Oregon year in review: New leaders, down economy, growth mark 5763
By Deborah Moon Seldner
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Professional leadership in Portland's Jewish community changed markedly; a down economy sent ripples through the state; and the region's Jewish community continued to grow and expand in 5763.
In November Mittleman Jewish Community Center Executive Director Jeff Lann announced that after 24 years at the center it was time to move on. Interim director Lee Brown stepped in to lead the MJCC for seven months before a new director arrived to lead the center Aug. 4.
New MJCC Executive Director Alan Feldman is a veteran administrator of large to medium-sized Jewish community centers. Most recently he was executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Charlotte, N.C., a post he assumed after spending 18 months in Jerusalem as a fellow at the Melton Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at Hebrew University. Previously he direc-ted the Klein Branch of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia, a network of three large JCCs.
A new leader also took the reins of Jewish Family and Child Service over the summer. In February former director Rena Waxman left to take a similar post at the JFCS in Minnesota to be closer to family.
Marvin Kuperstein became executive director of Portland's JFCS July 21. In the preceding 13 years the Columbus, Ohio, JFS grew from an annual budget of $600,000 to $3.7 million under Kuperstein's leadership.
The Oregon Jewish Community Foundation named interim director John Moss the foundation's executive director at its June board meeting. Formerly involved in radio, television and the Internet, Moss has been active in Portland's Jewish community since the mid-1990s, serving as a volunteer on the boards of several organizations.
Rivka Gevurtz became executive director of the Northwest Jewish Environmental Project in October. Gevurtz, who left her job as adult services director at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center about three years ago to stay home with her infant daughter, had been the program director of NJEP since February.
Principal hired to launch high school
Portland Jewish Academy hired Trish King as principal of the PJA High School, scheduled to open with a ninth-grade class in the fall of 2004. King has nearly two decades of experience as a teacher and administrator at a private K-12 school.
Congregations also added new leadership in the last year.
Congregation Kol Ami in Southwest Washington hired Jan Rabinowitch as congregational leader.
Congregation Neveh Shalom hired Aaron Vitells as ritual director.
Rabbi Ariel Stone-Halpern returned to Portland following a two-year fellowship in Jerusalem to lead the new Congregation Shir Tikvah. Her husband, Rabbi Larry Halpern, had returned a year earlier to resume leadership of South Metro Jewish Congregation.
Chabad of Oregon opened a new branch in Eugene under the leadership of Rabbi Asi Spiegel.
Partially in response to the poor economy, the Jewish Federation of Portland replaced a marketing position with a campaign post. Joshua Stein, 27, formerly assistant director of Hillel at the University of Indiana, joined the federation campaign staff. He has a master's degree in Jewish communal service from Brandeis University. The new position was created in response to the changing realities of fund-raising, which, with a down economy and an increasingly unconnected Jewish population, requires a more intensive staff effort.
Slump hits individuals, organizations
In a state that has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, community leaders said they have seen an increase in needs and a decrease in giving. Staff from JFCS and local synagogues said they have seen an increase in unemployment, resulting in financial and emotional stresses.
The 2002-03 JFP annual campaign raised $3.625 million, 3 percent less than the previous year's campaign. Campaign leaders attributed the shortfall to economic conditions.
And financial woes stretching back five years caused Circle of Life Jewish Preschool to close its doors Jan. 31, after caring for children for 22 years. Circle was widely known as a high-quality preschool that also served as a gateway into Jewish life for many families.
Despite local hardships, several times during the year Oregonians responded to pleas to help Israel in the midst of medical and economic crises resulting from the 3-year-old intifada.
Since September 2001, the federation has received about $400,000 in donations, toward an ultimate local goal of $500,000, to its separate Israel Emergency Campaign. The funds are allocated in phases to specific areas of need, which shift as circumstances evolve.
The Portland Chapter of Magen David Adom raised enough money to purchase an ambulance for Israel's emergency medical and blood service.
And when Northwest Medical Teams announced it had $200,000 worth of medical supplies ready to ship to Israel, the local group Strength to the Wounded of Israel quickly raised the $6,500 needed to send the shipment on its way.
Last November, Portlanders pumped more than $55,000 into Israel's economy when they bought merchandise from 12 merchants who shipped their wares to the Shop Israel Fair at Congregation Neveh Shalom. The community-wide event was part of a string of Israel Product Fairs held across the country. The fair was cosponsored by the Jewish Federation of Portland, Congregation Neveh Shalom and Congregation Beth Israel. A second Shop Israel Fair will be held at Neveh Shalom Nov. 9-10 this year.
Jewish community keeps growing
From southern Oregon to southwest Washington, there were signs that the region's Jewish community continues to grow. In Eugene, the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi moved into a bigger home on the University of Oregon Campus. Salem's Temple Beth Shalom launched a campaign to expand its 55-year-old synagogue. And in southwest Washington, Hadassah awarded a charter to the new Shalom Chapter.
Portland also showed signs of growth and vitality. With the addition of the Vermont Street Neighborhood Synagogue, local congregations reached a new "chai" (Hebrew for "life" and for the number 18). There are now 18 congregations in the Portland area.
Cedar Sinai Park purchased from Alpenrose Dairy 9.91 acres adjacent to Rose Schnitzer Manor. Half of the land will remain urban forest, and the other half will house a new nursing facility to replace the aging Robison Jewish Health Center.
For the first time last year, Portland was the host of the Pacific Northwest conference of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education. Nearly 300 educators and parents took advantage of the opportunity to hear nationally known speakers and educators such as Ron Wolfson and Dr. Wendy Mogel.
In another first, on May 18 Portland hosted the Gourmet Kosher Culinary Festival Internationale. Nearly 200 people participated in Portland's first kosher food festival to sample the rich, diverse epicurean delights that could become part of Portland's kosher landscape. Local retailers who participated in the festival said they would consider stocking some of the more popular items at the festival.
The most visible sign of expansion occurred Feb. 28 when the MJCC inflated a "bubble" to create a new Indoor Sports-plex. The new facility added 22,000 square feet to the 27-year-old center. It includes an indoor soccer field and provides a permanent home for the center's award-winning gymnastics program. Even before acquiring its own space, the MJCC Level 4 gymnastics team won the championship meet on Feb. 22.
Other MJCC sports teams also had a successful year. The MJCC Stingrays swam to third place at the league championships in March for their best-ever finish. Forty-five swimmers set 131 personal records at the meet.
And the MJCC sixth-grade basketball team won the city league championship against a bigger, older team in the Inner-City Sports Ministries seventh-grade league in June.