From "A to Z," exhibit shows breadth of Jewish Oregon

PHOTO: The ketubah (marriage contract) for Aaron Kirk Douglas and David Morrison Smith, the first same-sex wedding performed at Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, is part of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education's "Oregon Jews, A to Z" exhibit. (Courtesy OJMCHE)


The Jewish Review
Everything can be Jewish. From A to Z.
Visitors to the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education can see the evidence of that laid out in the museum’s main floor gallery in “Oregon Jews, A to Z,” now through May 26.
“We rarely, if ever, had the chance to show so much from the collection,” Alisha Babbstein, the Director of Collections and Exhibitions at OJMCHE and one of the curators of the exhibit explained. “All of this comes from our community here in Oregon. So it’s really a nice way for us to honor them.”
Objects of all shapes and sizes and letters of the alphabet have found their way into OJMCHE’s collection over the years. Some are as small as the set of dog tags belonging to U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jacob Enkelis. Others are much larger – a Victorian wedding dress which, being dyed with an arsenic derivative, must only be handled wearing gloves. Some are very typical of daily life – a recipe card for gefilte fish, for example. Others are historic, such as the ketubah (marriage contract) for Aaron Kirk Douglas and David Morrison Smith – theirs was the first same-sex wedding performed at Congregation Beth Israel in Portland in 2003.
Some are expected – there’s an entire section of Judaica, including selections from a collection of mezuzot that span the 19th and 20th centuries. And some items are unexpected, like a jersey from the Portland Buckaroos, a minor league hockey team founded by Harry Glickman that won its league championship in 1960 in its first season. Glickman was better known as one of the founders of the Portland Trail Blazers, and was not especially well knoan as Jewish. 
“I don’t think that he advertised right that he was Jewish,” Babbstein explained. “I don’t think he hid it either, but it wasn’t something that he led with.”
One of Babbstein’s favorite pieces in the exhibit are two embossed strips of leather that were uses as scrip, a substitute currency that was commonly issued by cash-poor companies as payment to workers during the depression that could be redeemed with the company – this  ensured that workers were able to receive some sort of payment in a way they could barter with others who were paid similarly by their employers. 
“I love it because most people aren’t familiar with the idea of the term scrip at all,” Babbstein said. “So it’s fun that we actually have some to be able to show folks.” 
In another corner is a large golem costume used by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and donated to the museum afterward. 
“[This] is also one of our favorites because it’s huge,” Babbstein explained. This is a thing nobody would ever see. This definitely lives in a box on a shelf most of the time because it’s we don’t have a space generally to just have it out.”
One of the three Hebrew letters on the costume’s forehead, a defining characteristic of a living golem in Jewish lore, has been left in that box in the archive on a separate floor of the building – just in case. 
While many of these objects spend a lot of time in boxes on shelves, they have immense value to researchers, both in the more academic context and those looking into their own individual records. An enormous ledger in a corner of the room, the cemetery records of Congregation Beth Israel, in an example of how the museum’s artifacts can help people discover their own history. Babbstein said an important goal of this exhibit is to show off these items, in all their shapes, sizes, and connections, to let Oregon’s Jewish community know that the museum has – and is looking for more of – these sorts of artifacts. 
“We want this material here. It’s how we can tell the story of the Oregon Jewish experience. If we don’t have this stuff, we can’t tell the story,” Babbstein explained. “You’d be surprised how many times people come in and say, ‘Oh, you know, I had 300 letters from my grandfather. We just threw them away. We weren’t really interested.’ Your heart kind of cracks.”
For the broader audience, Babbstein explains the breadth and diversity of the materials shown explain that Oregon’s Jewish community has a long history and has always been an integral part of life in Oregon. That goes well beyond Portland – elementary school documents from a Jewish family in Baker City are just one bit of evidence of that. 
In addition to the physical artifacts, the muesum’s collection includes many, many photographs, a selection of which have been printed on the walls above the display cases. Babbstein sees many of these images as a demonstration of just how thoroughly Jewish life is woven into the fabric of the area.  
“There’s a radio and TV service station that someone owned, and then there’s a hat store and there’s a deli,” she said, moving through a group of images. “We’re here, we exist and we’re integrated.”
For more information on “Oregon Jews A to Z” and how to see it, visit 



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