Cahana makes mark in community
By Deborah Moon
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Whether through inreach and outreach events for the congregation her husband leads or using her skills and background to serve the community, Cantor Ida Rae Cahana quickly has become a visible presence in Portland’s Jewish community.
On July 1, 2006, Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana became the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel, Oregon’s oldest Jewish congregation, bringing his wife and four children to Portland. Last year, the congregation hired Cantor Cahana as interim director of congregational relations.
In the part-time post, Cantor Cahana is “trying to get the temperature of the congregation, to see what makes them feel connected.”
Through a series of small parlor meetings in congregants’ homes, she is attempting to synthesize a vision statement to present at the Congregation’s 150th Annual Meeting on May 16.
“With a relatively new rabbi and the 150th year, the opportunity is right to look at who we are and where we want to be,” she said.
With more than half of the 15 planned meetings complete, Cahana said that the congregation has already implemented some programs in response to recurring themes. For instance CBI has created an “empty-nester group” and a Sunday film series.
She said that at the parlor meetings, her husband has charged members with being ambassadors for the synagogue. She said she hopes the congregation continues to “expand the tent,” with gatherings both at the temple and in homes and public places.
The inreach efforts are partially the result of findings by the Union for Reform Judaism study of outreach that determined in addition to reaching out to interfaith and unaffiliated families, Reform congregations also should look at people who are already members of the synagogue but don’t feel a close connection.
Cahana noted that growth in recent years could be attributed in large part to the membership committee chaired previously by Pam Monheimer and now by Dana Hunt.
“Liberal Jews are not known for outreach,” said Cahana, noting that for inspiration and ideas she has looked to Chabad and locally to Gesher, where Reform Rabbis Laurie Rutenberg and Gary Schoenberg invite unaffiliated Jews into their home.
Cahana said CBI teamed up with Sarah Liebman’s young adult group UrbanJewsPDX to host a sukkah at the Farmer’s Market near Portland State University last fall. For Passover, Cahana hopes to set up tables at some supermarkets with recipes, haggadot and other Pesach materials.
She described her work in congregational relations as a “launch pad for the 150th celebration,” which she noted coincides with the state’s sesquicentennial, though the CBI “predates the state by a couple months.”
The celebration will include concerts, scholarly offerings and speakers, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September. On June 8 the congregation plans a Torah Trek in the morning or early afternoon as “a lovely way to prepare for Shavuot, which begins that evening.”
But when she’s not busy at CBI or being mom to her four children—triplets Liora, Idit and Sarit, fourth-graders at Portland Jewish Academy, and David, a PJA graduate and now freshman at Thomas Edison High School—she said she tries to be present at as many community events as she can. She tries to participate in settings that use her cantorial training and background.
“I try to pick and chose what things are most fulfilling,” she said. “If I’m going to take time away from my children, it has to be meaningful.”
With that caveat, Cahana has been an active participant in the community. She sings frequently at community events such as the Song of Miriam Awards last year and at the Holocaust survivor’s gathering Café Europa, to which she took her girls to sing as well. She also taught a workshop at the women’s Impact event last year and has taught in smaller settings.
She also presented a program at the Feb. 24 benefit for “Friends of Chamber Music.” Even in that secular setting, she said she brought Jewishness singing “the Yiddish Lieder (art songs) of Lazar Weiner.”
On April 8, she will lead the women’s seder being organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland. (See story in box at right).
“I’m very excited about that,” she said. “It’s a great dynamic group of women planning it. I was delighted to be asked to participate in that.”
She said she volunteers as a mother or a cantor at PJA when she can.
She also serves on the Portland Jewish Academy/Mittleman Jewish Community Center board.
“I offer a perspective of someone new to the community and as a parent,” she said.
“That board experience is the way I feel I can try and serve the community,” concluded Cahana.