Shiran Halfon gives a face to Israel in Portland

Israeli Fellow Shiran Halfon has spent the school year increasing Portland-area college students’ understanding of and connection with Israel. Now she hopes to promote those same values for the greater Jewish community with the May 5 communitywide Yom Ha’aztmaut celebration.

The Israeli Independence Day event will begin at 5 pm at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, 6651 SW Capitol Hwy., Portland. The program begins with a variety of options including kids’ activities, an Israeli shuk (marketplace), a lecture by Portland State University Judaic Studies Professor Nina Spiegel and an exhibit of Israeli photos. An assortment of Israeli food will be for sale. At 7:30 pm the Israeli band Habanim Shell Shimon will perform. Following the concert, an Israeli dance party will begin about 9 pm.

“My vision is to bring together the different age groups celebrating together,” says Shiran. “There will be something for each age to enjoy with a big performance at the end for all the community to come together as a whole to celebrate Israel’s independence. I want the entire ambience to be very Israeli – warm, happy and excited.”

Shiran says the band has toured in a lot of U.S. Jewish communities and has a great repertoire of Israeli and American Jewish songs.
In the previous two years, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland had brought two shlichim (Israeli emissaries) to town. For this school year, federation teamed up with the Greater Portland Hillel to bring Shiran to town, with 80% of her time devoted to working with college students on Portland-area campuses.

“I came here for a purpose,” says Shiran. “A personal connection brings Israel to them in a more personal way.”

Apparently she has done just that.

“In only six months, Shiran’s impact has been dynamic,” says PDX Hillel Director Rachel Hall. “She has given our Jewish student leaders direct support with their efforts towards Israel education, advocacy and cultural awareness on our Portland campuses. Shiran has infused every aspect of Portland Hillel’s
programing with a sense of Israeli pride. Jewish students now have a piece of Israel on their campus, making Israel not just a place, but a person to fall in love with. They are proud to introduce Shiran to both their Jewish and non-Jewish friends. Hundreds of students have interacted with Shiran and, in turn, hundreds of students have had a positive interaction with Israel. We so are grateful for her presence on our Portland campuses.”

Shiran says developing relationships with the students has been a pleasure. Simply spending time together and deep conversations are both enjoyable.
“My favorite program was a leadership retreat at the beach in November,” she says. “I had three days with 22 students, and they had nowhere to escape. There was a lot of laughter, conversations that inspired me and I believe the students. It helped us develop personal connections and start the year great. … On Saturday evening we did Havdallah around the bonfire with lots of singing. It gave the students a sense of community and togetherness.”

I came here for a purpose. A personal connection brings Israel to them in a more personal way.

Shiran arrived in Portland Sept. 1. She grew up in Shoham, near Tel Aviv. She considers herself secular, but in a traditional family in a small city in Israel that means celebrating all the holidays and keeping kosher.

She says her biggest “crisis” in moving to Oregon was the food. Though she does not keep strictly kosher here, she was used to the distinctive flavors of Israeli food and lots of fresh vegetables.

“Then I discovered burritos,” says Shiran. “So I’ve been exploring different Mexican restaurants. I fell in love with the food carts. I think Portland has lots of authentic Thai and Vietnamese food, which I’m becoming more open to.”

She hopes her stay helps students and other community members become more open to Israel and fall in love with the Jewish homeland as much as she is enjoying the beauty of Oregon.

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