Portland, Oregon's first Hillel – Greater Portland Hillel, or PDX Hillel – has opened to serve the 1,500 Jewish students attending schools in the greater Portland area, which was one of the largest metropolitan United States cities to not be served by a Hillel, until now.
PSU Student Leaders Mickey Epand and Marcus Dorsen pose with Lewis & Clark leaders Eli Cohn and Nicole Pampanin after a recent Shabbat dinner.
PDX Hillel will serve the Jewish students primarily on the campuses of Portland State University (PSU), Reed College and Lewis & Clark College.
"We are filling a great gap in our community’s organization structure," said Rob Shlachter, PDX Hillel board chair and member of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life board of directors. "For too long the large student population in Portland has not been a part of our community."
Portland consistently ranks as one of the most livable cities in the United States and one of the most popular cities for young adults. It is no surprise that more than 75 percent of local students, according to PSU and Lewis & Clark statistics, stay in Portland after graduation.
Shlachter worked closely with Aaron Pearlman, the Community Outreach Director for the Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies at PSU, over the past year to get the organization off the ground. Pearlman, a Portland native and the former Young Leadership Director at the Jewish Federation in San Francisco, is transitioning from his role at PSU to become the executive director of PDX Hillel.
Shlachter is also joined on the initial Board of Directors by Rabbi Alan Berg, a former Hillel director at Williams College, and local lay leaders Jeff Nudelman and Marcia Weiss.
"I am ecstatic that our vision is coming together so quickly," Pearlman said. "We have big plans for this organization, but are taking it slowly and thoughtfully. Most importantly, we are looking forward to engaging students and creating student leaders instead of allowing them to be the next generation of unaffiliated Jews in Portland."
PDX Hillel logo.
Student leaders from all three campuses have come together to form a Student Organizing Committee, which will plan an exciting and rewarding programming schedule for the fall. Their programs have included Shabbat dinners with 45 students at Lewis & Clark and 30 students at Reed as well as a Yom Kippur Break the Fast Bash with 35 students at PSU.
A larger programming calendar will begin in January 2009 after a part-time program associate is hired.
Hannah Fisher, PSU's student body president, said that she hasn't been involved in Jewish life throughout college because the opportunity didn’t really exist.
"I have lived in Portland my entire life," she said. "Sadly, my connection to the Jewish community here dwindled after my bat mitzvah and then plummeted when I reached college, not due to a lack of interest, but for the lack of an outlet."
Eli Cohn, head of the Jewish Student Union at Lewis & Clark, said he sees a desire for Judaism and for Jewish education on campus.
"When I hear that people are unaware of the existence of the Jewish Student Union at Lewis & Clark, I see the need for something greater," he said. "When people are afraid to even admit their religious beliefs, I feel obligated, as a Jew, to help give them a voice. I see the opportunity arise when I see an intelligent group of people committed to the vision of a Portland Hillel – an opportunity as great as this may not come again."
Following a meeting in May 2008 where more than 40 people gathered to collaborate on the need for a Hillel in Portland, a business plan was presented to the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland (JFGP). The JFGP has made a three-year commitment of $35,000 from funds outside the annual campaign to help Hillel.
"We are proud to be a founding and funding member of what is sure to become an important organization in our community," said Charles R. Schiffman, JFGP executive vice president.
That JFGP grant followed on the heels of a $4,000 grant from the Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation, the largest grant it has awarded in its five-year history. Additional start-up grants are being discussed with both the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation and the Holzman Family Foundation. A larger "Founders Campaign" will seek three-year commitments once organized.
The business plan concludes that "a successful and vibrant Hillel – one that pushes the envelope, combines best practices, and forms a service model specialized for the Portland urban & multi-campus environment – will engage students in Jewish life. These students, in turn, provide the entire community with hundreds of volunteers, teachers, and eventually a new generation of leaders for our community."
For more information please contact Aaron Pearlman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-725-8449.