Ask the historian
By Doug Decker | Historian
What can you tell me about the building at 20th Avenue and Going Street that used to house the Tifereth Israel
Synagogue? – Alessandra Novak
The historian reports:
I’m so glad you’ve asked: it’s a fascinating and rich story. This long, narrow white clapboardsided building was built in 1907 and purchased in 1914 by Congregation Tifereth Israel, a Jewish community with roots in Russia and the Ukraine.
Originally the center of Jewish life for a small handful of families on Portland’s eastside – many of whom lived within walking distance – the congregation expanded over the years to include up to 100 families.
Known during those early years as the Alberta Shul – a Yiddish word meaning a place of study and prayer – the building drew the eastside Jewish community together. By the early 1950s, Tifereth Israel had outgrown the building, so the congregation purchased and moved into the former Redeemer Lutheran Church at 15th Avenue and Wygant Street.
From 1952 until the early 1980s, the building was home to several African American congregations, including the Mt. Sinai Community Church.
In 1980, when it was sold to its current owner, the building was rented out for various purposes including religious gatherings and then eventually as storage space. In 2010 it became home to Xhurch, its current occupants, as a gathering and workspace for resident artists and musicians.
When the property was placed on the market in 2016, members of Portland’s Jewish community began to organize an effort to purchase and restore the building. The group’s proposal was in competition with developers interested in tearing down the building. But the current owner was intrigued with the restoration project and has since entered into a contract with the coalition for purchase.
Today, the Alberta Shul Coalition is raising funds and support to transform the building back to its earlier role as a place for meeting, learning, community and prayer for the eastside Portland Jewish community.
Eleyna Fugman is one of the founders of the growing coalition. Her vision is for a special, simple gathering place for local Jewish residents to connect through a variety of community-driven programming, as well as a space that northeast neighbors could rent and use for meetings, classes and events.
“The fact that we could work, play and practice in a building that our ancestors built and made into a Jewish home is very important,” Eleyna said. “There are many young Jews who are looking for a place to be Jewish, who are yearning for Jewish community in some format.”
The coalition’s vision is that Alberta Shul can be a cultural venue for Jewish art, music, learning and gathering, as well as a place for traditional and alternative religious services and prayer.
The coalition raised about $40,000 during the summer and early autumn, and is hoping to raise $136,000 by March 2018 to complete the purchase. Further fundraising of another $250,000 is planned the following year to enable the restoration.
To learn more, visit the Alberta Shul Coalition Facebook page.
Editor’s note: If you have a question for the neighborhood historian, send it to NewsEditor@ConcordiaPDX.org, and we’ll ask Doug Decker to do some digging. Check out Doug’s blog for more on local history at AlamedaHistory.org.