Portland Hillel’s first year awes
By DEBORAH MOON
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More than 80 people turned out Oct. 1 to celebrate the first anniversary of the Greater Portland Hillel at an open house hosted by Hillel board member Rob Shlachter and his wife Mara.
“I was so moved to see the two groups, students and community members meet each other,” said Rachel Hall, the local Hillel’s managing director. “I don’t know who had more stars in their eyes, the students who saw a room full of adult community members who were there because they care about the students, or the community members who met bright-eyed, articulate students and listened to them speak about how Hillel has shaped their summer, their semester, their year, their college experience and how directly the support from the community positively affects the students’ Jewish experience.”
The adults and college students mixed and mingled over appetizers and desserts amidst posters and slide shows of Hillel activities over the past year. The Greater Portland Hillel has active groups at Portland State University and Lewis and Clark College, but serves students from all Portland area colleges and universities.
In addition to casual conversations, Rob Shlachter, Hall and two students addressed the gathering.
“It was a little over a year ago that Aaron Pearlman got together with a few of us and dreamt about what Portland needs in a Hillel and if it was possible,” said Shlachter.
The idea became possible thanks to the support of a “three-legged stool,” he said. He called the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s three-year financial commitment instrumental. Then Portland State University agreed to let the Hillel use university staff and office space for the fledgling program. Finally, people in the community stepped forward and made multi-year commitments.
“Hillel’s mission,” said Hall, “is to enrich Jewish students so they can enrich the world as they grow.”
And the Hillel has expanded greatly since its tentative first steps last year. From having at least one activity a month, the Hillel now lists eight regular events each month as well as special holiday programs, said Hall.
Ricki Wynn, a sophomore at Lewis and Clark, said she attended a Hillel Shabbat dinner with a friend last year. She said when she heard people there talking about a birthright trip to Israel, she thought, “It’s hot; it’s really dangerous.” But after talking to Hall about the free trip for Jews 18-26, she decided to join Hillel’s birthright trip last spring.
“It was the best experience of my life,” said Wynn. “Now I’m trying to be a bigger part of Portland Hillel. … Thank you all; I’ve never felt such a great sense of Jewish community as I have here.”
Beth Goldstein, a junior at PSU, said she had heard about birthright when she attended Western Washington University. When she started at PSU, she said she wanted the local Hillel to organize such a trip.
“I asked Rachel about birthright for six months; I stalked her,” said Goldstein.
The resulting trip “was amazing,” she said. “I came back with 12 new people I hug every time I see. We share this bond.”
“From being a minority to knowing I have community to go to means the world,” Goldstein concluded. “So, thanks.”
The diversity at the celebration was just an expansion of the diverse ages and interests on the board of directors. Board members range from college student Marcus Dorsen to Rabbi Alan Berg, who has more than 35 years in the rabbinate under his belt.
Dorsen’s father Michael said he is very proud of his son’s involvement. He said he grew up very secular in Australia, where his parents had fled after leaving Nazi Europe.
“Now it’s full circle,” said Michael Dorsen. “From persecution to migration and now my son is involved. It’s closing a big circle.”
Board member Jessica Elkan was a student leader at the University of Oregon Hillel before serving on the professional staff of the Ohio State Hillel. She returned to Oregon to work in the secular nonprofit world as director of development for New Avenues for Youth.
She said she agreed to serve on the local Hillel board because, “Hillel brings college age kids together to celebrate their history, culture and Jewish values and it adds energy and life to the general community. Hillel adds to the framework of the Jewish people and I’m very excited it is here in Portland.”
Josh Frankel was one of seven Jewish football players at the University of Oregon. After going on a Hillel birthright trip to Israel, he said he became very involved with Hillel activities and served an internship there working on development projects.
Founding board member Jeffrey Nudelman said it is amazing to see how much has happened in the Portland Hillel’s first year.
“This is a demographic where we’ve blown it,” said Nudelman. “We need to start making connections for these kids with Judaism.”
He added that Hillel is a good way to do that and it has been very exciting to see “kids having a Jewish experience.”
Other board members are Rob Shlachter, Ellen Lippman, Benjamin Zvi Olds, Jordan D. Schnitzer, Michael Weingrad and Marcia Weiss.
For more information on the Greater Portland Hillel, visit www.pdxhillel.org.