The Alberta Shul would operate as a non-profit, and would provide programming as well as renting space for events. First priority for use of the space would go to Jewish groups, individuals, and organizations.
Shabbat and holiday services.
For west side congregations in Portland this center can be used as an outreach space, a way to create programming nearer to many of their current and prospective congregants.
Shabbatons led by invited visiting clergy
for Jewish artists local and visiting to both creating art and showcasing that art
Jewish theater companies, local and national
Musical performances, Jewish or non-Jewish
Small weddings, b’nai mitzvah, brit milah, naming ceremonies
Jewish speakers, local and national
Local groups already meeting Havdallah Yoga Group, Rosh Chodesh groups, etc
A coalition of Jewish teachers, organizers, business people, and friends have been professionally and informally organizing and hosting innovative Jewish events on Portland’s East Side for over 10 years. We have brought together hundreds of Jews by hosting Passover seders, monthly Shabbat dinners, summer outings, and outdoor High Holy Days services. These events have increased participants’ connection with Judaism, and created a strong and vibrant Jewish community. Many members began as unaffiliated Jews and have since joined synagogues; others have found in these events meaningful ways to practice Judaism outside of synagogue life. In addition to this informal organizing one of our members also works for a local congregation and serves as a liaison between congregations in Portland and the more informal Jewish community. Jewish community leaders have long recognized the need for an East Side Jewish community space that provides programming, activities, and religious events that respond to the needs and interests of the East Side Jewish population. The last page of this proposal lists more information on the authors of this proposal.
Permanent Jewish spaces, both religious and non-religious, have proven to be excellent organizing tools to bring unaffiliated Jews of all ages together. The Moishe house model, developed over the past 10 years, demonstrates this clearly in Portland and other cities. In the summers of 2014-2015, we also had a pilot project on Portland’s East Side called Mikdash that offered innovative programing and, importantly, provided a hub for our growing community and garnered the support and enthusiasm of funders and young Jews alike. Synagogue-led groups would also be able to make use of this space, and benefit from its location.
Just two blocks off bustling NE Alberta street, an unassuming building once known as the Alberta Shul holds a rich history of NE Portland Jews, African-American Churches and most recently artists.
From 1914 until 1952 the building was known as the Alberta Shul, and was the home of Congregation Tifereth Israel. When the synagogue outgrew the space and put it up for sale it received an offer to purchase from a growing local church. But when the congregation’s real estate agent learned that this was to be an African American church, he pressured them not to sell. This is their response.
“We regard such pressures as being violative of the principles of Americanism, of Judaism, of Christianity, and of common decency… To deprive any group of people the right to meet and to worship merely because God chose to make them a part of the colored majority of mankind is repulsive to Americans who love their country agnd the great principles of democracy […] In the event you refuse to close the sale, we desire to be released from our listing agreement so that we may ourselves consummate the moral agreement we have entered into.”
The sale went through, and the building has been home to communities of faith and arts groups ever since.
Preserving this building also means preserving powerful stories of Jewish activism and integrity.
Portland’s east side is a vibrant and continually growing area. The Alberta area, where this building is located, has seen an immense influx of new residents in the past 15 years. Since around the time of the sale of the Alberta Shul, this neighborhood has been the heart of Portland’s African American community; but the neighborhood has rapidly gentrified, displacing many long term residents. Many of the young single Jews, younger Jewish families, unaffiliated Jews, and Jewish retirees who have been moving to this area are concerned about these changes and interested in creating space for all residents, past and present. A recent study done by the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland uncovered that there are almost twice as many Jews living in the metropolitan area than had been previously assumed and that a large majority of them live on Portland’s East Side. How many on the East Side? Ten thousand!
People are drawn to living in Portland for its emphasis on neighborhoods, excellent walkability and bicycle commuting. Synagogues and Jewish community centers on the West Side of Portland are inconvenient if not completely inaccessible for many. A Jewish community space in the Alberta neighborhood is much more accessible to East Side residents, particularly from the surrounding neighborhoods of Alameda, Laurelhurst, Concordia, Irvington, Concordia, Sabin, Piedmont, Humboldt, Mississippi, Woodlawn, Kenton, Overlook, and Arbor Lodge. As Portland’s lived environment continues to shift towards greater density, this accessibility will become increasingly important. Alberta street is a frequent transit bus line, and is easily accessible from the surrounding neighborhoods, the downtown area and neighborhoods further to the east, south, and north.