The History of Congregation Shaarie Torah
Congregation Shaarie Torah has had ten Rabbis since beginning in 1905. Since the late 2000’s Shaarie Torah has benefited from several significant changes, including women’s full participation in services and affiliation with the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism.
Our start began as a small group of Jewish community members began meeting in Portland stores and homes to hold prayer services. Eventually, the topic of organizing a synagogue came up, and after months of organizing and fundraising, they founded Shaarie Torah. Under the able leadership of Joseph Nudelman, of blessed memory, the group purchased a Presbyterian Church on SW Third Avenue and moved it to First Avenue, south of Hall Street. The building was refurbished and became the first official home of Shaarie Torah.
The congregation quickly grew in size and activity: Its services were well attended and its members were leaders in the Portland community, scholars from European Yeshivot, and congregants who taught classes in Talmud and Mishnah. In the early 1930s, Rabbi Joseph B. Fain, a renowned Lithuanian scholar, was called to the pulpit and served Shaarie Torah until his retirement in 1949. Also in the early thirties, Cantor Yonia Glantz was brought to Portland. A young man, he married and reared a family here, serving the congregation with distinction until his death, in 1962.
Before World War II, the congregation’s desire for a new home was discussed, but the war intervened. Planning and construction for the new building was postponed. But, in 1952, the City of Portland designated the synagogue’s First Avenue location an urban renewal area, and the synagogue was to be razed. Subsequently, synagogue leadership established a building fund to purchase land and construct a new facility.
It was a glorious day for Shaarie Torah when, on May 15, 1960, the new, modern and beautiful structure on Park Avenue was dedicated. The Torahs were brought into the new sanctuary with pride and happiness. At the dedication service, it was announced that Rabbi Yonah H. Geller had been elected as the new spiritual leader for the congregation and would soon move to Portland. Shaarie Torah thrived, but within six months of Rabbi Geller’s arrival, the congregation was faced with a new crisis: The synagogue was in the path of a planned freeway.
After many meetings with the state highway commission, an agreement for compensation was reached. Land was then purchased, an architect engaged, and plans drawn for a new synagogue. Groundbreaking for the current building took place during the week of the High Holy Days in September, 1963. On October 1, 1964, we vacated Park Avenue and moved into the new location – Shaarie Torah’s current home on NW 25th and Lovejoy. Dedication of the synagogue (June 13, 1965) represented the labor and love of countless men and women serving with dedication and devotion.
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