A new locus for Jewish life
Oregon Jewish Museum’s new home is a very special place
By PAUL HAIST
article created on:
Over the past 21 years, we have watched the Oregon Jewish Museum grow from a museum in name only—because it had no venue, no public place, no exhibit galleries, no curatorial workspace, no place to call home—to what just this December became the most stimulating and gratifying new locus or nexus of Jewish life here.
The museum’s new location at 1953 NW Kearney St. in Portland transports the museum vast leagues, if not light years, beyond its most recent location in an Old Town storefront on Northwest Davis Street and their first location, which opened in January 1999 in a small office suite in Montgomery Park. Before then, everything was in storage or still held by waiting donors.
For many years, the Mittleman Jewish Community Center has been referred to as Jewish Portland’s living room. If the J is the living room, the OJM has become the community’s study—a most inviting and uplifting study.
Here is a place where we can learn and remember. Here is a warm and welcoming repository and gallery for the community’s archives and treasures and mementoes, a place where people may gather to explore their roots, where they can learn how this state and region they call home came to be what it is today. Here is a place where our past will inform our present and inspire our future.
In a previous Jewish Review, OJM President Craig Wolner called the new facility “one of Oregon’s premier cultural and intellectual destinations.”
That about says it all. And he is right that it is Oregon’s, not just the Jewish community’s cultural asset. For within its walls evidence abounds that this Jewish community has played a leading role in the evolution and positive growth of our city and our state—our culture, our economy and the fundamental values that are the foundation of our society.
Now here is a place where the magnitude and significance of the Jewish contribution to what this entire community has become will be available and readily apparent to all.
The gallery spaces are an exercise in simple elegance in which flexibility and adaptability to a great variety of exhibition needs appears to have been a foremost consideration in their planning. The work rooms are spacious and, at last, the new office spaces—including room also for the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center—mean the museum’s talented staff won’t be tripping over one another anymore.
And then there’s the auditorium, a screening room that was central to the building’s original incarnation as a Hollywood film distribution facility dating from the early decades of the last century. The uses to which the auditorium might be put seem limitless—films, of course, lectures, classes, social events. One walks into the room and immediately thinks—in the best Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney tradition, “Hey, we can put on a show.”
The museum already has several shows scheduled for the gallery spaces.
But the best show so far at the new Oregon Jewish Museum facility is the feeling one has when one walks through the door of the place and realizes that something extraordinary, exceptional, distinctive and
altogether singular has been created there.
We all are indebted to the leaders at the museum and elsewhere in the community, the museum supporters and the museum staff for their collective achievement. The vision, expertise and commitment of the OJM board and staff have kept the museum on track from its humble beginning to this landmark moment in its history.
This is no lifeless shrine to the past. Rather, the Oregon Jewish Museum is an institution that is vibrant with the life of the Jews of Oregon of yesterday, today and all the days to come. In the museum’s new venue they at last have room to stand up again and breathe deeply
You should go there soon and often.