Oregon Jewish Stories

Oregon Jewish Stories documents the experience of Oregon’s Jewish community from its beginnings in the Gold Rush era of the 1840s through today

Oregon Jewish Stories: Jewish Lives (2017-06-17)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Jews were among the first immigrant groups to travel to the Oregon territories. The Jews who chose, and still choose, to come to Oregon are a self-selecting group of people who are inclined toward self-starting, entrepreneurial endeavors. 

The Holocaust, An Oregon Perspective Survivors and Memorial Panels (2017-06-11)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

They bring to their civic and Jewish lives a willingness to start from scratch and make the experience their own. 

The Ehrman Brothers and their wives (1892)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Central Europeans Jews arriving in Oregon

The earliest arrivals, in the late 1840s, came from Central Europe, mainly from Prussia and Bavaria. These were young, intrepid men who came to seek their fortunes by becoming merchants to the miners in Southern Oregon and eventually became shopkeepers, farmers, and businessmen.

Immigrants Disembarking (c. 1900)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Arrival of Eastern Europeans Jews

Eastern Europeans and the Sephardim, from the Isle of Rhodes and Turkey, came at the turn of twentieth century as families. They had family connections, bringing relatives and neighbors after them to create a neighborhood of immigrants in South Portland.

Inspection Card for Immigrants (1914)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Refugees on their way to the US

The 1930s and 40s brought first refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe and then survivors of the Holocaust. Each group had its own challenges and each immigrant has an individual story to tell.

Lindemann Family on ship to the US (1947)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

The Lindemann Family

Fred Lindemann and family had lived in Shanghai for nearly ten years as refugees from Nazi occupied Europe. In 1947, they took a ship that brought them from Shanghai to New York.

Curt and Elsie Lion (1952)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

The Lion family

Curt and Else Lion and their daughters fled Nazi Germany and arrived in Los Angeles in 1937. On a trip north to find work in Oregon, Curt purchased a clothing store in Klamath Falls. Eventually he opened additional stores in Salem, Medford and Corvallis.

Soviet Jews arriving at PDX (1991)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Soviet Jews

In the 1990s the Jews were finally permitted to leave Soviet Russia. They are followed, in the twenty-first century, by transplants from across the United States who have flocked to Oregon and created new synagogues and forged a new Oregon Judaism.

Helen and Jerry Stern (2009)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

The Stern Family

Beyond the work of local and national organizations on behalf of Soviet Jewry, a handful of individual Oregonians stand out in their devotion to the cause. Jerry and Helen Stern were particularly notable in their efforts.

Inspired by the experience of Jerry's parents, who had emigrated from Russia early in the twentieth century. In 1989, the Sterns traveled to the Soviet Union, visiting with émigrés who were preparing for their journey. They were reunited with 37 long-lost relatives in the central Russian town of Saratov and during the following decade managed to bring many of them to Portland.

Alaska Junk Building (1925)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Making a living in Oregon

Explore examples of how Jews made a living in Oregon.

Dr. George Bodner (1961)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Dr. George Bodner

George Bodner enrolled in dental school when the University of Oregon Medical School rejected his application without the courtesy of a reply. He suspected that his application exceeded the school’s quota for Jewish applicants.

With plans to start in the dental school and reapply to the medical school for the second year, Bodner gave that idea up as he came to love dentistry. Bodner practiced for more than 40 years.

Runi Hyman in the Kitchen (1960)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Runi Hyman

Although Oregon had no kosher restaurant, Runi Hyman was well known for catering and providing kosher meals for transients and hungry Portland residents. Runi’s first “catering” job came about when she fed Jews who were traveling through Portland.

Meier & Frank catalog (1918)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Aaron Meier

A genuine “rags to riches” pioneer, Bavarian-born Aaron Meier peddled goods in the Oregon territory before opening up his first dry goods store on Front Avenue in 1857. In 1873, he established a partnership with Emil Frank, establishing the famed Meier & Frank department store.

Moe TonkonOregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Moe Tonkon

Moe Tonkon devoted his career to breaking down barriers between Jews and non-Jews. After graduating from Reed College and Northwestern School of Law, Tonkon opened a one-person law office in Portland in 1927. 

Always refusing to attend meetings at clubs that would not allow Jews as members, Tonkon successfully gained admission for Jews to belong to the University Club, Arlington Club, and Waverly Country Club. His one-person law firm grew into Tonkon Torp LLP.

Arlene Schnitzer (2017)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Notable Jewish Oregonians

Arlene Schnitzer transformed the Northwest art scene in the 1960s and 1970s and championed the work of local artists. Schnitzer and her husband, Harold Schnitzer, were among Oregon’s most generous philanthropists. 

Mel Blanc with Max and Gertie Breslow (1945)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Mel Blanc

Mel Blanc who gave voice to Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Barney Rubble and countless other iconic cartoon characters over a more than sixty-year career, may be Oregon’s best-known Jewish export to Hollywood.

Born in 1915 in San Francisco, Blanc moved to Portland with his family when he was six. He delighted in the sounds he heard growing up in the South Portland neighborhood of Italian and Jewish immigrants and used his gift for mimicry to develop the voices and characters that would later endear him to generations of audiences. Blanc returned to Portland many times over the years to perform with old friends.

Judge Gus SolomonOregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Judge Gus Solomon

Judge Gus Solomon was the longest-serving Federal Judge in Oregon. He described himself as a political and economic liberal, operating under the simple belief that everyone is entitled to certain rights regardless of race, religion, or economic status.

After 1932, Judge Solomon began an unofficial employment agency to help young Jewish lawyers, as well as women and African-Americans, find jobs. After the Second World War, he publicly denounced the internment of Japanese Americans and acted as one of the chairmen of the Oregon Committee to Aid Relocation. He helped repeal the law that a person of Asian descent who is not eligible for citizenship cannot own property.

Harry Glickman (1971) by Portland Trail Blazers, NBA PhotosOregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Harry Glickman

South Portland native Harry Glickman and his partners established two professional sports teams: the Portland Trailblazers basketball team, the only major league professional sports team in Portland, and the Portland Buckaroos hockey team.

Oregon Jewish Stories is a question of identity. How we define ourselves – are you an Oregon Jew? A Jewish Oregonian? Are you politically active? Gay? Straight? Complicated? What culture looks like. Do you express your culture through food, through art, through your clothing or language? What form does it take and what are you saying about your culture and yourself? These are questions that each successive generation of Oregon Jews has considered.

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