PHOTO: Young campers enjoy B’nai B’rith Camp’s first eastside day camp July 12-16. The new Eastside Jewish Commons will be home for many community programs, including two more weeks of BB Day Camp Eastside Aug. 2-6 and Aug. 9-13.
BY DEBORAH MOON
Jewish options are multiplying on Portland’s eastside in the Eastside Jewish Commons’ beautiful, airy new home conveniently located on Sandy Boulevard.
“Our goal is to offer space to the community at low cost … (to enable) lots of different flavors for Jewish life,” says EJC Board Chair Mia Birk.
Congregation Shir Tikvah, the leaseholder for the 13,000-square-foot space, moved into a suite of four offices off the entry vestibule at 2420 NE Sandy Blvd. on May 1 and held its first full Shabbat service and activities June 26. In July, as COVID restrictions lifted and the new executive director came on board, EJC and its partners began presenting bigger activities.
“The energy in the Commons this first week has been amazing,” says Cara Abrams, who began her position as EJC Executive Director on July 6. “From giving tours to interested community organizations and individuals, to connecting with Jewish communal professionals like Eleyna Fugman of TischPDX and Rabbi Josh Rose of Co/Lab, to hearing kids having fun at BB camp, to meeting Rich Meyer, the Challahman, when he dropped off challot, to singing Siman Tov u’Mazal Tov at the first bris at the Commons ... it’s been amazing to connect and collaborate with the Portland Jewish community. It’s only the beginning of this incredible cross-communal venture, and I can’t wait for what the future holds #AttheCommons.”
The dream for this eastside hub is coming to fruition now thanks to community support from 25 community partners and endorsing organizations, especially the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and Congregation Shir Tikvah. (See below).
“Federation has made a three-year, $150,000 commitment to enhance the operation and utilization of the Eastside Jewish Commons,” says JFGP President and CEO Marc Blattner. Federation plans to use the space for some board meetings and events.
Announcing the grant at the JFGP Annual Meeting, Board Chair Lauren Goldstein said, “We are excited about this new Jewish community space on the east side of town and look forward to many programs and services being provided there.”
Shir Tikvah is covering the majority of the rent for the first year in recognition “that they (EJC) are a new organization with no existing infrastructure and (we) are happy to make it possible for them to build and grow,” says Shir Tikvah Administrative Director Katie Schneider. EJC will pay an increasing percentage of rent in subsequent years of the five-year lease.
After 18 years renting space in multiple locations on the eastside, Congregation Shir Tikvah wanted more capacity to offer services and programming. The congregation invited EJC to partner in the space. The majority of the building is multi-use communal space open for programming by Jewish organizations, congregations and individuals.
“It is a mitzvah for us (Shir Tikvah) to support what we can,” says Katie.
To that end, Shir Tikvah invites other groups to use its supplies in the common areas including linens and table service for 100 in the kitchen, its library in the conference room (which can accommodate services or classes), the ark in the prayer room and a second portable ark. (Other congregations need to bring their own Torah, however, since Shir Tikvah stores its scroll in a safe.)
WHO IS USING EJC?
The Eastside Jewish Commons formed as a nonprofit in 2017 to address the lack of eastside public Jewish spaces.
“Our vision is to expand the opportunity for programs and connection to Jewish life,” says Mia. “This is community space … it adds to the portfolio of Jewish infrastructure.”
EJC can now provide space for communal organizations to hold programs or provide services (see story on next page about EJC’s many rooms and spaces). In addition, individuals can rent the spacious atrium for one-off events such as parties or b’nai mitzvahs. Jewish professionals can rent office cubicles.
One professional who is renting a cubicle is Abbie Barash, Cascadia field manager and national fellowship coordinator for OneTable, which promotes Shabbat and holiday dinners for and by young adults. She is also eager to invite hosts and guests who want to learn about
OneTable to visit the space. A centralized location will hrlp build relationships. Noting a lot of young adults live on the eastside, she says she can envision hosts using the space for pre-Shabbat or weekday happy hours, or holding challah baking classes in the kitchen.
As a professional for a national organization with no local coworkers, Abbie also is excited to be working in a space with other Jewish communal professionals.
“I’m signed up for one of the cubicles,” says Eleyna Fugman, cofounder of
TischPDX, a leadership incubator for Jews who have been historically marginalized in Jewish communal life. “We’re definitely excited for that. It’s perfect for me just in terms of being able to connect with other community members and other communal professionals on the eastside.”
In addition to the networking opportunities of working at the EJC, Eleyna also expects the six members of Tisch’s third leadership cohort, all of whom live on the eastside, to use the space to host some of the programs they plan.
“It seems like a good spot – people have felt really excited about the accessibility of it. It’s easy for public transportation, it’s close to where a lot of people live,” says Eleyna. “It’s very welcoming – the design, the airiness and the big openness kind of has this feeling of connectivity.”
“Our fellows are excited about hosting events there,” says Eleyna. “I can picture us having late-evening events and salons and conversations and maybe musical events. I think younger adults are always looking for spots to congregate, and it’s exciting to have a place that feels so accessible … (with a) multi-generational level. … We’re all excited intergenerationally; it doesn’t feel like space that is owned by one age demographic.
Congregations and agencies with their own buildings on the west side also plan to hold programs and offer services at the EJC.
“I believe we’ll be partnering with EJC in many ways,” says Congregation Neveh Shalom Education Director Mel Berwin. “One concrete plan: ALIYAH has a new Hebrew tutoring program for our K-6th grades, and we are offering tutoring at CNS, at the EJC and online as options for these families. We know that the eastside community has long wanted space and access to community without crossing a bridge, and we’re excited to partner with EJC to bring CNS programming to the eastside, as well as to partner with the greater Jewish community on programs and events.”
Jewish Family & Child Service is exploring many options for the new space.
“We are looking at a satellite office,” says JFCS Executive Director Ruth Scott, saying the agency is considering a test in the fall with several options for services. Possible services include a counseling office, events and meetings, and possibly disability services. “As we come out of COVID, if some people are left behind, we may have an emergency office needs, too.”
“We like the space, and it is an important location for reaching out to the community,” says Ruth.
Mittleman Jewish Community Center is also exploring options for eastside programming.
“It’s great to have Jewish space on the eastside where we can offer programs, and we look forward to doing it,” says MJCC Executive Director Steve Albert.
JFGP’s new Dignity Grows program to provide monthly hygiene supplies to those in need plans to hold its next Packing Party at the EJC Sept. 19.
ORA: Northwest Jewish Artists is considering hosting a Chanukah Art Show at the EJC. On the performing arts side, several musicians have expressed interest in hosting musical evenings or teaching classes.
Many other partner organizations are also exploring how they will use this new space.
Learn more or sign up to get more information about EJC: ejcpdx.org
EASTSIDE JEWISH COMMONS COMMUNITY PARTNERS
Community partners have contributed financially and been involved in the development of EJC; they will get preferential space usage fees and times.
Congregation Shir Tikvah (co-located in space)
The Alberta Shul
B’nai B’rith Camp
Cedar Sinai Park
Congregation Beth Israel
Congregation Neveh Shalom
Congregation Shaarie Torah
Jewish Family & Child Service
Jewish Federation of Greater Portland
Mittleman Jewish Community Center
ORA: NW Jewish Artists
Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
P’nai Or of Portland
Portland Jewish Academy
Tree of Life Montessori
Oregon Board of Rabbis
Oregon Jewish Community Foundation
Congregation Kesser Israel
Moishe House Portland
Spaces at the Commons
Chair Mia Birk describes the new Eastside Jewish Commons as “a blank slate” of space for the community.
The 13,000 square feet of space was originally an indoor car dealership, and the former display room is now an open atrium flooded with natural light. Last used as co-working space, the building also features a variety of office spaces, large meeting rooms, hidden nooks and an open kitchen.
The entry to 2420 NE Sandy Blvd. is a secure vestibule. To one side are the dedicated offices of leaseholder Congregation Shir Tikvah. The other side opens into the central atrium.
“The big atrium – everyone who goes in there gets excited about how we could have a big community event here,” says Eleyna Fugman of TischPDX.
All of the rooms on the main floor will be multipurpose rooms, but they will have themes that reflect the rooms’ resources.
The Art Room will feature spaces and materials for creative work by adult artists and art classes or activities for children.
The Lounge/Rec Room featuring comfortable furniture and game tables could be used as a teen lounge or youth group meeting room.
A Child Care Room could be used for drop-in child care during events, host activities for small children or provide counselors from Jewish Family & Child Service a friendly space to meet with young clients.
An adjoining office could be soundproofed for counseling sessions or other confidential meetings.
Another room on the main floor could be used as a tutoring space or meeting room. And a small space is available for private phone or Zoom calls.
The kitchen, which sits at the back of the atrium, is being upgraded with new appliances and stainless steel counters for easy kashering. Though not kosher, it will be a dairy kitchen. It will not be a full commercial kitchen, but it will have plenty of space and a refrigerator and stove for catered events or cooking classes.
A large conference/meeting room faces east and could be used as a prayer room. It also houses Shir Tivkah’s library of Talmud and other Judaica “for community use, to be used with respect,” says Shir Tikvah Administrative Director Katie Schneider. Technology to permit hybrid meetings is also being planned.
The final two rooms on the main floor will eventually be combined into one larger room with a movable divider. One is a dedicated prayer space with Shir Tikvah’s ark. The other could be used for study sessions.
A mezzanine overlooks the atrium with several rooms opening off a balcony that has a beautiful art display case. One room is the EJC executive director’s office. A second office is also available. A large multipurpose room could be used for yoga, dance or music classes. The largest room features eight cubicles for co-working space. Jewish professionals can rent a cubicle full time, half time or quarter time. Two small rooms are available for the use by those in the co-working cubicles for private meetings or calls.
Lockers are available for organizations to store items.
Mia urges organizations interested in hosting events this fall to contact EJC now. Some cubicles are still available, so contact the EJC for more information on the co-working space.
Use the contact form on the EJC website, ejcpdx.org/contact, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.