When Portlanders enjoy hearing journalist E.J. Dionne at Congregation Beth Israel on May 5, they may recall other speakers in the annual Oseran Family Lecture series. The syndicated Washington Post columnist and National Book Award nominee follows greats including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon and national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg.
Less well known are the reasons behind the endowment fund that makes these community events possible. In 2008 Henry and Nancy Oseran saw an opportunity, found a way and made it happen.
“My parents were inspired to create this fund after attending an event at Beth Israel several years ago where Nicholas Kristof spoke to a packed house about the humanitarian crisis in darfur,” their son, Dan Oseran, wrote in an email from Europe where he is vacationing with his wife tracy. “With this fund they hope to sponsor individuals who can speak to topical cultural and political issues and attract a broad audience, both Jewish and non-Jewish,” added Dan, a former CBI board member.
Cultural and political issues have always interested Dan’s parents, along with synagogue affairs. nancy, a native Portlander, first came to Congregation Beth Israel as a 5-year-old in Sunday school class. “We have always been aware and proud of [Congregation Beth Israel’s] history and interest in public issues,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “We heard discussions on many topics of Jewish and general public concern, and we felt that bringing national voices with experience and background on these topics to our pulpit would continue this tradition and benefit our congregation and community at large.”
Married for 65 years, both she and her husband, Henry, emphasize the importance of presenting different points of view. “We’d like people to be interested and make their own decision,” henry said. “they might not agree with the presenter, or they might.” Both are enthusiastic about this year’s lecturer and hope E.J. Dionne’s talk on “Personal Faith and Public Policy” will stimulate discussion.
Congregation Beth Israel executive director Sydney Baer agrees: “Most important, (the Oseran Family endowment Fund) is their gift to the community.” She met the Oserans as a newcomer to Portland 36 years ago. “I’m impressed with their commitment to the community. They are doers, givers; they are the most generous, warm, kind human beings. (the lectures) are an opportunity to bring a politically significant social justice speaker to Congregation Beth Israel and give the community a chance to learn together.”
“Reform Judaism takes social justice issues seriously,” Sydney continued. “Many people say we’re a religion of deeds not creeds. the significance of the Oseran lecture is that we have someone who can shine the light on a social justice cause, and hopefully inspire us to tikkun olam, make the world a better place.”
2013 Oseran Family Lecture
What: E.J. Dionne will speak on “Personal Faith and Public Policy”
When: Sunday, May 5, at 5 pm
Where: Congregation Beth Israel Sanctuary, 1972 NW Flanders St., Portland
Details: all welcome | no charge | no RSVP