History

The Leah and Samuel Osher Hillel Fund is named in memory of Mr.
Osher’s parents, immigrants from Europe who felt that a college
education was one of the most important legacies they could give their
children. With the creation of a Hillel fund at Bowdoin, Mr. Osher
wished to provide Jewish students with the opportunity to explore their
Jewish identities through Bowdoin Hillel as part of the college
experience his parents viewed so dear.

“This endowment is very, very impor-tant to Bowdoin College,” says
fundraising committee member and trustee emerita Rosalyne Bernstein
P’77 H ’97, “because Bowdoin has not always been a welcoming
environment to Jewish students. Many Jewish alumni see this fund as
affirmation of their own identities. It enriches the Bowdoin community
as a whole, and it is proof that institutions, like people, grow and
change, and in this case, very much for the better.” Mrs. Bernstein and
her late husband, Sumner, established the Harry SpindelMemorial
Lectureship Fund at Bowdoin twenty-five years ago in memory of her
father and his “lifelong devotion to Jewish learning.” The fund
supports an annual lecture in Judaic studies or contemporary Jewish
affairs and Bowdoin Hillel is now closely involved with the widely
popular Spindel series.

“This endowment means that we can sustain active Jewish life on
campus every year,” explains College Librarian Sherrie Bergman, who,
with Professor of Economics Rachel Connelly, serves as Bowdoin Hillel
faculty advisor. “These resources assure that, among other things, we
can have a rabbi on campus for the High Holidays, send students to
Hillel student leadership conferences, and purchase a Torah and ark to
keep on campus.

How the College fills its commitment to meet the spiritual needs of
every student differs among different student religious groups,”
explains Bergman. “One of the most meaningful ways we can support our
Jewish students is to regularize the process of bringing a rabbi to
campus. The religious needs of some of our other students can be met
through local churches. There is no synagogue in Brunswick.”

“The endowment has a lot of symbolic value in nurturing a Jewish
community on campus,” comments Steve Postal ’05, Bowdoin Hillel
co-president. “It is also significant from an admissions standpoint;
Jews looking for a liberal arts experience while wanting also to engage
in the Jewish community, their ethnicity, and spirituality can be
assured that Bowdoin College has an active Hillel program.”

Many alumni share the excitement about the Osher Hillel Fund,
including fundraising committee member Joel Sherman ’61. “I graduated
at a time when there was no Jewish life at Bowdoin,” Sherman says.
“There was a void on campus for Jewish students. This fundraising
effort has had tremendous support across a broad section of alumni
because it has given them another way to connect to the College-Bowdoin
Hillel was a long time coming.”

“There’s no need to be shy about being Jewish at Bowdoin,” asserts
Neal Urwitz ’06, who interned this past summer for a rabbi in Maryland
and aspires to rabbinical studies himself after Bowdoin. He is one of
two current Bowdoin students contemplating that course. “People get
enjoyment from many different things; if Judaism is it, great-we now
have that option here. Anyone who wants to be Jewish at Bowdoin can. If
the endowment continues to grow, the program can also expand,” Neal
continues. “There is talk of hiring a part-time director to facilitate
the activities of Bowdoin Hillel, as well as continuing the sponsorship
of guest speakers, and other events. If we have money for these
things-personally, it’s enormous-but, it’s nice for everyone else, too;
it adds to the dialogue and diversity of the campus.”

Rachel Kaplan ’06 summed up the feelings best when she wrote to
thank Neal and the other organizers of the Passover seder last spring:
“I didn’t really know how I would feel being away from home for
Passover…I felt really proud to be Jewish at Bowdoin.”

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