In 1990, Gesher—A Bridge Home was established in Portland, Oregon, as a model of outreach to unaffiliated Jews and intermarried families. Gesher is an immersive Jewish home that takes “Jews without memory” and “Jews on the move” and engages them in a relationship with Jewish living and learning that leads into affiliation with the Jewish community. Gesher has welcomed over 8000 different individuals to its Shabbat and Holiday dinner programs. It shares with them the warmth and connection of Jewish home life and imparts a deep sense of belonging to the Jewish people.
Gesher’s program has received national acclaim for its ability to reach large numbers of unaffiliated Jews, imparting the greatest sense of welcome, inspiring the most change in home celebration of Jewish life, and impacting connections with the Jewish community. Gesher’s success stories include disconnected Jews who have crossed the bridge into the life of the Jewish community in Portland to become members of synagogues and the Jewish community center and parents who send their children to day school. Gesher alumni have become chairs of Super Sunday campaigns, president of community day school board, presidents of synagogues, and board members of every agency of the Federation and synagogue in Portland.
In 1997, Gesher received a grant from the Jewish Connection Partnership under Dr. Egon Mayer’s z”l direction. A study of Gesher’s participants found that 98.5% feel welcome at Gesher. 66% said that it had a meaningful impact on their own Jewish home life. Many have crossed this bridge to become active participants in all walks of Jewish communal involvement, from liberal to orthodox synagogues, from Federation leadership to synagogue and day school leadership.
The role that Gesher plays in the Portland Jewish community is a unique, but replicable role that has helped transform the Jewish community’s attitude and approach to unaffiliated Jews, and its success in building relationships with disconnected, previously unreachable unaffiliated Jews.