Where is Prusice (formerly Prausnitz), Poland? When did the British withdraw from Palestine? Looking for a children’s book about Passover? Need help finding a long-lost ancestor? The answer to all these questions and many more can be found in the Neveh Shalom Feldstein Library, one of the best-kept secrets in Jewish Portland. Most of the larger synagogues in town have libraries, but Neveh Shalom’s is by far the biggest with some 10,000 items, including an extensive collection of children’s books.
This valuable resource is available for use by the entire community, and library staff are eager to help everyone who walks through the doors. Neveh Shalom’s library precedes the creation of Neveh Shalom itself; the library was part of Ahavai Sholom, which merged with Neveh Zedek in 1961 to
create a new congregation. Librarian Hilde Jacob remembers, “My predecessor
Becky Menashe ran the library at Ahavai Sholom, which was very small and used mainly by teachers preparing Sunday school classes. Becky supervised the library’s move to the then newly built Neveh Shalom building, and I came on board in the 1980s after Becky stepped down.” Libraries are Jacob’ second home; she has worked in several since her high school days, although her college degree is in chemistry. “I learned how to run a library by osmosis,” she jokes. Jacob shares library duties with Martha Decherd, chair of NS’s library committee. Three years ago, when Decherd retired from her job as librarian at David Douglas High School, Neveh’s executive director, Fred Rothstein, invited her to get involved with the synagogue library. “Since then, I’ve been the chair of the library committee and chief volunteer,” says Decherd, who supervises the automation of the library’s ever expanding catalog.
“Our collection has a depth that other libraries probably don’t, partly because it’s been around a long time and also because Hilde has worked hard to build it up.” The library’s catalog is available to browse online at library.nevehshalom.org, and Decherd updates it weekly. Jacob is particularly proud of the library’s children’s section. “We have the largest collection of children’s books for students use to understand the parsha of the week.” Neveh Shalom also houses the Jewish Genealogical Society of Oregon’s materials, which are available for everyone to use on site.
Members of Neveh Shalom and anyone taking a class sponsored by the synagogue can check out materials at no cost. Other Jewish institutions in Portland can purchase institutional memberships to Neveh’s library for $180, while individuals not otherwise affiliated with NS can pay a one-time-only fee of $36. “We hope the institutional membership will increase our visibility in the community,” says Decherd. Individuals can check out up to three items at a time, while families can borrow up to 10.
In addition to its children’s holdings, the library houses a broad collection of materials on just about everything all ages, from board books that young
kids chew on to books b’nai mitzvah Jewish, including current Jewish fiction, non-fiction and magazines; complete sets of Talmud, Torah and Bibles in English as well as Hebrew; travel books, a large Holocaust section; Jewish philosophy; history; how-to holiday books and cookbooks.
Neveh Shalom also owns a small but growing art and music collection. The library recently added a reading corner furnished with comfortable chairs
for people to sit and relax while they browse. “It’s a quiet space to lounge, work, study and do research,” says Decherd. “With the new furniture and
our wi-fi connection, parents have begun to use the library to relax and read while their children are in classes.” A small conference room, the Beit Midrash, can be reserved for meetings, classes and a variety of other purposes, Jacob adds. During the school year, the library is open Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays from 8:30 am to noon. The library is also open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 pm and Wednesdays from 4 to 8 pm. For summer hours call or visit nevehshalom.org.
“We are always open by arrangement,” says Jacob. “People can always call me to set up time for evening use or other times when the library
isn’t usually open.” Both Decherd and Jacob have longterm plans for increasing the library’s presence in Portland’s Jewish community. “We’d like to expand our children’s programming and reach out to teachers and parents with specific children’s activities, like storytelling and field trips,” says
Decherd. “School tours are open to all, and Hilde loves to show kids around the library.”
As a member of the Association for Jewish Libraries, the Neveh Shalom library has access to information and materials from Jewish libraries around the country. “We’d like to build new partnerships with other synagogues, Jewish institutions and libraries,” Decherd adds.