Kesser dedicates shining new shul
By Kaplan Tuttlebaum
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Community. Continuity. Inspiration and responsibility.
Those were the themes, mixed with celebration and joy, as representatives of all parts of Portland’s Jewish community joined with national spokesmen and members of Kesser Israel to celebrate the official dedication of the congregation’s new home on Jan. 27.
“I stand in awe of your accomplishments,” said Rabbi Nate Segal, community services director of Torah U’Mesorah, a national Jewish education and outreach group, and the event’s keynote speaker, who flew in from New York for the occasion.
He recalled his first visit to Portland, some 15 years ago, when Kesser Israel struggled to have a minyan on Shabbat mornings in the old Meade Street shul, and compared the congregation’s achievements to those of the Maccabees.
“You didn’t let Kesser Israel die,” he said to the crowd of about 150. “Instead, you have built a beautiful new building—a building with which to build Jewish lives. And to share the real joy of Torah.”
Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, synagogue and community services director of the West Coast Orthodox Union, called his weekend as a visiting scholar at Kesser Israel “a heartwarming experience,” and bestowed a blessing: “May you outgrow this building as soon as possible.”
Charles Schiffman, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, said Kesser Israel now has “the best of all possible worlds”—a beautiful new home and the strength, responsibility and joy that comes from Torah.
“May the True Builder of this house, and of the entire world, grant that Kesser Israel will continue its rich tradition as a place of heartfelt prayer, authentic Torah teaching and Jewish inspiration for our entire community.”
Emcee Adam Greenman presented Jeffrey Weitz, the general contractor for the project, a plaque on behalf of the congregation in appreciation of his dedication to the greater Portland Jewish community, and his invaluable role in creating Kesser Israel’s new home. “We couldn’t have done it without you,” Greenman said.
The dedication, which included a cocktails-and-appetizers reception by Century Catering, was punctuated by frequent standing ovations for several of the speakers, including Rabbi Segal, Kesser Israel’s Rabbi Kenneth and Aviel Brodkin, as well as for Weitz and many of the congregation’s families—as well as matriarch Gussie Reinhardt, of blessed memory—whose spirit and dedication shepherded Kesser Israel throughout its nearly 100 years.
“We have been there for each other, at the best and worst of times,” said Rick Haselton, a past president of the congregation. “We strive for a closer connection with the Almighty, and try to be better and kinder spouses or parents or children—remembering before Whom we stand.”
“As beautiful as Meade Street was, and as beautiful as this building is,” he said, what makes it special is “friendship, faith and love.”
“We have survived and thrived because of our unabashed passion for Judaism,” added Rabbi Brodkin. “And that will be the source of our life in the future.”
It is a passion and a joy in Jewish life, he and others emphasized, that Kesser Israel has—and always will—share.
“We want everyone to feel at home here,” said Aviel Brodkin. “This building is not just for Kesser Israel—it is for the entire community.”