Updates Around Campus

Check out these recent updates on our building and campus area in NW Portland. 

Let's roll out the ramp | may 13, 2021

While the shul building has been closed to outside activities these past 15 months we’ve taken advantage of the quiet time to tackle some projects. Aleksey rebuilt the dishwasher, which had nearly given its all after last year’s Hamentaschen project. The kitchen was strewn with bits of machinery and wiring for weeks while he hunted down the correct parts and painstakingly cleaned each component before reassembling the unit. It works beautifully now and is just waiting for the chance to wash the Kiddishes again. The absence of foot traffic cut down on wear and tear, but it also spotlighted some areas where a little TLC was needed. Chipped plaster and paint in the upper foyer have been touched up, and the carpets were recently cleaned, presenting a fresh look upon entry. A new, permanent canopy has been installed over part of the play area in the courtyard, giving the Pipster students extra protection from both rain and sun.

The biggest changes are to the sanctuary, which has sat quiet and empty these many months. Yes, we few staff in the building make a point of visiting it regularly, even if just to appreciate the serene beauty of the natural light streaming through the windows. In late 2019, we were awarded a small grant from the Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation (OJCYF). The teen philanthropists had visited the shul to learn about what projects we might be considering that would benefit the community. Their main focus was on equity and accessibility. When I showed them the lower bimah and explained that even two small steps up presented a barrier to those with mobility challenges, their ears perked up. They didn’t like the idea that some members of our kehillah couldn’t approach the Torah because of those steps. So they awarded us the money to construct a ramp.

The initial consultation with Jim Kane, a licensed contractor who has installed similar ADA compliant ramps, took place in early 2020, and the plan was the project would only take a few days. Thanks to COVID-19 and so many setbacks, it instead stretched out for the entire rest of the year and into 2021. Now completed, the ramp extends from the rear of the lower bimah on the right side, running subtly along the upper bimah wall. An attractive, sturdy railing provides protection to those ascending the ramp using a walker or wheelchair. Here are some pictures of the ramp from various angles. Soon it will feel like the it was always there.

You’ll be able to view the entire bimah soon thanks to the second major project undertaken during our closure. Aleksey has installed the new camera equipment in the sanctuary, equipment generously underwritten by the Sisterhood in connection with last year’s High Holy Day production. When Shabbat services resume they will be livestreamed via Boxcast to our website and Facebook so that those who cannot attend in person can still feel like they are in the space during worship.

Many people have been asking precisely WHEN that will happen, and the answer is, we don’t have a firm date. The ad-hoc Reopening Taskforce has met to talk about the ever-shifting metrics involved with planning a phased reopening. As more and more people are vaccinated and local case numbers decrease, we are inching closer to the time when groups can start to gather again. We carefully follow all the news and guidance from the CDC and OHA’s Faith Community Liaison, taking into account our community’s needs, demographics and the building’s capacity to safely accommodate small crowds in all areas, not just the sanctuary. The shul will remain closed to daily foot traffic through the end of June. Appointments for the gift shop may be made during limited office hours by contacting Linda Harrison: cst@shaarietorah.org. All other business or transactions can be made by phone or email.

We’ll continue to share updates as they evolve. In the meantime, we appreciate those who have been regularly attending minyan and Shabbat services via Zoom. Even in a Brady Bunch-esque format, it is good to see your beloved faces.

campus security upgrades | jan. 7, 2021

While the shul building may be quiet inside, there has certainly been noise and activity on the outside. This week saw the completion of phase II of our FEMA-funded security upgrades: the installation of a perimeter fence. To recap, in April 2019 we wrote for a grant through the Non-Profit Security Grant Program (NSGP). In October 2019 we received approval of up to $75,000 for the specific projects proposed. Those were the installation of exterior lighting around the building, which was completed at the end of September 2020; the addition of perimeter fencing to protect our grounds from trespassers and to limit direct access to the building exterior; and upgrades to certain interior doors and closure hardware to improve target hardening.

The government didn’t just hand us $75,000 and say get to work. Each of these phases has had to be carefully planned out during periods when cash flow is sufficient. We have to pay upfront for each project in its entirely before reimbursement requests may be submitted for approval. All along the way, quarterly reports have been filed to ensure we are operating within the very exacting grant agreement. The final piece of the overall project needs to be completed by September 2021.

The next round of NSGP funding is expected to roll out soon, and reports indicate the total amount available nationwide has doubled from $90 million to $180 million. We will be applying again for further funding to implement more security upgrades on campus. If you happen to be in the area, take a drive or walk around the building to see the fencing for yourself. For those who aren’t planning a trip into NW, here is a virtual tour along the perimeter. (see photo tour below)

Separate from these projects but culminating at the same time was the removal of more dead/diseased trees from the shul grounds. Last year, nine trees had to be taken down; just this week, an additional 5 were removed and stumps ground down, including that of a dead tree scheduled for removal that fell in November during high winds.

All of these pines had been planted around the same time and succumbed to beetle infestation. We are very fortunate that Friends of Trees, a local non-profit committed to maintaining and expanding Portland’s urban canopy, works with houses of worship to replant trees at a very low cost. They will be out in mid-April to replant and will continue to water the saplings for the next two years. To learn more about Friends of Trees and how you can help visit https://friendsoftrees.org/donate/.

We will continue to send updates about projects on campus in the coming months. If you have any questions, please contact me: executivedirector@shaarietorah.org.

Our office is currently closed to visitors. Questions? Give us a call or send us an email. We currently have limited office hours but leave us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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