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Oregon's Green Acres

October 4, 2007 By:
Aaron Dalton, JE Feature
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Exterior of Beth Israel

For decades, three synagogues -- Conservative Neveh Shalom, Reform Beth Israel and Sephardic Ahavath Achim -- defined the Jewish landscape of Portland, Ore.

In recent years, however, the flourishing Jewish community has grown to support a wide array of synagogues whose traditions and practices mirror the diversity and inclusiveness that Portlanders prize. Thus, today, a visitor to Portland can find temples, synagogues and shuls affiliated with numerous movements -- Orthodox, Chabad, Egalitarian, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Traditional, Liberal, Humanistic and unaffiliated.

"Jewish life in Portland is growing," according to Rabbi Daniel Isaak, whose Neveh Shalom congregation (www.nevehshalom.org; 503-246-8831) has about 1,000 member households. "All kinds of things are happening in the community."

In particular, Isaak cites the recent reorganization and renovation of the city's Jewish Community Center (www.oregonjcc. org), which now hosts a brand-new kosher cafe that's open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.

If nothing else, Portland tourists may want to stop by to marvel at the massive Ten Commandment tablets that adorn an entire exterior wall of Neveh Shalom.

Other Portland synagogues are just as welcoming to out-of-towners. The Reform temple Beth Israel (www.bethisrael-pdx.org; 503-222-1069) is preparing yearlong celebrations for its 150th anniversary beginning in May. With more than 850 families on its membership rolls, Beth Israel approaches that milestone in strong form.

You don't have to be Sephardic to experience a Sephardic service in Portland. For more than 90 years, Ahavath Achim (www. ahavathachim.com; 503-227-0010) has been the only Sephardic congregation in Oregon. Originally founded by Jews from Rhodes and Turkey, the congregation has grown to include Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East, as well as Ashkenazis, who today make up approximately 40 percent of the synagogue's 85 member families.

Portland also offers a wealth of Jewish cultural events, including a film festival (heading into its 16th year in 2008), a burgeoning Judaic-studies program at its local university, a Holocaust memorial and resource center, in addition to the Oregon Jewish Museum (www.ojm.org), with its historical archives and temporary art exhibitions.

But Jews aren't the only ones who love Portland. The city's population is on the rise as the rest of the country wises up to its myriad attractions, particularly its strong sense of environmentalism.

Experience this passion firsthand by catching a performance at the new Gerding Theater at the Armory. Once a training ground and barracks for the Oregon National Guard, the circa-1891 armory has been retrofitted to host the city's leading theater company: Portland Center Stage (www.pcs.org).

By capturing rainwater to flush public toilets, by using locally recycled building materials and by maximizing energy efficiency, the building has set a new environmental standard for performing-arts venues.

This same intelligent reuse of historic buildings has revitalized the city's Pearl district, where former warehouses have taken on a new life as residential lofts, art galleries, restaurants and chic boutiques. Roam through the rambling Powell's City of Books (www. powells.com) or marvel at the kaleidoscopic glass artwork on display at Bullseye Gallery (www. bullseyegallery.com).

Feeling hungry? Grab a slice at Hot Lips Pizza (www. hotlipspizza.com), where the ingredients are locally sourced and the warmth from the pizza ovens is recaptured to heat water for the tenants who share the building.

Whatever else you do, make sure to spend lots of time outdoors.

Pay a visit to Washington Park to sniff the 550 varieties of roses in Portland's International Rose Test Garden and tour the neighboring Portland's Japanese Garden (www.japanesegarden. com), described as being the finest outside of Japan.

For more information, go to: www.travelportland.com.

Info to Go

· Once you arrive, stop by Powell's bookstore to pick up local titles with Jewish significance, including The Jews of Oregon 1850-1950 by Steven Lowenstein and A Walking Tour of Historic Jewish Portland by Polina Olsen. You can also contact Olsen at: smart_talk_publications@comcast.net to arrange a tour of Portland's old Jewish neighborhood.

· For a comfortable stay in Downtown Portland, try the Hotel Monaco (www.monaco-portland.com; 1-888-207-2201). You can enjoy the hotel's recent $4 million makeover.

· Kornblatt's Delicatessen (628 NW 23rd Ave.) is known for its bagels and sandwiches. You can also find other comfort food like matzah-ball soup on the menu. Stay tuned for another Jewish-style deli called Kenny & Zuke's (www.kennyandzukes.com), opening this October.

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