Three Leaps

Earlier this week, we included an intercalary day, or leap day, to our calendar. Leaving out all the technicalities, here are several things I did not know.

  • The Egyptians were the first to come up with adding a leap day once every four years to keep the calendar in sync with the solar year.
  • Later, the Romans adopted this solution for their calendar, and they became the first to designate February 29 as the leap day.
  • Our current calendar, introduced in 1582, omits leap years three times every four hundred years. So in addition to the rule that a leap year occurs every four years, a new rule was added: a century year is not a leap year unless it is evenly divisible by 400.

Interestingly, the Federation database has over 20,000 names. We know of only one person born on February 29.

This year happens to be a double leap year. We will also celebrate the Jewish leap year, or shanah me'uberet (literally “pregnant year” in Hebrew). This occurs approximately once every three years in order to assure that the lunar months of the Jewish year stay in sync with the solar calendar. An additional month of Adar is added – in less than three weeks we will celebrate Purim during the second Adar (March 23-24).

Yesterday, I had the opportunity for my first ever visit to Corvallis and the Oregon State University campus. (Several of the professors chided me for taking so long since I have been to Eugene multiple times.) I was invited by Professor Ben Mutschler, Director of the School of History, Philosophy and Religion, and Grady Goodall, Director of Development for the College of Liberal Arts. We have met several times in Portland to seek ways to collaborate and to enhance Jewish life on the OSU campus.

While at Oregon State, I met with several of their faculty members involved in Jewish studies. What an impressive group! There are multiple Jewish studies classes offered in a wide-variety of disciplines: Ancient Jewish History, Medieval Jewish History, Middle East History, World Religions (over 1,000 students per year take this class), Holocaust offerings, and much more. The school aspires to offer a certificate in Jewish Studies and ultimately develop it into a major at the university.

You may recall that two years ago the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland provided seed funding to Oregon Hillel to support Jewish students on the OSU campus. The Oregon Hillel team has been fantastic, especially Amanda Weiss who spends at least one day per week at OSU!

I met with three Jewish students actively involved in Hillel. They are extremely grateful for and proud of the Hillel program on campus. They have 150 students on their active list (out of an estimated 500 Jewish students on campus) and it grows each day. Plus, Jewish life is thriving. A new AEPi chapter is in the planning stages and several students will be participating on an upcoming Birthright Israel trip. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear little issues on campus regarding Israel.

I asked the students what would make Jewish life better at Oregon State:

  • A professional who devotes more time to OSU
  • A space of their own on campus with a kosher kitchen (“tired of being nomadic”)  
  • Funding for a mega-event that will enhance exposure to Jewish life on the entire OSU campus.

I wish I could bottle the energy and passion for Jewish life from these students.

Beyond Jewish life on campus, almost everyone I met also mentioned the important role of Beit Am, the local congregation/community for the mid-Willamette Valley. For close to ten years, Rabbi Benjamin Barnett has brought spiritual leadership to Corvallis and the surrounding area.

As my visit ended, one idea I thought about is the potential for the Judaic Studies professors at OSU, PSU, Reed, Lewis and Clark, UO, and other area schools to do a day of learning in Portland. It would be incredible for the Portland Jewish community to experience the breadth, depth, and charisma of these excellent professors. I am confident those who participate will have similar sentiments to their students on campus.

Our Jewish Federation continues to place heavy emphasis on the over 3,000 Jewish college students throughout the state, via our current partners at Oregon Hillel, Greater Portland Hillel, and Chabad at Reed College. But one of the questions we must address is what we do once these students graduate? We engage them on the campus, yet may lose them when they return to the broader Jewish community.Too often we do not even know they are in Portland (or any other community for that matter). This is one reason why the Jewish Federation is placing emphasis on young adults (ages 22-35) in its next round of allocations. Much work needs to be done!

One final note, Oregon State University has observed Holocaust Memorial Week every year since 1987. "The program grows from the belief that educational institutions can do much to combat prejudice of all kinds, and to foster respect for diversity by promoting an awareness of the Holocaust." We all recognize it is particularly important to teach young people so that coming generations will never forget the lessons that a preceding one learned at such costs.

Although most events will happen on the OSU campus, the Jewish Federation is proud to co-sponsor The Triumph of the Human Spirit: From Auschwitz to Forgiveness. Eva Kor will speak on May 1 at Congregation Beth Israel and discuss surviving Auschwitz and human experimentation by Dr. Josef Mengele, the importance of Holocaust education, and the value of forgiveness in reducing hatred and mass violence. More information to come.

I was truly impressed by the leap forward at Oregon State for Jewish students. I recognize that via the vision and leadership of so many, students throughout the State of Oregon are truly blessed to have such incredible options for vibrant Jewish life on campus and the enrichment of their Jewish knowledge.

Shabbat shalom.



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