Passover of Learning

I hope everyone is enjoying their Passover. I can hear my father saying, “Almost done. I can finally have my real cake and eat it too.” (Federation is closed tomorrow in observance of the late days of Pesach.)

Last week my family went on “vacation” to Boston. We visited numerous colleges for my daughter who is a high school junior (and bringing my freshman son was a bonus as he could see the schools, too). 

Neither my wife nor I ever had the chance to tour colleges. She was pretty much going to The Ohio State University and my parents could not afford to take me so I attended Emory University sight unseen. So, listening to the information sessions (by the third one they all pretty much sounded the same) and taking the multitude of campus tours was quite the experience. We saw urban and rural campuses, large and small. Some had a physical Hillel building and others did not. We saw the Glatt kosher deli at one school and noted every school provided opportunities for Hebrew study and Jewish studies. It was fun, but tiring – seven schools in four days.

Now, I am not a college advisor and know very little about the application process. What I do know is that the number of applicants continues to grow exponentially while the available slots for admission seem static. Therefore, I must congratulate all the seniors who recently received their admissions letters -- or are they emails today? (Remember when you waited for either a thick or thin envelope to know whether you were accepted or not?). I hope everyone got into their first choices and I wish you all well on your college journey.

While visiting I thought a lot about the issue of the “middle class squeeze.” As college tuitions rise, universities are becoming unaffordable for too many. I know many schools say they will “meet 100% of the demonstrated need,” but that calculation may have little relevance to one’s own personal finances. I know we are thinking about how we can afford the colleges our daughter is most interested in. 

It is similar to what I often hear about Jewish day schools, preschools, Israel trips, and summer camps around the country. Families with resources can afford the programs. Families with lower incomes can receive much in financial aid. But those who many consider earn nice livings, but where tuition/costs can be a major impact on the family budget, may not receive enough assistance to believe they can afford to send their child(ren). We never want there to be a choice based on affordability. Sadly, this is a reality for far too many. It is something the Jewish Federation hopes to further address in the years ahead in partnership with our day schools, summer camps, preschools, and other Jewish experiences. 

One highlight of our trip was celebrating the first seder at Harvard Hillel. What a wonderful service Hillels and Jewish Student Unions provide on college campuses across the country for students to celebrate seder.

There were two seder options. The one we attended had about 75 participants, mostly students. It was a “family style seder” with everyone involved. For not being at home with our own family, it was quite nice.

At our table were two students – best friends from Westchester, NY. One attends Harvard and the other was visiting from Cornell. They could not have been friendlier. 

Our discussion with them quickly turned to the randomness / “luck of the draw” known as college admissions. How does a university select 1,500 applicants from 30,000+ applications? What are the differentiators? What makes one student stand out over another, especially since most applying to these schools are top students in their class?

It was an informative discussion and really helped my daughter better understand the process and to think about how she can “stand out.” This fall she will begin the application process (which seems way easier than when I applied to schools with the “common application” and computers – remember when you had to use a typewriter to write each application separately?) and anxiously await to see where she gets admitted.

Yes,the college process can be an exciting, yet daunting time.  

On an important separate note, I would like to share the news that Greater Portland Hillel, which will soon celebrate its 10th anniversary, has hired a new Executive Director, Hannah Sherman. Hannah succeeds Rhonda Abrams, who is relocating with her husband to Chicago where he will begin law school. Hannah is currently the Director of Student Life at UC Santa Barbara Hillel and has recently completed Hillel's Accelerate Executive Leadership Training Program. Her experience, passion and commitment to supporting students' Jewish journeys will enable PDX Hillel to maintain its high standard of excellence, innovation and growth. We look forward to welcoming Hannah to Portland!

Finally, the international annual Good Deeds Day is happening on Sunday, April 15, 2018. It is an intergenerational day of hands-on volunteering to make our Greater Portland community a better place. We have many wonderful projects available for people of all ages:

• Oregon Food Bank West (Beaverton) — repack food items

• Portland Backpack Lunch Program — assemble weekend food kits for low income families

• JSERVE (youth 6th-12th grade) -- volunteer with peers at Oregon Food Bank NE Portland location

• PJ Library Preschool story, song and craft

• Shaarie Torah knit baby caps for NICU patients

• Moishe House-Wire for the Wise — help elderly Cedar Sinai Park residents with technology, 20s & 30s volunteers only

• Children’s Healing Art Project

• JFCS Café Europa photo project with elderly Holocaust survivors

• Project Linus Quilt Squares

• Store to Door Cardmaking

• Volunteers of America Oregon Paper Crafting

• MJCC Blood Drive 

We hope you will join us and be a part of this special day -- register now.

Have a wonderful Shabbat.



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