East Multnomah County is one of the most diverse areas in Oregon, but Jewish residents who want to attend Jewish cultural events or religious services have always had to drive to Portland — until now. A young rabbi and his wife are meeting with Jewish folks in East County and they plan to organize activities and gatherings for Jewish people.
"It's been great. We've had many, many positive responses," Rabbi Avrohom Moshe Dyce said of their initial outreach to Jewish people in the Gresham area via social media and word of mouth.
Rabbi Dyce and his wife, Cheina, are hoping to arrange lectures, programs for Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), events and holiday celebrations such as Purim or Hanukkah parties.
"Many thought they were the only Jews in the area, but it seems that there is a need for some Jewish programming," Rabbi Dyce said. Of the 40,650 Jewish people in Oregon, Dyce estimates hundreds might live in East County.
Gresham resident Cindy Weeg's 21-year-old daughter saw one of the Dyce's posts on social media and they connected.
"There are more and more Jewish people on the east side of town," Weeg said. "It's nice — who wants to schlep all the way to the west side" to attend events, she added.
The Weegs have found a synagogue on the east side of Portland that they sometimes attend, but it is still some distance from their home.
The 29-year old rabbi and his wife have met with more than two dozen contacts already, chatting about East County's needs and interests, delivering home-baked challah bread, Jewish calendars and helping to install mezuzahs, a sign of Jewish faith on the doorway to a home.
The Weegs were appreciative of the mezuzah the rabbi helped put up and the Jewish calendar the couple gave her.
"It was a really nice visit," she said, adding that she's looking forward to getting to know other East County Jews and participating in some activities once the coronavirus passes and it is safe.
Cheina Dyce said with Hanukka coming up, "We'll be giving out individual menorah kits to bring the feeling of Hanukkah to people." Hanukkah starts Thursday, Dec. 10, and the iconic menorah candelabra is a symbol of the holiday. Jewish belief says the eight candles represent the miracle of a one-day supply of lamp oil lasting eight nights during a conflict attempting to supress Judiasm.
Rabbi Dyce admits that this is a difficult time to begin an effort like this due to the coronavirus. Although they take appropriate precautions if they visit with a family, the pandemic prevents the couple from launching any community gatherings.
"We're limited in what we can do because of corona," said Cheina. She has held two online classes geared toward women to give them more information on Jewish topics without in-person get togethers.
"It would be nice to have gatherings," Rabbi Dyce added.
Rabbi Dyce was born in Jerusalem, but grew up in Sydney, Australia. He lived in Brooklyn, N.Y. prior to moving to Portland. In New York, he attended rabbinical school and worked on an oral history project on Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th Century. Schneerson was the inspiration for Dyce to come to Oregon to work in an area that lacks programming for Jewish people.
Dyce met his wife, Cheina, in Brooklyn and they were married in her hometown of London, UK only 18 months ago. They have an infant daughter, Mushka.
For his day job, Dyce teaches at an online Jewish academy, which serves many children who don't live near a Jewish school.
Dyce is part of the Chabad movement, an organization of Orthodox Jews known for its outreach activities. Dyce emphasizes that he wants to include all Jews in East County in his efforts, whether or not they are Orthodox.
"We seek to help every single Jew, regardless of affiliation, age or prior Jewish experience, explore and discover the beauty of our Jewish heritage. Our services provide a warm, accepting, and non-judgmental environment for both individuals and families looking for meaningful, relevant, soulful and joyful Judaism," he said.
Posts on social media have brought out not only East County Jews looking to connect, but non-Jewish well-wishers too. "Not Jewish, but warms my heart," said one post.
Dyce said he was heartened by "the many kind messages that we received from so many Gresham residents, who are not Jewish, who wanted to tell us how they are excited about our activities and welcome diversity."
Said Cheina: "We find this is a privilege to be able to connect with Jewish people in Gresham and help" foster their faith and Jewish heritage.
Rabbi Avrohom Moshe Dyce and his wife Cheina are eager to connect with Jewish folks in the Gresham area who would like to know more about their religion, outreach efforts and plans. They are hoping to link up with Jews, no matter their affiliation.
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