PHOTO: When Simi Mishulovin, left, gave her sister-in-law a tour of the new space in the Pearl that will become Oasis, Mushka Wilhelm, of NE Chabad, said, "This is food for the soul, to be with others."
BY DEBORAH MOON
A Jewish Oasis is coming to Portland’s Pearl District.
Following the August 2020 fire that destroyed the Chabad House and Everything Jewish store near Hillsdale, a fund-raising campaign has allowed Chabad to purchase (with a mortgage) a 2,500-square-foot building at 1218 NW Glisan St. Now Rabbi Chayim and Simi Mishulovin are working on phase 1 renovations to create a Jewish Oasis featuring the return of the popular store and resource center, a lounge area, a coffee/tea stand, free Wi-Fi, ADA bathrooms and a high bar along the windows facing Glisan.
“I’d rather go to the Oasis and have a cup of tea and do a bit of work than go to Starbucks,” says Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, whose NW Portland/Beaverton district encompasses the new Oasis. “It is taking something people like to do and creating a Jewish space to do it where people can feel welcome. For the uninvolved, it is less threatening, and for the involved, it is a place that feels more like home.”
David Howitt, who helped lead the planning committee, says they looked at what makes a Jewish home welcoming.
“The feeling of being loved and warm is usually found in the kitchen and living room,” says Howitt. “We are creating a Jewish kitchen and living room in the middle of Portland.”
Howitt grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., a largely Dutch Christian town. About the time his parents divorced, he met the local Chabad rabbi.
“He and his family became very close and helped me through a difficult time. It was foundational for me,” he says. “Over the last five years, I got to know Simi and Rabbi Chayim well, and it revived that whole Chabad connection from childhood. … I found depth and room for me to question and not agree.”
Sen. Steiner Hayward also describes Chabad as a welcoming, judgment-free organization. She says the Jewish community here has grown so much in the 30 years she has lived here.
“We need organizations that say, ‘come as you are,’” she says. She describes the planned Oasis as comfortable, casual, visible, accessible and approachable – all things that enhance that message.
“Chabad is both/and for a lot of people,” says the Senator, who considers Neveh Shalom her home shul. “The interesting thing about Portland’s Jewish community is it is a lot more both/and when it comes to how you are involved in the Jewish community compared to other cities where I have lived or have friends.”
In addition to the COVID pandemic, Howitt says he sees a second pandemic that worries him.
“People are interested in ‘othering’ people – that is a pandemic of separation and disconnection,” he says. “I feel Chabad and Rabbi Chayim and Simi are an antidote to that. … the Oasis will allow people to feel seen and heard in a time largely devoid of connections and community.”
Chabad is doing a fresh fund-raising push to fund the phase 1 renovations. For details, visit www.EverythingJewishPortland.com.