Kesser back in heart of Jewish Portland Jan. 27
By Kaplan Tuttlebaum
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Congregation Kesser Israel is finally home.
The historic congregation’s new synagogue in the center of Portland’s Jewish community opened its doors for Shabbat services during Hanukkah, and will celebrate its grand opening and dedication on Sunday, Jan. 27, with the participation of two national Jewish leaders.
Rabbi Nate Segal of Torah U’Mesorah, a national education and outreach organization, will be the featured speaker at the dedication, and Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of the West Coast office of the Orthodox Union, will the guest speaker at Kesser on Shabbat, and will also give a community talk on Sunday morning.
“This is a real milestone,” said Kesser’s Rabbi Kenneth Brodkin, “not just for Kesser Israel—but for the entire Jewish community in Portland, in Oregon, and beyond.”
Harry Glauber, Kesser Israel’s president, agreed. “This is the beginning of a great new era in our congregation’s life,” he said. “We have a graceful and comfortable space to pray, learn and celebrate together, close to where so many of our members live.”
The new shul is at 6698 SW Capitol Hwy, just across from the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, and adjacent to Chabad and the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.
While some minor work remains to be done, the sanctuary—complete with custom-built ark, center reading table and mechitzah—is busy morning and evening for services. Rabbi Brodkin said he and the approximately 80 families who belong to the congregation are looking forward to keeping the building busy, not just with services and study, but with informal and social events for all ages.
“This building is more than a place to pray and study; it’s more than a sanctuary,” he said. “It’s our home, and it’s a home for the entire Jewish community. Everyone’s welcome.”
Glauber and others in the Kesser community say dedicating the new synagogue is the perfect prelude to the congregation’s centennial celebration in 2012—and an essential foundation for its next 100 years.
“We started out as a community shul, in the heart of Old South Portland’s Jewish community,” Glauber said. “Now, we’re at the heart of the new Jewish community.”
He noted that attendance increased markedly, especially among young families, after Kesser Israel began holding Shabbat services in rented space in the Multnomah Art Center and the MJCC some 18 months ago. “Before, many of our members walked seven or eight miles round-trip on Shabbat. We needed to move to where our members live.”
Fund-raising is continuing, although the relocation was financed in part by sale of the Meade Street Synagogue last February and another property in May, along with substantial donations from the congregation and several community members.
“I like the elegant, modern look of the new synagogue,” said Aviel Brodkin, who was the point person for interior design and furnishings. “But I also love the way we’ve incorporated some of the elements of the Meade Street building in a way that links our past to our future.”
An example, she said, is the placement of a stained glass window from the Meade Street ark into the Aron Kodesh in the new sanctuary. The panel—with the inscription “Schneiderman” in Yiddish—was dedicated decades ago by the Schneiderman family.
The Ner Tamid, or eternal light, from the old building also hangs in the new sanctuary, as will the Lions and Ten Commandments from the Meade Street ark. Kesser’s original memorial tablets, installed in Meade Street in 1930, will be mounted in the new building after restoration and refurbishing.
Glauber added that the building and finishes were designed with a “healthy and green” approach, so that individuals with sensitivity to new carpets, paint and other materials have not had any problems at the new building. “Unlike Meade Street,” he quipped, “we also have a great heating and cooling system.”
Rabbi Brodkin and Glauber said that the congregation was especially grateful to Jeffrey Weitz of North Rim Properties, who was the general contractor for the project. “He and his company have been absolutely terrific in helping us through this process,” Glauber said.
The dedication and grand opening—which begins at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 27 with cocktails and appetizers—includes a formal program at 6 p.m. In addition to Rabbi Segal, speakers include Charles R. Schiffman, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, and Oregon Court of Appeals Judge Rick T. Haselton, former Kesser Israel president. Rabbi Avrohom David, dean of the Seattle Kollel, also is expected to attend.
While details of Rabbi Korobkin’s Shabbat visit are still being worked out, Rabbi Brodkin said that he would speak at both Shabbat morning services at Kesser Israel on Jan. 26 and at a community Seudat Shlishit at Kesser Israel that afternoon.
On Sunday morning, Rabbi Korobkin will be the featured guest at the Portland Kollel’s free weekly 10 a.m. brunch, speaking on “Are We Really the Descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: The Khazar People and Their Relevance to Jewry Today.” The brunch is at the Kollel, 2429 SW Vermont St.