Charles R. Schiffman, 67, retired in 2010 after 23 years as the head of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland. From 1983 to 1987 the Schiffmans lived in Israel, where Charlie has since returned more than 40 times. This summer Charlie and his wife, Marsha, will return to live in the land they love.
WHY ARE YOU MOVING TO ISRAEL NOW?
I am retired. I had my shot at doing what I could in an American community. I love Israel. I think it is the most dramatic, romantic and incredible place in the world. I want to be there. My parents, who live there, are getting older; my sister, my married niece and nephew live there. Our daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons, who live in L.A., visit there frequently.
WHAT WILL YOU DO IN ISRAEL?
I am not quite sure. I have a weekly radio show in Portland, The Teacher and the Preacher, and it is possible I can be some kind of Israeli radio correspondent. Also, I would like to do something having to do with American tourism in Israel, where I can use my knowledge of American society, Israeli society and Jewish history and pull it all together for people who come to visit and make their trip better.
CAN YOU REFLECT ON YOUR 23 YEARS AT THE HELM OF THE JEWISH FEDERATION?
Well, it has been a great run. I enjoyed the community; I enjoyed the federation and the people associated with the federation. They are very dedicated and lovely people. I have learned from it, enjoyed it and I was honored to be in the position.
WHAT ABOUT THE PORTLAND JEWISH EXPERIENCE?
I think that Portland has its pluses and minuses. It is a wonderful, beautiful community in America. The people are very nice. But on the other hand, it is pretty well-known that the Northwest is a place where, in many cases, you have Jews from the Northeast or the Los Angeles area who come here to hide. They don’t necessarily want to be affiliated. We now know, due to the recent demographic study, we have a relatively low rate of affiliation. People come here not necessarily to find a place to settle in “Jewishly” – and that is one of the challenges of the community.
WHAT WILL YOU MISS?
I will miss the people. I will miss this gorgeous city. I will miss the Columbia River Gorge, the coast, the beauty of Portland itself and the ease of getting around. On the other hand, Jerusalem is not that difficult to get around because it has mass transit and light rail. In fact, the light rail starts near my apartment and goes right downtown.
WHO INFLUENCES CHARLIE?
My wife, the teachings of the Jewish people and the Jewish faith.
I have dedicated the last 50 years to studying the Bible. The five books of Moses, and then its explanations throughout the Jewish literature and the Talmud, those are very important to me. One of the most staggering books I have read, staggering both because it’s about 1,200 pages and because it is so incred- ibly prophetic, is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I don’t know if it is influential or not because I don’t know how many people pay attention to it. But I do know it is certainly one of the most prophetic books that has ever been written. It describes exactly what is happening in the United States today.
SPECIAL MOMENTS IN PORTLAND?
Our daughter Nili’s marriage to Ethan Isenberg, which took place in Portland. The incredible party the federation gave me on my 18th anniversary as director; they even flew in my parents from Israel to be here.
ON BEING A GRANDPA?
It is an amazing feeling. You are passing on everything to the next generation. It is very beautiful. We are blessed with two adorable grandsons. Aminadav Shalom, we call him Ami, is almost 3. His name means my people are a special treasure. We call our recently born grandson Eli. Elyasaf Asher means G-d will increase happiness.