The seeds for what would become P’nai Or of Portland were planted in the fall of 1991 when Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield led a workshop for the Portland community at Gesher (a Jewish outreach organization). Several attendees met privately over the ensuing months and eventually invited Rabbi Aryeh to come monthly from his home in Ashland to lead Shabbat services.
These services were held in private homes in Southeast Portland. The small group of 12-15 people grew to 30-40 in the first year. During that year the rabbi began teaching Thursday night adult education classes in addition to Friday night and Saturday morning services. All events were held in the living room of a home. A governing council of six people was established to create by-laws and policies. In 1994 the group was too large for a living room and began renting community spaces for services. The rabbi came once a month and the community gathered at lay-led services for the High Holy Days and celebrations.
By 1995 the congregation had grown to 65 people and invited the rabbi to come twice a month. After several months he, his wife and their son moved to Portland. Volunteers from the community acted as administrative help for Rabbi Aryeh, who began a regular schedule of counseling congregants. Committees were created: a religious services committee to plan services, a religious practices committee to create policy for community services and events on matters of Halacha, an events committee, and a tikkun olam (repairing the world) committee.
A bi-weekly children’s education program began in the fall of 1996, meeting in our homes on Sundays until 1998, when the congregation moved its services to the Koinonia House of Portland State University. This allowed the children’s class to meet on Saturdays during the service so that the rabbi could gather the children for singing and storytelling before services and classes began. By that time, there were many weekday evening activities. Adult education, Hebrew classes, music and singing groups, meditation, and healing circles all met regularly.
From 2004 to 2018, the congregation met at St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Southwest Portland for services, celebrations, interfaith activities, and classes. We planted fruit trees and the congregation grew quickly at this location with a full-blown children’s and adult education program, many social and spiritual interest groups, several life passage events each year, and regular services every week. The congregation now meets at Hillsdale Community Church in Southwest Portland.
On January 6, 2009, Rabbi Aryeh passed away.
The following two years while our community mourned deeply, we were guided by Rabbi David Zaslow of Ashland Oregon, who served as our interim Rabbi and who had received ordination from Rabbi Aryeh. We subsequently studied and prayed with Rabbah D'vorah Kolodny, who served as our rabbi until 2014.
From 2014 until 2018, we were a lay led congregation, enjoying the blessings of community and the teachings of each other, inspirational resources, and visiting rabbis.
For many years, Hazzan Baruch Morris served as our Hazzan, leading us in spirit and song and supporting our many musical leaders and activities, including the choir and musicians.
In 2018 Rabbi Hannah Laner joined us and guides us in joyful celebration of Shabbat, holidays, and life-cycle events. She provides spiritual guidance, infuses learning with a passionate love of Torah and tradition, and inspires us to be our best selves. Rabbi Hannah’s ordination is through the ALEPH Jewish Renewal rabbinic program.
We continue to evolve, guided by committed core congregants who draw great inspiration from our tradition and each other.