Portland Hillel changes 14 lives in Israel
By JENN DIRECTOR KNUDSEN
article created on: 2009-00-25T00:00:00
Greater Portland Hillel’s Hannah Camfield-Bronstein, 20, became a bat mitzvah. Simon Hudes, 19, became a bar mitzvah. Rebecca “Rikki” Wynn, 19, traveled back in time and found her second home.
Not a bad outcome for local Hillel’s first Taglit-Birthright trip, a 10-day journey to Israel that scoured the country, from its north to its south.
Rachel Hall, 27, leads Greater Portland Hillel. She shepherded 14 students from Portland State University, Lewis and Clark College, Reed College and University of Portland throughout Israel May 17-27.
Birthright subsidizes participants’ trips through its national and international funding sources. Trip-goers are responsible only for the first leg to New York, and incidentals. Hall hopes to lead a second Hillel Birthright trip.
While abroad, Hall had two key goals: She hoped the Portland students would be imbued with cultural and religious pride and return to their respective campuses ready to infuse PDX Hillel with their (re)awakened spirit.
“This was by far the most supportive, educational, leadership-enhancing trip I’d ever been on,” said Hall, who’d been on Birthright trips before, but never one catering to Hillel.
The group’s packed itinerary included Ceasarea, Park Alona, the Hula Valley, Tel Dan reserve, the Jaffa Overlook, Yad Vashem, Safed, Masada and even sleeping in tents in a Bedouin encampment.
“[Y]ou can’t go anywhere without going back in time,” Wynn observed.”
And Hillel’s young adults attended talks—such as by Avraham Infeld, most recent president of the Chais Family Foundation, and scholar Paul Liptz of Hebrew Union College—and participated in probing discussions—including “My Connection to Jewish Memory” and “Spirituality—Wrestling with G-d.”
“Anything we learned about, we touched, saw or tasted,” Hall explained.
For Wynn, a Lewis and Clark sophomore studying theater and psychology, the Israel trip introduced her to peers who, like her, view Judaism more through a cultural than a religious lens. And she found great comfort in that discovery.
“I’ve been to a couple of foreign countries and a bunch of different states in the U.S.,” she said upon her return to Portland. “And I’ve never felt as at-home as I did in Israel.”
Judaism, she continued, “is more of a culture than a religion… [Y]ou can observe your own way and ultimately, in order to be Jewish, you must be a good and just person.”
The Israel experience so moved Camfield-Bronstein, also a Lewis and Clark student, she decided to become a bat mitzvah while in Jerusalem.
Originally from Corvallis, a college town with a tiny Jewish population, Camfield-Bronstein said not having a bat mitzvah as a young teen “was one of my regrets.”
She continued, “I guess it was something I really felt I was missing out on. The opportunity to do one in Jerusalem was just incredible.”
Camfield-Bronstein said Hall and Birthright friends who’d gone through the rite of passage years before served as her teachers, often while trundling in their bus from spot to spot and during hikes.
“It was just a collaborative effort, with a lot of people helping out; they were as excited as I was about it,” she reminisced.
And Hudes’ bar mitzvah ceremony occurred alongside Camfield-Bronstein’s, in the Shalom Jerusalem Hotel lobby.
Hudes, a Lewis and Clark political science major, said he applied for the Birthright trip—his first to Israel—“to find out what being Jewish meant for myself.”
He added, “One of the most impacting moments I had in Israel was going to the Western Wall, hearing about the amazing history behind it and getting a chance to pray for my family. … It was a very powerful feeling that I know I won’t forget.”
“I will return to campus in the fall with a stronger desire to be involved with Hillel.” Hudes continued, “The feeling that will come with giving newcomers a chance to experience anything even similar to what I experienced in Israel … will be reward enough for me.”
This story was made possible by a grant from the Judith and Edwin Cohen Foundation.