The Mittleman Jewish Community Center turns 100

by: CONNECTION PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Joyce Loeb and Shirley Rackner give each other a big hug.The Mittleman Jewish Community Center (MJCC) is unquestionably one of the most prominent institutions in Southwest Portland’s Hillsdale neighborhood. It opened in its current location off Southwest Capitol Highway in 1971, but actually got its start 57 years before that. It was with that long and rich history in mind that when friends of the center came together at their annual dinner Feb. 23, they celebrated its 100th anniversary.

The celebration on Sunday night began with a cocktail hour in the MJCC lobby and gymnasium and was followed by dinner in the Stern Family Ballroom, with Amy and Doug Blauer serving as masters of ceremonies.

“All of us here tonight understand how important the MJCC is to our community,” Amy Blauer said, amid stars cast on the wall via spotlight and gigantic balloons. “It’s been the central gathering place, the living room of the Jewish community for a hundred years. The center: a place where we’re all welcome. It plays a vital role in our greater community.”

After introducing Steve “Rosy” Rosenberg, who led in the Hamotzi — the recital of the Hebrew benediction over bread before meals — the Blauers had a few more words on the CONNECTION PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Steve 'Rosy' Rosenberg offers the Hamotzi to kick off the dinner.

“Ever since I was a kid ... I’ve been a part of the center,” Doug Blauer said. “I am grateful to all of you in this room for continuing to support and strengthen the MJCC.”

“The JCC has always been there for me, and it has come full circle now,” said his wife.

The Blauers then welcomed Judy Margles, director of the Oregon Jewish History Museum, to present a history of the MJCC.

Margles described how in 1914, the B’nai B’rith Building Association was founded on Southwest 13th Avenue and Mill Street, “to be the center of Jewish communities,” and within a few decades it started accepting not just German, middle-class Jewish men, but also Polish Jews, women, and those of other social classes.The name changed to B’nai B’rith Center in 1923 and Jewish Community Center 15 years after that.

According to Margles, the popularity of the center “wavered slightly in the aftermath of the Second World War,” as Jewish Portlanders gained acceptance to athletic clubs and country clubs they had previously been barred from, “and no longer relied solely on the JCC for their social and recreational needs.” And in the 1950s, with the creation of Portland’s first urban renewal area, 54 blocks, including the one on which the center’s building sat, were demolished, resulted in the closing of one chapter for the center and the beginning of a new one, with groundbreaking for the new center taking place on Feb. 23, 1970 — exactly 40 years ago.

“Since its inception a century ago, the Jewish community has transformed itself, meeting community needs, challenges and successes. No longer a refuge for Jews ... the center is now a vibrant and integral part of the entire community. May its future continue to keep us all fit and trim and full of hope for the future,” Margles said.

When the Blauers took the stage once again, they asked all past and current MJCC leaders to stand and be honored. They then passed the mic over to Josh Frankel of the Oregon Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, who honored this year’s inductees: Ruben Menashe, Roberta Weinstein, Phyllis and Jeanne Newmark, and Sandy Weinstein.

Thereafter, attendees and presenters then took a so-called Mitzvah Moment, viewing a video tribute to the MJCC and then, hearing a speech from current MJCC presidents Bary Benson and Robert Philip and being led by auctioneer Kelly Russell in donating money at different contribution levels — a grand total of $138,000.

Then, former MJCC Executive Director Lisa Horowitz and Mardi Spitzer introduced Horowitz’s friend and Spitzer’s sister, honoree Gayle Schnitzer Romain.

“To my friends and community, seeing you here tonight, enjoying the MJCC, thrills me and makes our volunteer efforts worthwhile. Thank you for honoring me and by doing so you also honor all the other volunteers and staff that make the MJCC a success,” Schnitzer Romain said, describing her experiences growing up at the MJCC, all the way into adulthood.

She added: “I was given these opportunities to enjoy the center by generations of dedicated visionary community volunteers and philanthropic donors who came before me. In the MJCC’s 100 years we have had 38 presidents and boards, thousands of volunteer hours, talented staff and generous donors. Tens of thousands of individuals have enjoyed our programs and facilities, whether they were members or not. My family is now into its fifth generation of center members.

“Whether you’re a longtime member like me, or new to Portland and the MJCC, we are indebted to those who have worked so hard.”

Other highlights of the evening included the bestowment of the 2014 Harry Glickman Scholar Athlete Award to Brendan Edelson and Shea Northfield and a raffle of fine gold jewelry. But one thing that was sure to last well after the last attendee went home was something even more valuable: a community for the future.

Drew Dakessian can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 108.

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