The Portland metro area interfaith community recently lost one of its great advocates — Emily Georges SUBMITTED PHOTO - Emily Georges Gottfried.

Gottfried, 57, was the Executive Director for the Oregon Area Jewish Committee, a nonprofit affiliate of the American Jewish Committee based in Ashcreek committed to advancing social justice, human rights, religious liberty, support for Israel, mutual understanding and democratic principles.

Though her address was technically in Washington County, and she lived in New Mexico for seven years in the 1980s, Gottfried was a Southwest Portlander through and through.

An alumna of Bridlemile Elementary and Wilson High schools, Gottfried was “a third-generation resident of Southwest,” said her daughter Benna. “My parents’ house is in Garden Home; my sister and I were raised there.”

Prior to joining the OAJC, Gottfried served as the Cultural Arts Director for the Mittleman Jewish Community Center in Hillsdale from 1988 to 1999.

“My sister and I were essentially raised at the JCC,” Benna added.

“Emily was somebody who was involved. She was the cultural director at the MJCC. That’s how I came to know her first because during those years in the 1990s at the MJCC, that was a renaissance for all sort sorts of real stuff that was happening. Those were … the most successful days at the MJCC,” said John Moss, OAJC president. “It was Emily and her vision that really made the space a cultural center.

“She had an incredible enthusiasm for pretty much everything she did,” said Natalie Miller, whose mother Lisa was Gottfried’s best friend.

“She was in a leader position in everything she touched, and she did that as part of her job for OAJC and part of what her life vision was,” Moss said. “She was a heavy everywhere.”

“Emily told me when she was a little girl, she was at a religious school — she was young, maybe fourth- or fifth-grade — that she learned about the Holocaust, and she came home and just asked her mom, ‘How could you let that happen?’,” Lisa Miller said. “That strong feeling of indignation for this huge injustice … I think that really stuck with her as a little girl, and that’s who she was: she was a person that didn’t just talk the talk; she walked the walk.”

Gottfried’s activism transcended her personal religious beliefs, active in interfaith organizations such as the Oregon Faith Roundtable Against Hunger, a community organization consisting of leaders from various religious communities that strives to develop solutions to hunger.

“Her legacy will be to care for other people, for other individuals who might be different from us, and to reach out and make a difference, not just stand by and watch,” said Michelle Bombet Minch, a member of the OAJC Board of Directors. “The Oregon Faith Roundtable Against Hunger, she’s one of the founders of that organization that reaches out across different faiths.”

Such activism brought Gottfried allies such as Mary Jo Tully, Chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Portland, with whom she worked on the OAJC’s Catholic/Jewish Dialogue, and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley. Both visited Gottfried at hospital in her final days.

The impact she left on her inner circle was just as poignant; with family members and friends recalling with fondness trips to Canon Beach and holiday dinners.

“When the kids were little we’d taken them to the Junior Rose Parade,” Lisa Miller recalled. “Other people would just be sitting on the sidelines, but Emily would stand up and cheer everybody that would go by with some little comment. She just had that big enthusiasm in her life that you don’t really see that often.”

And her legacy lives on.

“We’re going to try to turn the (OAJC) inside out,” Moss said. “So much stuff was done by Emily that other people got to watch. Now, we want other people to be like Emily, creating that level of activism and participation … creating a world that’s vibrant that people can participate in.”

Yet even as those she leaves behind strive to honor her memory, they all know that she cannot be replaced.

“I really have lost a great friend,” Lisa Miller said. “It’s going to leave a big hole in my life.”

Gottfried had been diagnosed late last year with Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a rare autoimmune condition that quickly took her life. She is survived by daughters Benna and Miriam and husband Jeffrey.

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