By Gene Freund, Rose Schnitzer Manor resident
There was still daylight left when the residents of the Rose Schnitzer assisted living center left the auditorium. They had been treated to a May Day performance, including a double encore, by the Portland Girls Symphonic Choir.
Some zipped off to see the rest of Jeopardy or catch that important game on the sports channel. Others ambled off to their apartments and the comfort of a favorite chair.
But a small group of elderly women remained in place, some with eyes closed, others smiling, remembering when they too had the voices of youth. On this evening I think they saw themselves in that choir of high school girls.
Like hot water releasing the flavor of coffee, those teenage choral voices brought back a flood of memories: a first kiss, holding hands, young love and courtship. These women left the concert hall with some regret that it had all ended much too soon.
They regrouped in the vestibule outside the auditorium. Each maneuvered her wheelchair or placed a chair so they were sitting in a circle. They looked as if they were around an imaginary campfire. Then following the hands of some invisible conductor, they began to sing. They were now sisters in a choir of their own making mouthing words of love. Some sang in English tinged with Polish and German accents. The oldest woman was over 100; she had come from Poland. Two others in their 90s had escaped from Germany. The seven voices soared.
The lead singer, in her early 80s remembered Broadway show tune lyrics from South Pacific or West Side Story. Once the Broadway love songs were exhausted, the voices moved to old German, Polish, Spanish and French songs of love.
I watched the faces of these women and something had changed. They were teenage girls again. On that evening these women had been transported to another time and place.
This was not a rehearsed formal show. The chorus had occurred spontaneously and there was a spiritual quality to the event. I was emotionally moved by this impromptu choir and felt fortunate to have been a witness to the power of the human voice and song.

Add this book to your summer reading list Portland! The fourth Portland Jewish Book Month celebration of “One Book, One Community” will center around In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, by Ruchama Feuerman during a month of programs in November. More than 10 congregations and organizations are planning November events focused on the selected book. A complete list of events will be available in the fall. Dara Horn says of the book “A beautiful novel that coils the history and mystery of Jerusalem into a private and vivid tale of personal dignity, ownership, love – and the overlap of all three, the space we call the soul.”
Less than 300 pages, emotional buildup to an unusual story of searching for the truth, whatever it might be. Author will be presenting her ideas about the book either in person or via interactive connection (on computer).
In addition, PJBM will be co-sponsoring an event with the Jewish Genealogical Society on Nov. 9 featuring David Laskin, author of The Family – Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century. Goodreads says ”With cinematic power and beauty, bestselling author David Laskin limns his own genealogy to tell the spellbinding tale of the three drastically different paths that his family members took across the span of 150 years.” This book reads like a fiction book you can’t put down. Whether we follow those family members who stay behind in Russia, move to Palestine, or emigrate to the United States, we find ourselves living their experiences. This is a longer book, but also a great summer read.
Both books are available at Annie Bloom’s.

Oregon Jewish Museum and the Mittleman Jewish Community Center invite designers, artists and makers of all backgrounds to propose contemporary responses to the traditional challenges of sukkah design. June 20 is the preliminary registration deadline for SukkahPDX 2014, with designs due July 14. Winners will be notified Aug. 1. A sukkah is a temporary dwelling erected in observance of the harvest holiday of Sukkot.
The sukkah poses ancient questions of protection, enclosure, transience, displacement and domestic space that remain highly relevant in 21st century art, craft and design. Awardees of this juried competition will receive a supply budget of $400 to create and install their proposed sukkah on the grounds of OJM or MJCC in Portland. This deliberately modest budget is intended to promote thoughtful engagement with the ephemeral nature of the sukkah, and to encourage careful consideration of material consumption. Proposals that employ recycled, salvaged or sustainable materials are encouraged.
All proposals should include a plan for the continued use of the sukkah or its component materials beyond the exhibition period. A collection of up to nine winning sukkahs will remain on display throughout the holiday of Sukkot Oct. 9-16. For more information, contact the museum at info@ojm.org or 503-226-3600.

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