A home for Jewish students

Students standing around a stable with food and a large screen in the background.

Greater Portland Hillel offers activities and programs for Jewish students across the region and its executive director, Hannah Sherman, recently won a national award for her work. We took the opportunity to catch up with Hannah to talk about what’s coming up for Greater Portland Hillel and why it matters when celebrities speak up about antisemitism.

Hannah Sherman with her award in a frame.

First, Please tell us about the national award you just received and what it means for Greater Portland Hillel.

Hannah Sherman: I was honored to be awarded the Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence Award by Hillel International at this year’s Hillel International Global Assembly. The award is given to Hillel professionals who embrace Hillel’s mission and truly make an impact on our collective Jewish future. Greater Portland Hillel is small but mighty, and to be recognized on a national level shows that the work we are doing to create a meaningful and fun community for all kinds of Jewish students is serving as an example for Hillels nationwide.

For the uninitiated, what is Hillel and how does it serve PSU students?

HS: Since 2008, PDX Hillel has been the bridge to a vibrant Jewish future by serving Jewish students on Greater Portland’s college campuses. By building a strong Jewish community on college campuses, we are enriching the lives of our local college students and are ultimately nurturing the growth of our broader Jewish community. We strive to create a welcoming and safe space on campus for ALL kinds of Jewish students. Our responsive staff cares about students by providing ongoing outreach – individually and through weekly group programming on and off campus. We work hard to connect students with Jewish faculty and staff on campus and with the greater Portland Jewish community. At PSU, we work directly with the Jewish Student Union (JSU) and Cultural and Historical Association for Israel (CHAI) to plan programs related to Judaism and Israel, creating a welcoming and supportive community for Jewish students on campus.

“Whether students are from Portland, or are just moving here for school, we want them to know they are welcome and have a home in the Portland Jewish community”

Hannah Sherman

What upcoming Hillel activities are you most excited about this year?

HS: This summer, we will be taking a group of 20 campus leaders on a program called Perspectives. This 10 day trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority is designed for involved leaders in clubs and groups on campus to be able to learn more about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and be able to bring these discussions back to their peers on campus.

How would you like to see society respond when public figures such as Ye (FKA Kanye West) make anti-semitic remarks?

HS: When a public figure like Ye – who has more Instagram followers than there are Jews in the world – speaks and acts like he did, it is really frightening and concerning. But letting the Jewish community know you’re there for them helps. Speaking up makes a difference. In the wake of Ye’s comments, non-Jewish celebrities like Charles Barkley, John Mellencamp, and the Black-eyed Peas denounced antisemitism publicly on TV and at their concerts. That public affirmation for the Jewish community meant so much. You don’t have to be a celebrity to post on social media in support of the Jewish community.

Two students standing behind a Great Portland Hillel table outside Cramer Hall.

What do you want all PSU students to understand about the Jewish community in Portland?

HS: Our goal is to create a welcoming, safe, and fun community for Jewish students at PSU and we want to build bridges between the campus and broader Portland Jewish community. If students ever want to attend a synagogue for services, or be hosted for a home-cooked meal, we can ensure students have access to these Jewish spaces. Whether students are from Portland, or are just moving here for school, we want them to know they are welcome and have a home in the Portland Jewish community.





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