Jews Flock to Hip Portland Seeking Culture and Laid-Back Lifestyle

Community of 50,000 Growing Fast — Engagement Still Lags

La Vida Portland: Young Jews are flocking to Portland, lured by a hip lifestyle and laid-back culture.
La Vida Portland: Young Jews are flocking to Portland, lured by a hip lifestyle and laid-back culture.

By JTA

Published April 30, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Portland’s Jewish establishment is eager to bring these elusive newcomers into the fold with events like Food for Thought, which featured a smorgasbord of cultural events including a tour of a historically Jewish neighborhood, a party for Israel’s Independence Day and a latkes-hamentashen debate in which the the merits of sweet and savory Jewish dishes were considered (latkes won).

After the survey was released, the federation allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars for engagement events, applied for outreach grants and brought in a Jewish Agency for Israel youth emissary.

“We don’t want one-shot deals,” Marc Blattner, the federation’s president and CEO, told JTA. ”We want lifelong involvement in the Jewish community however way they want.”

Last week, hundreds of well-dressed party goers attended Food for Thought’s opening ceremony at the Portland Art Museum. Federation donors noshed on mini salmon burgers, drank champagne and mingled at a reception preceding the main event. Later, Jewish comedians David Steinberg and David Javerbaum regaled the audience with stories about working with comedic greats such as Jon Stewart, Larry David and the late Johnny Carson.

The event had a solid turnout – but the crowd was predominantly elderly, not the sought-after newcomer demographic.

“The Jewish youth and Jewish adult communities seem to be two completely separate entities that want nothing to do with each other,” said Justin Chilton, 25, one of the few younger people at the event. “Trying to bridge that gap is really weird and seemingly weirdly impossible.”

One challenge is geographic. Nearly all the community’s institutions are west of the Willamette River, while most of the unaffiliated Jews are believed to be on the city’s hipper east side.

That is beginning to change. Shir Tikvah, a progressive synagogue, was the first Jewish place of worship to open on the east side of Portland. Chabad recently followed suit with a new outreach center in the trendy northeast. Meanwhile, Blattner said the federation is considering opening a Jewish day care center there.

“The river becomes a barrier to people,” Blattner said. “We do not have formalized Jewish institutions on the east side of town, but we’re in discussions about that and the No. 1 thing we’re looking into is a Jewish preschool.”

It’s unclear whether enough east siders are prepared to spend on the funding needed for such an endeavor, but Blattner hopes events like Food for Thought might plant the seeds for change. If not, and the gathering speaks only to the core group of committed Jews in Portland, he’s fine with that, too.

“I hope that [the Jewish newcomers to Portland] know that when they do decide to come to the Jewish community,” Blattner said, “we will be waiting here with our hands open.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.