Jewish communal life in the Oregon Territory began with the arrival of Jacob Goldsmith and Lewis May, young German-born immigrants who opened a general store in Portland in 1849. Two years later, a thriving mining camp developed along southern Oregon's gold laden Jackson Creek. Within months, miners streamed northward from the Sacramento Valley bringing Jews, mostly from San Francisco. In 1852, seven Jewish residents were listed on the Jacksonville census, all young men involved in store keeping, supplying mining equipment, dry goods, and groceries. German Jews expanded their mercantile skills into Oregon's more remote areas by exploiting family networks, importing goods from associates in San Francisco or even New York, and then sending younger relatives to towns like Albany, Eugene, or The Dalles to open general stores.
The first Jewish arrivals emigrated from Germany to the U.S., followed by co-religionists originating from, successively, the Russian empire, the Isle of Rhodes, and Turkey. The greatest number came from the Russian empire beginning in the 1890s and made an impact on the already established German Jewish community. Most settled in Portland, where they found inexpensive housing, synagogues, and kosher groceries that helped to create a familiar community. Whereas the central European Jews integrated very quickly and expanded to smaller towns across the state, the first generation Eastern European Jews remained close-knit, residing primarily in Portland until the second generation. The Sephardim founded a synagogue in Portland in 1910, still existing today. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, another wave of immigrants came to Oregon.
From the early years of settlement in Oregon, Jews despite their minute numbers distinguished themselves in prominent political, judicial, civic, business, and cultural positions: Solomon Hirsch, minister to Turkey; Joseph Simon , Richard Neuberger , Ron Wyden (in 2005), U.S. senators; Julius Meier , Neil Goldschmidt , governors; Henry Heppner, founder of the town of Heppner; Samson Friendly, regent of the University of Oregon; Joseph Shemanski, Ben Selling, philanthropists; Gus Solomon, federal district court judge; Bernard Goldsmith, Philip Wasserman, Neil Goldschmidt and Vera Katz among at least 21 Jewish mayors; Stewart Albert, co-founder of the Yippie Movement. Russian-born artist Mark Rothko (1903–1970) spent part of his youth in Portland; Dr. Albert Starr, inventor of the first artificial heart valve, performed the first successful valve implant in 1965; Bernard Malamud taught at Oregon State University 1949–61; Phillip Margolin is a best-selling mystery writer. Mel Blanc , the "Man of 1,000 Voices," was the voice of Bugs Bunny and other animated characters. In the field of music, Jacques Gershkovitch founded the Portland Junior Symphony (today the Portland Youth Philharmonic), succeeded by Jacob Avshalomov. Ernest Bloch , who made Oregon his home, wrote his famous Sacred Service on the Oregon coast. Jacques Singer conducted the Oregon Symphony Orchestra and Carlos Kalmar was conductor in 2005; composer David Schiff taught at Reed College.
In 2005 Oregon had 36 congregations throughout the state, including Portland (17 congregations), Ashland, Bend, Corvallis Eugene, Klamath Falls, Roseburg and Salem, and the central and north coasts. Portland, Oregon's largest Jewish community, has two Jewish day schools, a Jewish Community Center, Jewish Federation, a Jewish facility for the elderly, a Jewish family counseling service, and the Oregon Jewish Museum. The Oregon Holocaust Resource Center is on the campus of Pacific University in Forest Grove. Jewish students participate in Hillel at the University of Oregon (Eugene) and Oregon State University (Corvallis), and Jewish Student Unions at Lewis and Clark College, Reed College and Portland State University. The University of Oregon, Portland State University and Reed College have Jewish Studies programs. Indeed, the president (in 2005) of the AJS taught at the University of Oregon.
As of 2017, Oregon's Jewish population was approximately 40,650 people.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.