New endowment supports Oregon Hillel’s annual Welcome Shabbat

University of Oregon alumna Helen Sherman Cohen has made a donation to Oregon Hillel in the form of a new fund that will allow Hillel to continue its long tradition of serving UO’s Jewish students.

The Aaron and Helen Sherman Cohen Fund was established at the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation and will support Oregon Hillel’s annual Welcome Shabbat at UO. Each year more than 100 students attend the Welcome Shabbat at Oregon Hillel on the Friday prior to classes as a way to reconnect with old friends, connect with the Jewish student community and celebrate Shabbat for the first time in the academic year.

Oregon Hillel Executive Director Andy Gitelson says that endowments such as this help to ensure that Hillel will have the resources that are so critical to providing programs and services to future generations of students. He cites Welcome Shabbat as a key opportunity for students to reconnect with their community after summer break. For new students, it is often the place where they meet friends that they will have throughout their college years and beyond.

Helen graduated from the UO School of Journalism in 1950. She had discovered an affinity for newspaper work while writing for her high school paper. She attended the school with her brother, Sidney Sherman, who completed his B.S. and M.S. at UO. At the time, Jewish campus life was limited, maintained mainly by monthly visits from a congregational rabbi from Portland. Following graduation, Helen wrote a society column for Portland’s Oregon Journal. Her sights were set higher, though, and she eventually transitioned to freelance writing for several small newspapers in Oregon and covered the 1952 Democratic and Republican presidential primary conventions in Chicago.

In 1953, Helen married Aaron Cohen, z”l (of blessed memory). They had three children, after which Helen began teaching high school English and journalism, as well as serving as faculty advisor of the school newspaper. Helen and Aaron were members of Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland from its founding in 1961. She returned to the University of Oregon in the 1970s to get her master’s in English. In 2010, Helen and Aaron made aliyah, moving to Israel to be closer to one of their sons and his family. Helen has lived there ever since; Aaron passed away in 2013.

Helen will celebrate her 90th birthday in June. She wanted to mark the occasion by giving back to both the Jewish  and  UO communities. Helen’s son, Daniel, is a proud UO alumnus. Daniel’s daughter and Helen’s granddaughter, Mira Cohen, currently attends the school and is active in the Hillel community.

Oregon Hillel provides UO students with opportunities to get involved with the campus’ tight-knit Jewish community by offering free Shabbat dinners every Friday night, meaningful programs, opportunities for education and activism, and a free matzah ball soup delivery service. Oregon Hillel relies on grants and private support from parents and alumni for roughly 90% of its funding. For more information about establishing an endowment to support a Hillel program or service, contact Andy Gitelson ( or 541-343-8920 ext. 101) or visit

Andrew Goldberg, a journalism student at the University of Oregon, is working as a communications intern with UO Hillel this school year.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

'New endowment supports Oregon Hillel’s annual Welcome Shabbat' have 2 comments

  1. June 14, 2017 @ 11:28 am Jo McIntyre, member CNS

    Some rare information about the family which also provides a window into Oregon rural history. The family of Aaron Cohen lived and worked in Willamina for several years. Aaron Cohen was a treasured member of the Willamina community and the Willamina Brick Plant where he worked for many years.
    Helen S. Cohen taught at Willamina High School. The two boys attended school in Willamina and are equally fondly remembered, particularly by Charlene Brown, who established the Willamina Historical Society and has written several books about local history. Aaron and Helen’s sons played with her own children after school.
    I met Helen Cohen at a dinner at Congr. Ahavath Achim in the 1980s, before the family made aliyah. Later, I met a Willamina woman who knew the Cohen’s son, Sidney, when the family lived there. She said Mrs. Cohen used to come over to visit her mother often and whe remembered them well and fondly.
    The Willamina Historical Museum has published a book by local historian and founder of the museum, Charlene Brown, titled “Brickburg, The story of The Willamina, Oregon Brick Plant.” She has one paragraph on Aaron Cohen, the Ceramic Engineer, who “joined the crew in 1948.”
    Brown goes on, “Cohen devised the formulas to meet the specifications of sometimes hard-to-please architects, bricks of every shade of red, blue, yellow and buff. Any requirement of color, size and texture could be met.” It is clear in the book how important the brick plant was to the economic life of Willamina.
    At the Museum, there is also a large, framed article from The Oregonian, dated March 14, 1975, (p. C7) by Janet Goetze about the imminent demise of the brick plant. There is more detail about Mr. Cohen there – apparently he worked at the brick plant for at least 25 years.
    In that year, 1975, according “Brickburg,” Gerald Edwards, son of the owner, and your father, were given a special award from the members of the American Institute of Architects, “for meritorious craftsmanship and service to the architectural profession and the community.” The brick plant was bought by Willamina Lumber Company and entirely removed in 1976.
    Family members recalled weekly trips to Portland for Shabbat. Their father would point out buildings in and on the way to Portland, noting “That’s built with Willamina Brick!”


    • June 14, 2017 @ 11:31 am Jo McIntyre, member CNS

      Addendum: “your father” = Aaron Cohen. This was taken from an email I sent to Dr. Sidney Cohen.


Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.