A 20th anniversary deserves a celebration, and Jane Goldhamer is doing it right. As a founding member of Kol Shalom, she’s planning the party to coincide with this year’s J-West Conference for Cultural, Humanistic and Secular Judaism (j- west.net), which will be held in Portland Aug. 30 through Sept. 1. Hoping to attract supporters throughout the western states and Canada, she’s taken the lead as program chair. The theme, “Then, Now and Tomorrow,” means lining up speakers that understand the range of Jewish experience. But meanwhile Jane is lining up changes in her own life.
“If you set out to do something, you want to see it succeed,” she says reflecting on the years since she and her late husband Mike founded Kol Shalom in their living room. “In a way, it’s like giving birth. You have to nurture, and then you have to know how to let go. Aside from this conference, I’m stepping back. I have other things to take care of.” Jane has always taken care of business, starting with a degree in psychology and sociology from Wichita State and a master’s from Trinity University. Growing up in a nonreligious household in Salina, KS, she converted to Judaism as a young woman. After marrying a military man, she and the three children followed him around the country until he left the United States Air Force, and they landed in Portland. When she attended a Humanistic Judaism conference in California, attendees urged her to start a Portland chapter. Why not, she thought. And, she and Mike had the perfect house.
“It was built by Philip and Pearl Polsky, and they were members of Beth Israel,” Jane says about her circa-1933 5,900-square-foot Beaverton home. “He had been a bootlegger, and when Prohibition ended, he bought the Star Brewery in Portland. Pearl played organ in theaters, and there’s a room in the basement for the pipe organ machinery.” The organ keyboard was in the huge living room, which hosted Kol Shalom services from 1992 through 2000. “Everything was here except for the seders and High Holidays,” Jane says. Shabbat, board meetings, Sunday school, Purim parties, even Yiddish lessons happened in the Goldhamer’s home.
Despite founding a religious organization, Jane is un- comfortable with the term ‘leader.’ “I would rather think of myself as a facilitator, the person who keeps things from going through the cracks,” she says. By any name, hundreds of people have appreciated her efforts as demonstrated by her 2008 Sherwin T. Wine Lifetime Achievement Award exemplifying “extraordinary dedication to Humanistic Judaism.”
Still, at this point Jane feels ready to concentrate on other passions like organizing boxes of genealogical treasures, from her great-grandfather’s civil war diary to newspaper clippings from the 1800s. The magnificent dollhouse she bought half finished in the 1990s has been great fun to decorate.
“I decided the doll house would be the era of my birth – so it’s 1929,” she says. “It has a high oven, gas stove, and kelvinator refrigerator. The little telephone has a receiver on the hook. It’s amazing what you can find in miniature shows and shops.” Jane is philosophical regarding aging. “I realize that I’m all of the ages I’ve ever been,” she says. “It’s like those Russian matryoshka (nesting) dolls. All of the ages are still there, and you can access them. I know how it is to be 11 and 16. That’s still a part of me. Without the religious overtones, the Serenity Prayer has always resonated. I’m a self-sufficient person, and I deal with things the best I can.”
Polina Olsen is a Portland freelance writer and author.