Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon, USA

"Rose City,"  "Bridgetown,"  "Stumptown"

Lat: 43 31', Long: 122 40'

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Compiled by Linda Kelley   

Updated: September 2020

Copyright 2020 Linda Kelley

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Background Information

Portland, Oregon is blessed with a mild climate, good rainfall, clean air and clean drinking water. A pioneer spirit, a sense of individualism, and acceptance for the "weird" thrive in this college town. Portlanders garden, read books, listen to and perform music, support humane and environmental causes and the arts. Portlanders love coffee, beer, healthy food, holidays, dogs, hiking and sunshine. Residents row, kayak and paddleboard in the rivers. The ocean and mountains are nearby.

Portland's rivers connect with the Pacific Ocean, and this made Portland a valuable port early in its history. Bridges were built to accommodate large ships. Shipyards and dry docks were established. Riverfront factories, such as the B.P. John Furniture Company, would roll their goods down to the river to load on boats. B.P. John's dock was called "John's Landing."

Portland is a city of immigrants. Jewish people were among the immigrants who settled in Portland starting in 1849. Many were merchants; some became very successful. A few were elected to city and state offices, including governor.

Samuel Merton Suwol, 1904-1980, was a lawyer and teacher in Portland. He published a pamphlet in 1958 [possibly printed at his law office] called Jewish History of Oregon, in honor of 100 years of Jewish settlement in Oregon. In the Foreword, Suwol described how the pioneers arrived in Oregon. Some came by ship around the Horn, or across the Isthmus [of Panama], then by ship to California, and by ship from California to Oregon. Some came overland on the Oregon Trail in covered wagons. "Among the earliest Jews who followed the Oregon Train by ox team and wagon, braving the desert and mountains, hostile Indians, cholera and the elements were Dr. Israel Moses, Herman Ehrenberg and the brothers Jacob and Louis Fleischner." [Suwol, 1958, Portland, OR, Foreword]

On page 1, Suwol wrote that "Oregon's first pioneer Jews settled in the Willamette valley in Albany, Corvallis, Oregon City, Eugene, Willamette and Portland. The first known Oregon Jewish immigrant was Herman Ehrenberg, who came here in 1840."

On page 10, Suwol wrote that the first Jewish woman to arrive in Portland was "Mrs. Weinshank" in 1854.

Steven Lowenstein's book also mentions Mrs. Weinshank, said she arrived in 1853, and that she started a boarding house for single Jewish men. [p. 7]
Lowenstein stated on p. 49 that the next Jewish woman to arrive came in 1854, and was Mollie Radelsheimer from New York, the new bride of Simon Blumauer. Their son, Louis, was the first Jewish child born in Oregon. [p. 50]
Lowenstein wrote that more Jewish women had arrived by 1858. At that point it was necessary to establish a synagogue. Simon Baum and Marjana Bettman were the first Jews to be married in Oregon, in the new synagogue/meeting room, in 1858. [p. 49]
More about the synagogues is on the Jewish Life page.

In 1889, Isaac Markens, a journalist from New York, noted in a series of historical sketches, The Hebrews in America, that the prosperity of the Jewish merchants in Portland was more widely distributed than in any other section of the Union, and the Jewish people were prominent in public affairs.

Historian Jacob Rader Marcus described the importance of the early German Jewish community in Oregon at the 1938 anniversary of the founding of Congregation Beth Israel. Marcus said the Jewish people in Oregon adjusted themselves to their environment better, and reached higher positions in  political life, more than in any other state. [Lowenstein, Steven, The Jews of Oregon 1850-1950; Portland, Oregon, Jewish Historical Society of Oregon, 1987; with permission from the Oregon Jewish Museum, formerly the Jewish Historical Society of Oregon, p. 69]

From Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia:
"Portland is the largest and most populous city the the U.S. state of Oregon, and the seat of Multnomah County. It is a major port in the Willamette Valley region of the Pacific Northwest, at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers in Northwestern Oregon. As of 2019, Portland had an estimated population of 654,741, making it the 26th most populated city in the United States, the six-most populous on the West Coast, and the second-most populous in the Pacific Northwest after Seattle. Approximately 2.4 million people live in the Portland metropolitan statistical area [MSA], making it the 25th most populous in the United States. Its combined statistical area [CSA] ranks 19th-largest with a population of around 3.2 million. Approximately 60% of Oregon's population resides within the Portland metropolitan area.

Named after Portland, Maine, the Oregon settlement began to be populated in the 1830s near the end of the Oregon Trail. Its water access provided convenient transportation of goods, and the timber industry was a major force in the city's early economy. At the turn of the 20th century, the city had a reputation as one of the most dangerous port cities in the world, a hub for organized crime and racketeering. After the city's economy experienced an industrial boom during World War II, its hard-edged reputation began to dissipate. Beginning in the 1960s, Portland became noted for its growing progressive political values, earning it a reputation as a bastion of counterculture.

The city operates with a commission-based government guided by a mayor and four commissioners as well as Metro, the only directly elected metropolitan planning organization in the United States. The city government is notable for its land-use planning and investment in public transportation. Portland is frequently recognized as one of the world's greenest cities to live in, and Portland was the first city to enact a comprehensive plan to reduce CO2 emissions. Its climate is marked by warm, dry summers and cool, rainy winters. This climate is ideal for growing roses, and Portland has been called the "City of Roses" for over a century,"

In 1888, the Madame Caroline Testout hybrid tea rose variety was introduced to Portland. Thousands of rose bushes were planted along twenty miles of street to beautify the city for the visitors to the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition of 1905. In 1907, the city held its first Portland Rose Festival. The International Rose Test Garden began during World War I to protect European rose species from the war in Europe. In 2003, Portland adopted "City of Roses" as its official nickname. [Wikipedia]

Fur traders and trappers established a path to Oregon City and Portland between 1811 and 1840. Gradually the path was cleared and widened for wagons and wagon trains. From 1846-1869, the Oregon Trail and its offshoots were used by an estimated 400,000 settlers, farmers, miners, ranchers, business owners and their families. The Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869. Interstates 80 and 84 follow parts of the Oregon Trail, and pass through towns that were established to serve travelers on the Oregon Trail. [Wikipedia]

Large numbers of pioneer settlers began arriving in the Willamette Valley in the 1830s via the Oregon Trail, though life was originally centered in nearby Oregon City. In the early 1840s a new settlement emerged ten miles from the mouth of the Willamette River, roughly halfway between Oregon City and Fort Vancouver. This community [Portland] was initially referred to as "Stumptown" and "The Clearing," because of the many trees cut down to allow for its growth. [Wikipedia]

Not on the Oregon Trail, Jacksonville, in southern Oregon, was a site where gold was discovered about 1851. Gold was mined there until the 1860s. The town grew from 1851 to 1884. By 1860, about one-third of the merchants were Jewish. In 1884, the Oregon and California Railroad was built, bypassing Jacksonville. Most of the residents left, and some moved to Portland, including some Jewish merchants. About one hundred old buildings have survived, and Jacksonville is a National Historic District. [Eisenberg, Ellen, "Jews in Oregon" essay posted in oregonencyclopedia.org https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/jews-in-oregon/#.Xz4W9pNKhBw. Used with Ellen Eisenberg's permission.]

Immigrants from many countries arrived in Portland about 1849; many of them were Jewish. The Hirsch Brothers started stores in several towns in the Willamette Valley. Henry Heppner, a pack-train operator and merchant started his own town, called Heppner. Aaron Meier was a peddler in gold country; he founded his first store in Portland in 1857. In 1872, he joined with Emil and Sigmund Frank to form Meier & Frank Department Store. Many of the Jewish merchants were established merchants from San Francisco and other U.S. cities. Jewish residents joined religious, civic and fraternal organizations. [Eisenberg, Ellen, "Jews in Oregon" essay]

Congregation Beth Israel began in 1858. Its first building was completed in 1861, and was the first synagogue building in Oregon. Its second building was completed in 1889. It held 750 people, had a large rose window and a pipe organ. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise served there from 1900 to 1906. There was an arson fire in 1923. The new synagogue was completed in 1928. It seats 1,000 people, and includes the Sherman Education Center and Schnitzer Family Center. It became a Reform synagogue.

Congregation Ahavai Sholom was founded in 1869 by men from Posen, Prussia [now in Poland]. It became a Conservative synagogue.

Benevolent associations were formed by men's groups and women's groups, starting in 1859. The Neighborhood House was established in 1905. It provided classes, athletic facilities and social services.

Sephardic Jews were ousted from Spain in 1492, and settled in many countries. Many retained their language, culture and religion. About 1916, there was an influx of Sephardic Jews, and they formed Ahavath Achim, the first Sephardic congregation in Oregon. The members came from Turkey and other locations in the Ottoman Empire, including the Isle of Rhodes. At Ahavath Achim, the services were led by the congregants for many years. The new building on Barbur was completed in 1965; the next year, the congregation hired its first Rabbi. The sanctuary has a domed ceiling, so no microphone is needed. [Information about the synagogues is from various authors, oregonencyclopedia.org.]

Most of the early Jewish residents lived in a neighborhood just south of Downtown, called South Portland. "Children of Eastern European and Sephardic immigrants who came of age in the 1920s and 1930s remember the neighborhood as insular and nurturing. It was a time of increased antisemitism locally and nationally, and the neighborhood and its institutions provided a respite. Beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, and accelerating in the 1940s and 1950s, families moved to more prosperous areas of the city. Still, South Portland remained a Jewish institutional hub, with ethnic shops, the Portland Hebrew School, the Jewish Home for the Aged, Neighborhood House, the B'nai B'rith Building [later the Jewish Community Center], and all but two of the city's congregations." [Eisenberg, Ellen, "Jews in Oregon" essay]

In 1958, urban renewal began to push the Jewish neighborhood to a southwest Portland neighborhood called Hillsdale. A new community center was built. Neveh Shalom synagogue was built, a conservative congregation combined from Neveh Zedek and Ahavai Sholom. [various authors, oregonencyclopedia.org]

Today there are twelve Portland synagogues listed in Google. It is estimated that there are at least 40,000 Jewish residents in Portland. There is a Jewish community center, a Jewish assisted living center, Jewish Federation, a Jewish Museum, a Holocaust Memorial, a Chabad chapter, a B'nai B'rith camp, five Jewish cemeteries and a Jewish Genealogical Society chapter.

Linda Kelley
September 2020

Searchable Databases

    • JewishGen "United States" Database (for Portland, OR, USA)
    • The "All USA Database" is a multiple database search facility, which incorporates all of the following databases:  JewishGen Family Finder(JGFF), JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR), JG Discussion Group Archives, SIG Mailing List Archives and much much more.

Other Portland Links

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