The Jewish Frontier examines the history of the Jewish people who helped build the American West. They were some of the earliest settlers, arriving with the Gold Rush and staying to create the businesses and communities that formed the state.

Portland Dairy Peddler

Portland Dairy Peddler

Photo Courtesy of The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

In Europe, Russia, and elsewhere, Jews faced a long history of persecution. But in the unsettled American frontier they could create their own destinies. Arriving as merchants, they were welcomed for the much needed goods and services they provided to the growing towns.

They ranged from junk peddlers in Portland’s immigrant community, to entrepreneurs who built multi-million dollar businesses. Aaron Meier opened his first Portland store in 1857 and went on to operate Meier & Frank, one of the nation’s largest department stores.

Images of Meier and Frank through the years.
Image Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society #BA018132

Bernard Goldsmith was a mediator between the military and Native Americans, and became Portland’s first Jewish mayor.

Sigmund Heilner followed gold miners to Southern and Eastern Oregon where he established one of the region’s longest operating businesses.

Neuberger & Heilner Department Store

Neuberger & Heilner Department Store

Photo Courtesy of the Baker County Library 

Those earliest Jewish arrivals shed many traditional values, sometimes placing them at odds with each other. In one instance, an argument over religious practice led to a rabbi shooting at someone in the street.

Near Roseburg, a Jewish farming commune gave equal rights to men and women, long before most of society did.

In South Portland, Orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe and Russia settled into an immigrant neighborhood.

From its streets, newsboys hawked papers in front of speakeasies and junk peddlers sold their wares. 

Mel Blanc "Man of a Thousand Voices"

Mel Blanc “Man of a Thousand Voices”

Photo Courtesy of The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

It was the early home of the “Man of a Thousand Voices” Mel Blanc, Trail Blazers founder Harry Glickman and internationally renowned painter Mark Rothko, as well as a few criminals.

Despite the differences, the shared Jewish identity brought the communities together and helped reshape Jewish culture.

Through Urban Renewal that displaced homes and synagogues, to the devastating aftermath of the Holocaust, Oregon’s Jews have continually found new ways to honor the past and set the foundation for a future, while at the same time redefining what it means to be Jewish in the American West.   

Using rare historical photos, film, and more than two dozen interviews with people all over the state, The Jewish Frontier tells the story of pioneering Jews who helped shape Oregon.

What does it mean to be Jewish?

People throughout Oregon’s Jewish community give different answers to the question “What does it mean to be Jewish?”.


Pete Asch, Former Archivist, Oregon Jewish Museum
and Center for Holocaust Education
Noel Blanc, Voice Artist & Mel Blanc’s Son
Carol Chestler, Volunteer, Oregon Jewish Museum
and Center for Holocaust Education
Joshua Boettiger, Rabbi, Temple Emek Shalom, Ashland
Gary Dielman, Baker County Local Historian
Ellen Eisenberg, Professor of History, Willamette University
Daniel Eliezer Froehlich, Jewish Genealogist
Gerry Frank, Meier & Frank
Boaz Frankel, Peddle Powered Talk Show
Rosalie Goodman, Volunteer, Oregon Jewish Museum
and Center for Holocaust Education
Harry Glickman, Founder, Portland Trail Blazers
Miriam Greenstein, Holocaust Survivor
Bruce Guenther, Retired Curator of Modern Art,
Portland Art Museum
Judith Havas, Temple Administrator, Temple Beth Sholom, Salem
Michael Kaplan, Rabbi, Congregation Ahavath Achim
Jeff Levin, Jacksonville Local Historian
Eve Levy, Portland Kollel
Richard Matza, Sephardic Jewish Heritage
Albert Menashe, Sephardic Jewish Heritage
Chayim Mishulovin, Rabbi, Chabad Lubavitch of Oregon
Bruce Morris, Hazzan, P’nai Or of Portland
Joshua Rose, Rabbi, Congregation Shaarie Torah, Portland
Dirk Siedlecki, President, Friends of Jacksonville’s
Historic Cemetery
Barbara Sidway, Owner, Geiser Grand Hotel
Joshua Stampfer, Congregation Neveh Shalom, Rabbi Emeritus
Robert Stein, Ahavas Torah, Eugene
George Tanner, Ahavas Torah, Eugene
Judy Tanner, Ahavas Torah, Eugene
Menachem Taiblum, Holocaust Survivor
Sharon Tarlow, Volunteer, Oregon Jewish Museum
and Center for Holocaust Education
William Toll, Historian and Author
Shlomo Truzman, Rabbi, Congregation Beit Yosef  
Johan Visser, Jewish Section, Friends of Jacksonville’s
Historic Cemetery
Steven Wasserstrom, Professor of Jewish and Religious Studies, Reed College
David Zaslow, Rabbi, Havurah Shir Hadash, Ashland


Embracing a Western Identity: Jewish Oregonians
1849 – 1950
Eisenberg, Ellen

Jews of the Pacific Coast

Eisenberg, Ellen; Kahn, Ava; Toll, William

Promoter Ain’t a Dirty Word
Glickman, Harry

In the Shadow of Death

Greenstein, Miriam Kominkowska

Jewish Life in the American West
Kahn, Ava

The Jews of Oregon 1850 – 1950
Lowenstein, Steven

Vida Sefaradi: A Century of Sephardic Life in Portland
Oregon Jewish Museum

Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West
Rochlin, Harriet and Fred

With G-D at My Side: A Child’s Story of Survival
Taiblum, Menachem

The Making of the Ethnic Middle Class: Portland Jewry Over Four Generations
Toll, William