Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
Photograph of the exterior of Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.
Interior of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.
Backstory and Context
Oregon saw its first German Jewish immigrants in 1849. Many of these Jewish immigrants spent time elsewhere in the United States before following the Gold Rush to the west coast, establishing communities in San Francisco and north into Oregon. This meant that these immigrants knew immigrants and were familiar with American society. Native Americans and Asians were the immigrant groups least accepted by white pioneers in Oregon, so the Jewish immigrants, by contrast, were accepted as white pioneers as well, not a different racial group. They also had trade networks linked to San Francisco that linked them with other pioneers in Oregon. Jewish immigrants were often among the first businesses to build the first brick buildings in new towns that supplied surrounding areas with goods.
Despite arriving in Oregon in 1849, it took almost a decade for Jewish immigrants to develop strong communities. Mostly single men moved to Oregon and focused on business rather than marriage, so they delayed marriage. Jewish women did not move to Oregon until 1858, and it took until 1861 to open the first synagogue in Oregon. As the Jewish community continued to grow in Oregon, other institutions were also created, such as the First Hebrew Benevolent Association in 1859 and the Young Men's Hebrew Association, which was a Jewish organization of the YMCA. Jewish communities outside of Portland, however, often disappeared after the Gold Rush or moved to Portland to be in a larger community.
For many years, the Jewish population in Oregon hovered between 7,000 and 8,000 people until it steadily began to rise between 1970 and 2010. In 1970, the population was about 10,000, 25,000 in 1999, and between 40,000 and 48,000 in 2010. Nearly all of the Jewish population lived in Portland, Oregon. Much of the Jewish population in Portland was due to a younger, well-educated population who was down to Portland's progressiveness.
As the population of Jews in Oregon steadily began to rise, Rabbi Joshua Stampfer led a community discussion on the need for a Jewish history museum in 1989. The museum first opened an exhibit at the Central Library in Multnomah County as the Oregon Jewish Museum. The museum continued to host exhibits at different locations around Portland, Oregon. The Oregon Jewish Museum merged with the Jewish Historical Society of Oregon, which was inactive, in 1995. The merger allowed the Oregon Jewish Museum to take control of the photographs, artifacts, and oral history interviews that the Jewish Historical Society of Oregon collected since 1973. Until this point, the Oregon Jewish Museum did not have a physical location. Acquiring the collections form the Jewish Historical Society of Oregon meant that the Oregon Jewish Museum needed to find a place to care for and put its new collections on exhibit.
The Oregon Jewish Museum first had a location in Montgomery Park in 1999 and then moved to a storefront in Old Town in 2000. The museum again moved to a new location in Portland almost a decade later in 2009 as membership at the museum continued to grow.
In 2014, the Oregon Jewish Museum merged with another organization: the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center. The Oregon Jewish Museum then became the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, which the organization is known as today. With this merger, the mission statement changed to reflect the expanded mission:
The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education explores the legacy of the Jewish experience in Oregon and teaches the universal lessons of the Holocaust. Through exhibitions, programs, educational resources, and opportunities for intercultural conversation, OJMCHE challenges our visitors to resist indifference and discrimination and to envision a just and inclusive world.1
The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education purchased its current location in 2016. This move doubled the size of the museum, allowing it to better serve its mission.
1 Mission and History, Oregon Jewish Museum and Holocaust for Holocaust Education. Accessed January 16th 2020. http://www.ojmche.org/about/ojm-mission-history.
2 Eisenberg, Ellen . Jews in Oregon, The Oregon Encyclopedia . August 5th 2019. Accessed January 17th 2020. https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/jews-in-oregon/#.XiHIWshKhPY.
Image from Ojmche.org.
Image from Ojmche.org.