Oregon Hillel Jewish home for UO students
Your campaign gift at work
By Amy R. Kaufman
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The fragrance of freshly baked challah is a powerful first impression for many newcomers to Oregon Hillel at the University of Oregon. A home-cooked Shabbat meal, followed by services in Hillel’s beautifully renovated sanctuary, is the starting point of many friendships, according to Claire Bane, co-vice president of cooking for the Jewish student organization.
“It’s pretty relaxing if you’re not stressed out about the challah burning,” she said. “The atmosphere is comfortable. If you don’t know anyone, you’ll meet someone by the end of the night.”
She said she and other student volunteers bake four loaves of challah for the weekly Shabbat dinners and as many as 125 loaves for the annual Shabbat 300, which draws hundreds of students, parents and friends from the entire community.
Bane is a sophomore at UO and plans to go to nursing school. After belonging to United Synagogue Youth in high school, she said she became interested in learning more about Judaism but did not always feel comfortable in synagogue. She said she “instantly fell in love” with Hillel, where she found the welcoming atmosphere and learning opportunity she had been seeking.
She said she began to attend Friday night services, which she now describes as “my favorite thing at Hillel.”
Hillel is dedicated to creating “a pluralistic, welcoming and inclusive environment for Jewish college students” and encourages them to “pursue social justice, tikkun olam (repairing the world) and Jewish learning, and to support Israel and global Jewish peoplehood,” according to Hillel’s mission statement.
Conversational Hebrew, Torah discussion and a variety of lunch and dinner programs are basic fare at Hillel. November’s calendar of events also features the Idan Raichel Project, a musical performance that was a hit in Israel; a trip to New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina; a 25-mile bike ride; a weekend at the regional Pacific Northwest Retreat; and “generous travel subsidies” for students who wish to attend the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Nashville, Tenn., Nov. 11-13.
Oregon Hillel partners with national organizations to send students to conferences that interest them, according to Hal Applebaum, executive director.
Bane said her participation in an AIPAC conference last year led to her discovery of birthright Israel, which enabled her to participate in a group tour of Israel and celebrate her bat mitzvah there.
“Before I went to Israel, I didn’t understand Zionism because I have never felt a real connection with Israel,” she said. “Since then, I have been keeping up to date on things happening in Israel and the Middle East.”
Applebaum said Oregon Hillel has experienced “transformative growth” over the past five years. He said between 150 and 300 students regularly come to Hillel House, which is wheelchair-accessible, and 500 students are on the mailing list.
“I think one of the greatest sources of pride for us is the number of parents who contact us, thinking of sending their kids to U of O because they’ve heard it is a great Jewish campus,” he said.
The Alternative Spring Break program, which encourages students to engage in charitable activity instead of recreation during breaks, is bound for New Orleans and Buenos Aires this year.
“These programs are open not only to U of O students but to students at all campuses throughout the state,” said Applebaum.
He said he appreciates the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, which allocated $47,193 to Oregon Hillel for fiscal year 2007-08.
Bane said she is “a very questioning person,” so she appreciates the learning opportunities that are coupled with almost every activity at Hillel.
“For Sukkot, they built a big sukkah in front of the (Hillel) house, and there was a big information sign on the sukkah. At religious events we’ll explain what the holiday is about and what we’re doing with it,” she said. “Even on the ski retreats, we talk about Israel and how we relate to Israel as individuals.”
Bane said she hopes to join the Jewish Campus Service Corps after graduation, which would allow her to meet new people and bring them into Hillel.
“Hillel has done so much for me in the past year that I want to do everything I can to be a big supporter, to keep the community strong and friendly,” she said. “I really have cherished this community.”