PHOTO: Retired Congregation Neveh Shalom Executive Director Fred Rothstein, pictured in the Stampfer Chapel at the synagogue Thursday, June 15. The chapel was part of a major renovation and expansion of the Neveh Shalom campus that was one of the highlights of Rothstein's 22 years leading the congregation's professional staff. "There's just a sense of real personal pride and accomplishment." (Rockne Roll/The Jewish Review)
By ROCKNE ROLL
“I believe that synagogues are the core institutions in Jewish life,” Fred Rothstein said.
For the last 22 years, Congregation Neveh Shalom has had Rothstein at the core of its operations. While it’s clear that he will remain a beloved figure at the shul (see sidebar), it will be in a different capacity as he retired as Neveh Shalom’s Executive Director May 31.
“Our involvement and my role at Neveh Shalom has really been a wonderful thing, not only for me, but for my entire family,” Rothstein said.
It was family, in part, that brought Rothstein and Neveh Shalom together. Rothstein and his wife, Nora, moved to Portland when he took on a role at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, eventually serving as Executive Director before the family moved to Israel. When they decided to return to the United States, Nora had a destination in mind.
“If we weren’t going to be in Jerusalem,” Fred recalled, “she wanted to come back to Portland.”
Around that time, Neveh Shalom decided to hire a full-time, professional executive director. The board conducted a nationwide search, but the answer, as it turned out, was in their own neighborhood. Rothstein assumed his duties March 1, 2001.
“It worked out perfectly for us because we loved Portland,” Rothstein said. “It had become home.”
One of Rothstein’s fondest achievements at Neveh Shalom has been the growth in the congregation’s educational programs for all ages led by Mel Berwin, CNS’s Director of Congregational Learning.
“I am not a Jewish educator, never pretended to be, never thought I was,” Rothstein said. “But I know enough and care enough about quality Jewish education that I looked for the folks who I thought were the greatest Jewish educators and resources available and was really lucky that Mel came to Neveh Shalom and has built a program that I think is second to none.”
A recounting of those that Rothstein has fond memories of working with would end up being a lengthy historical record of Neveh Shalom’s clergy, staff and lay leadership over the last two decades, from Rabbi Joshua Stampfer z”l to the current congregational staff. That list includes nine congregation presidents and many more board and committee members whose contributions Rothstein treasured.
“I’ve never lost sight that in Jewish communal work, it’s a real partnership between the professionals and the members and the lay leaders,” he said. “That is not to be underestimated. It’s really, to be celebrated and appreciated.”
In his recollections of colleagues past and present, Rothstein did save a special mention for his partnership with Rabbi Emeritus Daniel Isaak. Isaak was the senior rabbi at Neveh Shalom when Rothstein joined the staff and remained in that role through 2015.
“He and I were able to actually partner well with one another,” Rothstein said. “He knew what he wanted to focus on, and he appreciated and respected how I was able to run the other parts of the synagogue administratively. In that way, we fit together really well.”
Though he was officially retired for eight years before Rothstein joined the staff, Rabbi Stampfer remained an indelible part of Neveh Shalom’s fabric and of Rothstein’s work.
“Even into his 90s, he came to the building every day, he would come into my office most every morning to talk to me,” Rothstein recalled. “Not only would he come up with ideas, he would then partner with me to make sure they would actually happen.”
One of Rothstein’s crowning achievements at CNS is the campus renovation that concluded in 2008, including the chapel which bears Rabbi Stampfer’s name. From the planning, including considerations of location, to fundraising, design and construction, Rothstein was at the center of every step of the process.
“The first time I’ve walked into Stampfer Chapel when it was done, and even to this day, when I’m praying, or when I’m in a program, there’s just a sense of real personal pride and accomplishment,” he said.
Despite wrapping up a major capital improvement amidst a global financial crisis and growing a breadth of educational and community programs, Rothstein retires from a congregation that is debt free. It’s another achievement in which he takes pride – and hopes to capitalize on as he works in retirement to build an endowment for the congregation. He’s also proud that Neveh Shalom has remained a unified congregation, supporting a diverse and evolving range of programs and services for the shul’s broad community.
It’s a community he’ll remain a part of as he spends more time with Nora, the couple’s three children and four grandchildren, and his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers. And it’s a community that, much like his family, means the world to him.
“I don’t think there has ever been a day that I took my work at Neveh Shalom for granted,” he said. “It was meaningful and important to me and my family from day one, and I never lost sight of that.”
Neveh Shalom sends Rothstein off in style
Family, friends and colleagues gathered Thursday, June 15 to pay tribute to Fred Rothstein at the conclusion of his 22 years as executive director of Congregation Neveh Shalom.
In a series of tributes, those who know and have worked with Rothstein praised his leadership, kindness and dedication to Neveh Shalom and the wider Jewish community.
Associate Rabbi Eve Posen shared that Rothstein had supported her work and ideas throughout her the time at the shul – except her suggestion to rappel down Neveh Shalom’s landmark Ten Commandments façade on Shavuot to deliver a d’var torah.
“When we moved here, you and Nora opened your hearts and your home to us,” Posen said. “Your steadfastness and kindness have created a sacred space at Neveh Shalom.”
Kathy Davis-Weiner spoke to her time working with Rothstein at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center.
“He listened, he respected one’s opinion, he engaged in compromise, was supportive, and deply believed in being a Jewish professional worker,” she said. “This is the kind of boss you want.”
Rachel Nelson, Director of Educational Initiatives and Associate Director of Community Relations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and Rothstein’s daughter, spoke to the example Rothstein set for her and her siblings, Jeremy and Danit Rothstein, of the importance of involvement in Jewish life.
“I’m in the family business,” Nelson said.
Gifts and tributes to Fred Rothstein centered on his joys outside of congregational work: family, travel, and the Los Angeles Dodgers – including video tributes from Steve Garvey and Ron Cey, who played first and third base, respectively, for the World Series-winning 1981 Dodgers. Rabbi Emeritus Daniel Isaak poked a little fun by presenting Rothstein with a cap from the Dodgers’ rival club, the San Francisco Giants.
“Not only did we develop a wonderful professional relationship,” Rabbi Isaak remarked, “really a friendship.”
Glen Coblens and Alan Blank, speaking on behalf of the congregation’s board of directors, announced that the congregational offices would be renamed the Fred Rothstein Administrative Wing, and Senior Rabbi David Kosak proclaimed Rothstein as the Chief Congregational Grandfather, announcing his new title in Hebrew.
“You like to say, ‘I’m a mean old S.O.B,’ but none of us bought that line,” Rabbi Kosak said.
And as if to reenforce that the sentiments shared onstage were held by everyone in the room, as Ilene Safyan finished her musical tribute to Rothstein, the entire audience joined in to sing along to the repeated last line: “because we knew you, we have been changed for good.”