Eugene Hillel Welcomes Rabbi

Rabbi Jack Melul and his wife, Shira, are welcome additions to Eugene’s Jewish community. Hired by Oregon NCSY/ Jewish Student Union Director Meira Spivak of Portland, Rabbi Jack will work as director of Eugene NCSY and will give Hillel Oregon a regular rabbinic presence for the first time in more than a decade.

“It’s great having him here,” says Andy Gitelson, executive director of Hillel at the University of Oregon, which was founded in 1985 by Rabbi Hanan Sills, who served the students for the next 10 years. For the past decade, numerous area rabbis have volunteered at Hillel, but “until Jack and Shira came, we didn’t have a rabbi connected with our program. We had volunteer help from time to time, but no one who could give the energy and focus on a regular basis. It’s important to have a rabbi for that deeper Jewish connection. These two are on campus to meet students, help them on their Jewish journey and help guide them to explore who they are Jewishly.”

“We can see the impact of a vibrant and energetic young Jewish couple,” Andy continues. “We were able to host our first Shavuot celebration. The university lost funding for conversational Hebrew, so they are setting up a Hebrew hour once a week at Hillel. They are working with us to have a weekly Torah and text study, and we meet monthly for ideas on how we can add serious Judaic value to Hillel content.”

Originally from Manchester, England, Rabbi Jack’s family came from Morocco. He lived in Israel for seven years and received his rabbinical ordination from the late chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l. Shira Melul was born and grew up in Jerusalem and met her husband while teaching at a Jewish day school in England. The couple has two daughters, Debbie, almost 3, and Ruth, 8 months.

“It is great for students to have a rabbi on campus that they can always turn to for support,” Rabbi Jack wrote in an email note from Israel, where he is currently leading a student tour. “We hope to run weekly, free-of-charge Hebrew and Torah classes, and we are planning a 10-week Maimonides program.”

Jewish high school students also will have more opportunities. “NCSY offers Shabbatons, retreats, Shabbat Shebang weekends and social events.

“We ran a cheesecake buffet for Shavuot and the Yom Ha’atzmaut Israel 65 party joint community/Hillel student event. Our home is open anytime with freshly baked cake and hot tea. The students are the only family we have in Eugene, and we love being there for them.”

Though many local rabbis have volunteered at Oregon Hillel over the years, Gitelson is pleased to have a regular rabbinic presence. Having a rabbi regulary working with the students at Hillel will enable those students to be reached in ways that have not been possible recently.  As an example of the impact a rabbi can have on students, one need only look at the source of the money for the building Oregon Hillel now calls home.  Oscar Boonshoft, a Jewish philanthropist from Ohio, so appreciated Sills' inspired teaching of his son that he donated $275,000 toward the purchase of Hillel House in Eugene. In1995, the National Board of Hillel honored Sills with its "Founders Award" for lifetime achievement. 

However, Gitelson does emphasize that, unlike Rabbi Sills, "Jack and Shira serve as a resource to Hillel and not the Hillel Rabbi. Someone who is the rabbi at Hillel is someone employed by Hillel and working with the executive director and professional staff to set and further the mission of Hillel.  Volunteer rabbis focus on individual programs or initiatives that fall inline with the mission of the organization. Jack and Shira are funded by an outside group of donors that set their goals and mission on campus.  I engage them to work together to build Jewish community on campus, but do not set their professional goals or have a say in how they approach their work.  We collaborate when we are able."

Melul agrees: "This has always been our approach and we are glad we can work together."

Contact Rabbi Jack Melul by emailing jackmelul@ncsy.org or calling 541-221-2073. Shira Melul is available at shiramelul@ncsy.org, 541-221-1934.

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