From Farm to Community

About one year ago, I had the pleasure of driving to Vancouver, Washington for the groundbreaking of Congregation Kol Ami’s new synagogue. During the ceremony a large cow literally started walking across the open expanse of farm land. Well, last night I saw the full transformation from farm land to community when I attended the dedication of the new Congregation Kol Ami synagogue building.

The building, to say the least, is beautiful. The outside of the synagogue is very welcoming, and inside there are large bright windows throughout overlooking the magnificent landscape. It immediately provides a warm and “homey” feeling (including a fireplace in the library). But as one of the rabbis mentioned at the dedication, “The focus of the building is not its aesthetics. The new synagogue is a place where community can come together as a family.”

Congregation Kol Ami began in 1989 as the Jewish Community Association of Southwest Washington (JCASW).Their goal at the time was to provide a feeling of community for the Jewish population of southwest Washington. From that initial social group they have grown into a congregation of approximately 125 member families (and they plan to continue to grow).

Over the course of the 1990s, the JCASW gradually evolved from a community association model to a congregational community. By 1996, Clark County’s first Jewish religious school and first dedicated Jewish cemetery had been established. A Torah, ark and prayer books were all purchased, allowing for services. As the decade came to a close, JCASW became a congregation and in 2001 adopted the name Congregation Kol Ami. Three years later the congregation joined the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ). And, now, in 2012 they have their own building (the first “ground up” new construction of a synagogue in the Greater Portland area in 40 years).

The dedication was attended by some 300 people of all ages, including many civic and other faith leaders. (Their positive relationship with other faith-based groups in Clark County was heavily emphasized.) It was a true community event. And most of all, it was moving and inspiring to see the joy and pride on everyone’s faces.

At the dedication, David Nierenberg (he and his wife, Patricia, were the lead donors to the building campaign), shared his own personal story of why he was so giving to the synagogue effort. He did it to honor “those who came before him” and to help build for the future. Amazingly, David traced his family’s roots to the 1700s and provided incredible details to the audience about nine generations of his family (I must admit I am fascinated by the genealogy.). During those four centuries (when family members lived in Germany, immigrated to the east coast of the United States, and now the Pacific northwest), his family included seven rabbis, one cantor, and two very involved individuals on synagogue boards. In fact, his great-great-great grandfather was one of the founding rabbis of the Reform movement and helped bring the concept of mixed seating (men and women together) into synagogue life. David concluded his remarks by talking about his role and responsibility as the 10th generation of his family. He passionately and emphatically said, “The eternal light will not burn out on my watch. This is truly what l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, is all about.

On behalf of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland (as Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker of Kol Ami likes to say, the Vancouver community considers itself the “greater” part) and the entire Jewish community, mazel tov to the Kol Ami family. May you continue to go from strength to strength, enjoy many simchas in your new space, and have a wonderful New Year.

In addition to the new Congregation Kol Ami building, if you drive up SW Capitol Highway, you will see an interesting looking building on the Maimonides Jewish Day School campus. The school is “raising the roof” – literally – on one of its buildings. To provide much needed classroom and administrative space, the school is lifting the main floor, inserting a new higher supportive “skirt” around the sides, and then lowering the top onto the new higher sides, creating what is essentially a new “daylight lower level” for classrooms, a multi-purpose room, and administrative and library space. Check it out as the construction progresses.

This past week, the Jewish Federation issued its 2012 Annual Report. The report includes highlights of the past year, our funding allocations for 2012-2013, and our Donor Honor Roll listing. We are truly proud of all we have accomplished and we are grateful to you, our community, for your continued support. Please take a look.

In addition, you will find the final report for our Community Impact Grants.This 24-page report highlights each of the funded programs and activities. As you may recall, we provided $300,000 towards these new initiatives as a way to reach new segments of our community and to provide opportunities for collaborative projects.

Finally, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland is sponsoring a Mission to Cuba scheduled for January 29 - February 6, 2013. This mission will provide the opportunity to explore Havana and Santiago de Cuba, learn about the (Jewish) history of the island, provide needed humanitarian supplies, and make lasting connections with the Jewish community of Cuba. For more information, please click here or reply to this email.

Shabbat shalom.



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