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Jacqueline Gordon Oral History Interview, July 23, 1991

Oregon State University

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Judith Berlowitz: The date is July 23, 1991. The interviewer is Judith Berlowitz. The interviewee is Jacqueline Gordon. When did you and your family move to Corvallis?

Jacqueline Gordon: We moved in the fall of 1966. My husband came back here to get his PhD, so we came with the family at that time.

JB: Who were the members of your family?

JG: We have three children. There's my husband, Louis Gordon, who's with Oceanography, and the three children are Judy, our oldest daughter, Dianne, who's the middle daughter, and Justin, our son. They were born in '58, '60, and '61.

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JB: Do you recall the population of Corvallis, roughly, at the time you moved here?

JG: I think it was about 29,000.

JB: And what year was that again?

JG: 1966.

JB: Roughly how many Jewish families would you say were here?

JG: I don't know exactly. I do know that Hadassah, which had started a couple of years earlier, had 13 members. And I'm sure that by the time we got here there were more like 20. However, that probably means there were at least double that number.

JB: Could you say that the majority of these families represented one of the three main branches of Judaism: the orthodox, the conservative, or the reform?

JG: I do know that one of the families was orthodox, but I think then they ran 2:00from there to the full extreme. I know of another family who, they felt themselves very Jewish but they included no formal religious training whatsoever.

JB: How would you describe the occupational makeup of the Jewish population? Were they mainly academic or other professional people, or business people?

JG: I think heavily academic, although we did have some people who were business people and some retirees.

JB: What Jewish organizations were in existence at the time you moved here?

JG: Well I've already mentioned Hadassah, which is a Jewish women's organization. The other organization was the Hillel, the OSU Jewish student organization.

JB: What activities did Hillel sponsor?

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JG: I can remember those early days they were very active, and sponsored particularly a very nice lox and bagel breakfast, to which not only did the students come and the faculty, but the community people were welcome as well.

JB: And Hadassah? What are the kinds of activities it sponsored?

JG: They had monthly meetings, in which they both conducted their business and had outside speakers about Jewish things. One of their most important early businesses was the sponsoring of the Sunday school, and the other thing was a fundraising event which at that time was a latke breakfast, to which the entire Corvallis community was invited.

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JB: What was a latke?

JG: A latke is a potato pancake made from grated raw potatoes. And it's fried. So, at the breakfast, we were frying, frying all morning long to supply latkes for all the people who arrived. It was a lot of work. [tape stops and resumes.] The reason I laughed is that some funny things did happen relative to the latke breakfast. One year . . . we were always trying to find ways to make it easy to fix the potatoes, since they're raw potatoes. So we tried to get a commercial outfit to give us the grated raw potato, and it ended up we picked them up one time and they were grated, they were cooked! So it caused a lot of consternation since that happened on the morning we were having the brunch itself. Finally they got so unhappy about all the work involved -- those of us who fried would 5:00go home just reeking of the oil in our clothes -- someone had the bright idea to switch from latkes to blintzes, which we could prepare those ahead of time, freeze them, so we didn't have all the work the day of the brunch.

JB: Did you do that later?

JG: Yes. I don't remember how many years we did the latke dinner, but then we switched over to blintz brunch.

JB: Tell me something about the Sunday school. You mentioned that Hadassah really came into being in order to organize the Sunday school.

JG: Yes, some of the members of Hadassah had young children and they were concerned about having some Jewish education for their children. So one of the prime reasons for having a formal organization was to get a Sunday school 6:00started. This was a cooperative Sunday school, in which the parents were very involved, some of them would teach. Hadassah sponsored that for quite a number of years until it separated off into a separate organization.

JB: About how many children would you say were there during those early years?

JG: I'm guessing it was 15-20. They I know had three or four classes. In the early days they had a teenage group as well, which we haven't had for a number of years.

JB: And you say some of the parents served as teachers. Were there other people who served in that capacity?

JG: Yes, most of them were either parents or students from OSU.

JB: How was the curriculum developed?

JG: In those days each teacher developed his own curriculum. So we tried to find 7:00teachers who had Jewish knowledge as well as ability to teach.

JB: Were there holiday celebrations in the Sunday school?

JG: Always. That's one of the things they did was always have parties for the children at the major holidays, such as building a sukkot at one of the homes and having a party.

JB: What was a sukkot?

JG: A sukkot was a temporary hut or structure. You have to see through it, be able to see the stars. At a bare minimum, it's setting up four posts so you have the structure for four walls and the basis for a ceiling. Instead of a solid ceiling, we put up things like greenery, branches, old corn plants, things of 8:00this sort, to make a temporary roof.

JB: And this celebrates. . .

JG: Succot. The other holidays that we always had something, we always had a Purim party, usually something at Hanukah time, and, let's see, at Passover, we always had a model Seder, we developed a small Haggadot for the children on that. And at Shavuot, we usually had a picnic and read Ruth.

JB: What about religious services for adults. Were they held regularly? Were there any?

JG: Well early on there were none. At least other than what I suspect -- I believe the orthodox family always had their own services in their own home. But as far as the community was concerned, the earliest services I remember were through the Sunday school. They tried to have one or two during the year, just to give the children an idea of what the services were like. In addition, we 9:00tried to take them to some town to attend the services at a synagogue.

JB: Where were the services held?

JG: When the Sunday school did it, the earliest services I remember, there was a meeting hall, Consumer's Power had a building over on 9th Street, and we used to meet in that room for a number of these parties and the service. Later on as the Hillel became interested in it, since they would co-sponsor the services, we would have them at Oregon State University in the Memorial Union.

JB: Who conducted the services?

JG: Well I wouldn't know about the ones before we arrived, but I'm remembering Ze'ev Orzech on the services. When Joyce Shane became involved in it, they did 10:00it together, Ze'ev doing the non-singing part and Joyce doing all of the songs. They were a nice combination, They were so popular with Hillel and the community that when we did have them in the course of the year, we'd have as many as 50 people.

JB: You mentioned earlier something about Hadassah changing -- a social event that was changed from serving latkes to later on serving blintzes.

JG: That's correct. I think that was suggested by Ruth Goldberg, who's a very good cook! The idea being that we could make the blitzes ahead of time so we could have them frozen so that the day of the brunch you could be warming them up but not doing all of the preparatory work. It made it much easier. The brunch 11:00also became -- more and more people kept coming to it, so this became feasible. With the latke dinner we would never have been able to serve as many people.

JB: Can you describe a blintz for us?

JG: A blintz is primarily made from a very thin pancake, an egg pancake, which is then rolled around a filling which is made of -- well I tend to think of it as cottage, but it's really cream cheese and a dry cottage cheese, with usually some spicing to make it sweet. Cinnamon and that sort of thing.

JB: You mentioned a minute ago that more and more people began to come to this -- was it an annual affair?

JG: Yes, it was done annually. I don't know what the earlier ones were, I 12:00suspect just like a hundred, and now it's more like 500 people.

JB: Oh so it's open to the entire community?

JG: Oh yes, this is a fundraiser, and the entire Corvallis community is invited by means of ads and postcards to those they think are most interested.

JB: So these activities that we've talked about, the Sunday school increased as time went on and the blintz brunch sponsored by Hadassah became larger and larger . . . and I imagine from your description there were more services provided for both the children and adults as time went on. And I understand that in the early '70s there became a need recognized, I should say, for a building 13:00to house all of these various organizations under one, shall we say, umbrella.

JG: Well in a sense, yes, a building, but I think the first idea was to get an organization, which was broader than a woman's organization or a student organization or a Sunday school. One that would not be in competition with these but would rather help coordinate their activities and add to it. In fact it was a meeting of three couples, the Orzechs, the Philipps and the Gordons, on campus, OSU campus one day. At that particular time, Ze'ev was very involved in 14:00the Sunday school. I was principal of it, Lou, my husband was the Hillel counselor. I believe at that time Susie was teaching in the Sunday school (Mrs. Philipp), I'm not sure. . . anyway Kurt had been very involved in Hillel earlier (Mr. Philipp). So we got together and said that there was a need for an additional group that would involve the men as well as the women, and would have a broader community, respond to broader community needs. So from there we had an organizational meeting at the Philipps' and at that meeting, various committees were established, and a coordinating council which would be the chairmen of each of these committees. And it came eventually to be called Beit Am.

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JB: How were you involved in this besides what you have already said here?

JG: I think I was asked to chair that first organizational meeting, and went on to chair the coordinating committee meetings as well, and when we ended up having bylaws that were established and I was elected as one of the early board member, and then elected by the board to be the first president.

JB: Was the Jewish community polled, involved in making the decision whether or not to acquire a building?

JG: They were, after . . . I know we've had several polls once Beit Am was organized, and one of the purposes of that was eventually having a building, but 16:00in the early days, Beit Am ended up being, as I said -- well for instance the board contained seven elected members from Beit Am, plus three who were representatives from the then-active organizations: the Sunday school, Hillel and Hadassah. Hadassah was asking to be relieved of some of the things they'd been doing for the community -- they attempted a newsletter, they had the Seder at that time, and asked that Beit Am either take them over or co-sponsor things. So we've co-sponsored the Seder with them since then -- Beit Am has cosponsored the Seder with Hadassah since then. And they actually took over the newsletter, but Hadassah subsidizes it with a little bit of funds, because all of their news 17:00goes into Beit Am rather than putting out a separate newsletter. We've always attempted not to be in competition with each other but rather to help each other and coordinate our activities. We're just too small to do anything otherwise.

JB: So the transition was relatively smooth from separate entities into . . .

JG: Well these are still separate entities except for the Sunday school. Eventually the Sunday school simply became a part of Beit Am, and was, even from the beginning of Beit Am, was considered to be sponsored by Beit Am financially. When we started doing minimal dues, it was considered that the broader community would be responsible financially for providing a Sunday school for all Jewish children who wished to attend, much the same as in our broader community we have public schools and everybody pays for that, not just the parents. This is unusual in that most Jewish communities it is considered that the parents must 18:00pay for the Sunday school, and we feel the other way.

JB: I see. So Beit Am was the name selected for this organization that was incorporated, of which you became the first president. What is the translation of Beit Am?

JG: House of the people. This was a name selected by Ze'ev Orzech, who is our expert on the Hebrew language. The name itself is actually Beit Am Mid Willamette Jewish Community incorporated. I guess it has Center incorporated. Even early on we conceived of the idea that we wanted it to have a center, even though we felt early on we couldn't necessarily afford to get one.

JB: After the building was acquired, did religious services -- were they held regularly?

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JG: Before we had acquired the building, we had started having weekly -- I can't remember if it was weekly services or every other week -- but we were having at least monthly services by then. By then some of the m were in homes and some were at the Memorial Union. But when we got the building, we started having services every week and alternating between having a traditional, all in Hebrew, male minyan morning service on Shabbat, Saturday mornings, with a Friday service in the evenings. Sometimes there would be more services than that, but that was sort of minimal from then on. And we also decided to have a high holiday service.

JB: I understand that a monthly newsletter began to be published which has continued until the present day, by Beit Am that is. To whom was it sent?

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JG: It was sent to all members of Hadassah automatically, all those who were part of the Sunday school or Beit Am formally, and any other Jewish community names that we -- and Hillel, any names that Hillel submitted. And any additional Jewish community people that we could find. It was thought that that was one of the ways of publishing our events and encouraging people to take part in any one of the other organizations. And we still do that.

JB: Let's back up a little bit and talk about the dedication of this building, which was the culmination of much much work.

JG: The dedication itself? Paula Krane had a great deal to do . . . there was actually a committee of more than Paula, but Paula took a very active part in 21:00organizing that event, and it was very well done. It was conceived as -- one of the things at that point, although we'd called ourselves a center and not a synagogue up to that point, including getting the building, it was also realized that a lot of the interest in having a building and getting funds for it might be enhanced by emphasizing its synagogue function. And we were able to -- actually Kurt Philipp borrowed a Torah at that time, which he in fact had in his own home and we were having services in his own home. So the dedication involved -- I believe we had a rabbi here, and we made it a procession, carrying the Torah from the Philipps' home, which was fairly close, within four or five 22:00blocks of Beit Am, I don't know the exact number of blocks, and we had a formal procession of all our Jewish community walking with the Torah to Beit Am, and carrying the Torah and having some appropriate dedication things at that time.

JB: From your description so far, it seems that Beit Am has been a totally volunteer organization. Is this true?

JG: Not entirely. Initially the Sunday school was entirely volunteer. Any monies that were collected from, first the parents and later Beit Am, went to buying books and supplies for the Sunday school. However, in the nearly 10 years between the formation of Beit Am and getting a building, there came a period in which they decided that they would start paying the teachers a nominal amount. It's still not the normal amount that you would pay a professional for the kind 23:00of work they do. But they are paid nominally. Then the second thing was that a couple of years ago we had a part-time rabbi, who of course was paid. But other than that, all of the activities of Beit Am are conducted by the members on a volunteer basis, unpaid.

JB: How has having a home of its own affected Beit Am?

JG: I think it's been an extremely important thing. At the time we got the building, we had finally made a transition to having the Sunday school at the Westminster House, and mostly the services were at the Memorial Union. In both cases, this was not really entirely satisfactory, particularly around holiday time, particularly around Christmas, for instance, Westminster, by being a 24:00Christian organization, although being very welcoming to us, automatically had a Christmas tree up, and all sorts of things in the building. Not only that but we had to -- they let us do some storing -- early on I had to carry things in my car from my home, boxes of things for each class, boxes of books. We were allowed to store them there but it was still a matter of organizing the rooms, of hauling chairs around, a big box of books to each teacher, and into rooms that were not specifically for school. And at the Memorial Union we began to run into problems where we were in one room and right next door there might be a Jews for Jesus, well not quite that bad but maybe one of the fundamentalist Christian groups singing very loudly, with a lot more people than we were, their songs, as we were singing ours, and it was very disturbing. We needed a home 25:00where we did not have so much distraction.

JB: Have there been any major changes in the nature and operation of Beit Am since its early years, or rather since its incorporation?

JG: Well of course one major change is in obtaining the building and having its own building in 1982. But I think another major change is one in which the community went from thinking of itself as being a community center to being formally a synagogue, although we have not changed our name. This is historically very interesting, because when Sunday school started, and this was the early days -- I think of the community starting with Hadassah years ago -- the Sunday school people, there was a major argument, between, basically it was two families, one in which they didn't want the name of God, the word God, 26:00involved, and the other, the orthodox family, who felt that it was very important with Judaism, that this was what being Jewish was. And it was very interesting to try to keep this from splintering and keeping both people involved in the Sunday school. So in the early days of establishing Beit Am and the community center, it was established as wanting to house all of the activities of the Jewish community -- house and sponsor fundraising, fundraising for Israel, in terms of the United Jewish Appeal plus our local Beit Am needs, a Sunday school, a newsletter for everybody. We don't sponsor the student activities at OSU but we encourage them, they're part of Beit Am. Philanthropic, 27:00religious -- we do all of the religious things. But it turns out it was very -- once we had the building and the monies were a little differently organized -- in other words, before we got the building, the largest part of our funds was the fundraising.