People: New leaders at Kesser Israel, Ahavath Achim, EJC

PHOTOS: New leaders from left: Rabbi Sholom Skolnik becomes the rabbi of Congregation Kesser Israel on Sept. 1; Congregation Ahavath Achim welcomes new leader Rabbi Devin Maimon Villarreal on Shabbat July 30; and Eastside Jewish Commons has hired Howie Bierbaum as its new executive director.


Rabbi Skolnik to lead Kesser Israel

Rabbi Sholom Skolnik will serve as the next rabbi of Congregation Kesser Israel beginning Sept. 1.
He succeeds Rabbi Kenneth Brodkin, who served the Orthodox congregation for 17 years before he took a new post in New Jersey this summer.
Rabbi Skolnik is already well known to the community as a superb teacher and Torah scholar, having come to Portland in 2017 from the Phoenix Kollel to serve on the teaching staff at Maayan Torah Day School. He has worked as director of adult education at the Portland Kollel and as the rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Achim. He recently completed his master’s degree in teacher leadership through Brandeis University.
Kesser’s new rebbetzin, Mrs. Chaviva Skolnik, also has taught at Maayan. She has served on the Kesser Israel Board of Directors for several years. She is currently completing a master’s degree in social work through Yeshiva University.
The congregation announced the news in a July 12 email sent to members and friends of the congregation on July 12.
“Over the past five years, we have all come to admire and value the Skolniks, not only as knowledgeable and skilled professionals, but also as kind and reliable friends,” says Kesser Israel President Charles Elder. “We are very fortunate to have such a wonderful couple stepping in to serve as the next leaders of our shul.”
On Sept. 11, Kesser Israel plans it annual summer barbeque where the congregation will officially welcome the Skolniks in their new role.

Rabbi Villarreal to lead Ahavath Achim

Congregation Ahavath Achim has hired Rabbi Devin Maimon Villarreal as the Sephardic congregation’s new rabbi. Rabbi
Villarreal’s first Shabbat with his new congregation will be July 30.
“He is a modern Orthodox Sephardic Rabbi who is trained in the same Ladino-
speaking traditions as the synagogue founders,” says CAA President Mark Berkovitch.
Rabbi Villarreal has worked in Jewish education for 13 years as a classroom teacher and administrator in both Orthodox and community day schools. He received semikha (rabbinic ordination) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, as well as from Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo. A graduate of UCLA in the study of religion, he also holds a master’s degree in teaching from the American Jewish University and is a recipient of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship and the Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize for emerging Jewish educators.
He has served in numerous Sephardic congregations including Beth Aharon in Riverdale, N.Y., and Kahal Levy in West Hills, Calif. His family comes from the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardic communities of Italy and the Caribbean, as well as the
Judeo-Spanish (Ladino-speaking) communities of Turkey and the Balkans. Rabbi Villarreal has sought to amplify the voice of classical Sephardic Judaism characterized by tradition and intellectual vibrancy, spirituality and moral action, tolerance and joy.
He and his wife, Pamela, have been blessed with five children – Oliver Dov, 16; Elinor Binah, 14; Sawyer Yishai, 11; Everett Amos, 8; and Graham Hayim, 5.
Congregation Ahavath Achim, meaning “brotherly love,” was founded in 1916 by Jews from Turkey and the Isle of Rhodes. Now its broad membership includes those of both Sephardic and Ashkenazi heritage. Ahavath Achim is located in Hillsdale at 6686 SW Capitol Hwy. For more information on the congregation, visit

EJC hires Bierbaum as new executive director

The Eastside Jewish Commons has hired Howie Bierbaum as its new executive director.
He started half time on July 1 and will step into his new role full time on Aug 1. He succeeds Interim Executive Director Mia Birk.
“My first month will involve getting to know the board, our community partners and how this nascent, vital organization operates,” says Bierbaum. “It’s an exciting endeavor.”
EJC’s mission is to create and sustain a lively and inclusive gathering place on Portland’s east side, with educational, cultural, spiritual, religious and social programming offered by multiple Jewish community organizations. EJC opened its doors in July 2021 at Northeast 24th and Sandy.
For over 35 years, Bierbaum has been involved in the arts, activism and community. A Portlander since 1981, he most recently served as executive director of the Portland Saturday Market and as a marketing consultant for “Beyond Van Gogh – The Immersive Experience.” He began his career as executive director for Portland’s Echo Theatre/Do Jump!. He went on to head the Portland Area Theatre Alliance, Portland Symphonic Choir, Third Angle New Music Ensemble and Oregon Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. In 2004 he co-founded and managed Wonder Ballroom before becoming tour manager for t Pink Martini. He has served as a grants panelist for the Regional Arts + Culture Council, Oregon Arts Commission, Prosper Portland and Oregon Community Foundation.
Bierbaum can be reached at



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