BY DEBORAH MOON
At a Jan. 12 Zoom meeting, the Women’s Giving Circle of Portland experienced a condensed version of a Hillel program they have helped fund as they prepare to consider a new round of grants for the coming year.
The giving circle awarded 18 grants totaling $60,465 in its first three years, including just one grant of $18,000 last year to the Jewish Greater Portland Together COVID-19 Relief Fund after the pandemic struck. For 2021-22, the circle will grant $28,000 (see below).
“Times are weird, but we can support programming, and we want to put it (our funds) to work,” said Jessica Zutz Hilbert, who co-chairs the Women’s Giving Circle with Felicia Rosenthal. The grant application notes: We hope that one of these grants might allow your organization to fill an unmet need as you face unprecedented challenges this year.
An Oregon Hillel staffer and three students shared the impact that past grants and the resulting programs have had on them and Oregon Hillel at the University of Oregon and Oregon State University. The four then led the women in an exercise they had intended to use at the third annual Hillel Women’s Retreat, which was canceled by statewide “stay home” orders last spring. The Women’s Giving Circle funded Hillel’s first two retreats in 2018 and 2019, as well as Rosh Chodesh gatherings for two years. Rosh Chodesh, the day that marks the arrival of each new Jewish month, is often celebrated as a women’s holiday.
“Helping plan the first women’s retreat was the most impactful of my college experiences – socially, spiritually and mental-health wise,” said Alexa Singer, an OSU senior. “It helped guide me to a leadership role and helped me connect with a lot of strong women.”
UO Senior Sarah Birch, who says Hillel has been a big part of her college experience, agrees that the women’s retreat, which brings together Hillel women from both campuses, has been her most impactful experience.
OSU senior Rachel Polasky says she has experienced true heart-to-heart connections at the retreats and Rosh Chodesh gatherings. “The experience of leading women’s retreat gave me the confidence to pursue leadership – even beyond Hillel,” says Rachel, who this year is president of the 200+ member Society of Women Engineers on the OSU campus.
The third retreat was expected to focus on identity. The Hillel guests led the women’s circle through two of the planned exercises from that canceled event. Alexa, Sarah, Rachel and OSU Director of Jewish Education & Spirituality Rachel Chodorow-Reich each met in a breakout room with about four women’s circle participants. In honor of Tu B’Shevat, the new year for trees, the women were invited to share what parts of their life as a seed, sapling and sequoia they wanted to nourish.
When the breakout rooms reconvened, each woman completed the sentence, “One way I want to nourish part of my identity during Shabbat (or this month) is to …”
Replies included cook, work out, find work-life balance, phone friends more often, explore or connect with nature, play more and stretch my mind.
Women’s circle member Sharon Pollin shared an idea that Rachel C-R called “brilliant.”
Sharon says she created a Bingo card/chart for herself that reflects what activities are important to her and how many times each week she wants to touch each activity.
This year, Oregon Hillel hopes to host a virtual women’s retreat, drawing on the model of ReJewvenation, an annual women’s retreat held at B’nai B’rith Camp that went virtual last fall. Oregon Hillel will also draw on its experiences hosting monthly Zoom gatherings for Rosh Chodesh.
Rachel C-R said Zoom life has been a silver lining of the pandemic. “We can integrate more people. We can do Rosh Chodesh with UO and OSU and alumni on Zoom.” She said next month, they also plan to invite students from Portland State University and Lewis & Clark College to join the Zoom gathering.
Felicia thanked the Hillel women for “making this a rich experience for all of us.” She thanked the women for all they do and added, “We await with bated breath your contribution to this community.”
“They need to join the Women’s Giving Circle,” added Mia Birk, who had joined Felicia two years ago for the site visit to Oregon Hillel to assess their grant application. Mia is the immediate past cochair of the giving circle.
GRANT APPLICATIONS DUE FEB. 15, 2021
The Jewish Federation’s Women’s Giving Circle is now accepting applications for its 2021-2022 grant-making cycle. The circle funds programs and initiatives with a focus on women and girls (including transgender), justice and Jewish continuity.
VIRTUAL ZOOM SITE VISITS: April 12 and April 19
AWARD DATE: June 7, 2021
TOTAL FUNDING AVAILABLE: $28,000
INDIVIDUAL GRANTS: $1,000-$5,000