Hillel leader to speak at dinner honoring Ungerleider
By Amy Kaufman
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Sharon Margolin Ungerleider, the founding president, board member and guiding light of Oregon Hillel at the University of Oregon for the past 15 years, will be honored at a community-wide dinner Sunday, Oct. 7, at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center.
Wayne L. Firestone, president of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, of Washington, D.C., will speak on “Why Universities Love Hillel and Our Jewish Student Leaders.”
“How do you make a Jewish home away from home on a campus with 1,200 Jewish students, realizing you have to go to them because you can’t expect them to walk in the door?”
That was the question Ungerleider said she tackled years ago, when she became involved in the little Hillel that had no house.
“Sharon chaired the first capital campaign that helped acquire Hillel House in 1993. She really did the heavy lifting,” said Hal Applebaum, executive director of Oregon Hillel, who credits Ungerleider with helping to “double the annual budget” during the past six years.
Hillel now receives about $50,000 in annual support from Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, according to Ungerleider.
“Sharon’s passion and productivity were a major factor in the evolution of what was a very tiny program to a shining star,” said Linda Laviolette, executive director of the Portland Parks Foundation, who was vice president of Oregon Hillel for four years and head of development for eight years during Ungerleider’s tenure.
“She developed university-wide and community-wide programming, she got the staff and hired the directors, and she has also been very involved with the students,” said Laviolette. “It’s at every level of engagement. She created a phenomenal presence.”
Laviolette described Hillel House as a hub of learning and meaningful social activities.
“Jewish students at U of O now have a home they can go to and be Jewish at the level they feel comfortable, and discover what that could mean to them in the future,” she said. “It’s a place where dinners, including homemade challah, are made by students in a tiny kitchen. It has a sweetness.”
“It was through Sharon’s energy and enthusiasm that I became an advocate and supporter of Hillel,” said Portland philanthropist Harold Schnitzer. “Nobody I know can compare with her in terms of her energy and ideas, her devotion to furthering Jewish education and her ability to enable young Jewish people to meet each other and learn how to participate in charitable endeavors.”
Before the birthright Israel program came into existence, Ungerleider sponsored backpacking trips to Israel through the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. Hillel now has sent more than 100,000 students to Israel through the birthright Israel program, she said.
“I see something wonderful in every flavor of being Jewish,” said Ungerleider, whose vision has produced ski weekends in Bend, student-led synagogue services, rock climbing and trips to the Ashland Shakespeare festival.
Ungerleider funds Spitzer Forum, a political action experience in Washington, D.C., in which Hillel students learn about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and meet senators.
“At the AIPAC dinner I chaired last year, there was a huge student contingency,” she said.
One of her favorite programs, Alternative Spring Break, encourages students to engage in charitable activity instead of recreation during breaks. One year, ASB students helped build a community center in a barrio outside of Montevideo with no running water or electricity.
“When I fund something, for me the issue is creating an experience in which the students get emotionally invested and become funding partners in their own personal enrichment,” said Ungerleider. “I funded the trip to Montevideo and the students raised another $12,000. They weren’t just my partner, they went nuts. They started writing their aunts and uncles, teachers …”
Ungerleider said the project gave the concept of “pidyon shevuyim (rescue of the Jews)” new meaning for her.
“We have to save ourselves wherever we are around the world. … And I never realized how significant that was until I saw how it could play out in a programming strategy in a Hillel community. That’s what the kids learn when they go down to South America. Learning with their hands, working with South American architects, pouring concrete, laying brick—they’re rescuing their people, brick by brick.”
Laviolette said Ungerleider created the first Ethics After the Holocaust Conference, engaging world-famous speakers. Created before the inception of the Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies at UofO, “the program was extraordinary for its time,” she said.
Ungerleider fondly recalled that Nobel Prize-winner Elie Wiesel “sat in the living room in front of the fireplace in a green velvet chair and talked to the students about what it was like to grow up in Europe and be sent to Auschwitz … He sang niggunim (wordless melodies of his childhood). The room was packed. A lot of those kids in that room have become rabbis and are doing incredible things around the world.”
Ungerleider has received numerous awards for her pioneering achievements in educational and cultural programming. She has served on the boards of the U of O, the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation, the U of O School of Architecture and Allied Arts and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, and on Hillel’s international board of directors. She consults on Hillel’s new International Global Missions committee.
The dinner to celebrate Hillel and honor Ungerleider begins at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 for the reception, dinner, wine and dessert. RSVP by Oct. 3 to 541-343-8920, ext. 101 or firstname.lastname@example.org.