focus on social action.”
Program director in 2007 of Teens for Tzedek, a program of Boston’s Jewish community center, Hall encouraged American Jewish teens to serve the underserved, such as at-risk single mothers.
And she took those teenagers and young adults to Haifa, Israel, known for its cultural and religious diversity, to interact with Jews from disparate countries, speaking different languages and living and working as friends with Arabs.