With the arrival this week of Rabbi Asi and Aviva Spiegel, the spiritual seekers of this city 100 miles south of Portland have a new address to turn to–one that promises to enrich their lives with the meaning and depth of Jewish spirituality.
On his frequent visits to Eugene over the last two decades, Rabbi Moshe Wilhelm, director of Chabad activities in Portland, observed an earnest spiritual quest that pervades the town. “There was real interest in Judaism every time we came down there,” he says. “Many people in Eugene have experimented with various forms of spirituality and are eager to explore Judaism.”
The second largest city in Oregon and home to the University of Oregon, the state’s largest campus, Eugene has long been known for its unique population, currently numbering about 140,000, many of whom are involved in various new-age forms of self expression and spirituality, and passionate activists for the preservation of nature, forests and other such causes.
Chabad of Eugene’s goal is “to give them a passion for Judaism,” says Rabbi Asi Speigel, who was recruited by Rabbi Wilhelm with the generous support of the Rohr Family Foundation. Rabbi Spiegel arrived in Eugene this week with his wife Aviva and two small sons, in time for the Sukkos Holiday and the start of the fall term on campus.
A native Israeli, Rabbi Spiegel was one of the first Chabad Rabbis to arrive in Katmandu, Nepal to coordinate Pesach seders for Israeli backpackers, (see archives) and continued there for years, developing the seders into hugely popular events, and forming long-standing relationships with the backpackers. His years of experience teaching Chasidic thought to those well versed in Eastern religions will serve him well in Eugene, where many of the residents have dabbled in them in some form or another.
For the time being, Chabad of Eugene is installed in a rented house just off campus, close by to the student residences. Though the fall semester starts officially on Sept. 30, this week is known as the University of Oregon’s “Week of Welcome”–an ideal time for the Rabbi and his wife to get acquainted with the arriving students.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm here in town over Chabad’s arrival,” says Aviva Spiegel, who will be teaching women’s classes on understanding Chasidic concepts through creative expression. “This is a very family-oriented town, even with the high level of campus involvement.”
Since many local families choose home schooling for their children, Chabad will be offering Jewish enrichment programs to provide these children and others with a Jewish experience, in addition to the standard Chabad holiday programming for the family and adult education.
On the campus scene, Chabad will be offering Shabbat meals, an “Ask the Rabbi” table in the main campus plaza, and a full range of classes on basic Judaism, Kabbalah, and Chassidic thought.
“The search for spirituality has led Eugene’s Jews on various paths,” says
Rabbi Spiegel, speaking both of residents and students, many of whom are drawn to Eugene because of the town’s unique atmosphere. “We are very excited to be offering them the opportunity to explore the spirituality of Judaism and make it a part of their lives.”