18 Sep Riding Bikes and Making New Friends
By Rachel Rothstein
Portland, Oregon reflects a growing Jewish community. When I moved to Portland as a child in 1983, there were 10,000 Jews. Many had been here for a long time, everyone knew everyone, and many people were related. Fast forward to 2014: the Jewish population is estimated to be around 40,000 people and growing every day. But, despite this tremendous growth, Portland Jews are not affiliating. Once upon a time, when you moved to a new city, you would reach out to the synagogue or the JCC or Federation to connect with the community. Nowadays, you are more likely to hop onto Facebook and say, “Hey, I’m moving to X city. What area should I live in? What’s good there?” As a result, people act more passively about integrating into Jewish society. They don’t connect as quickly and are thus more likely to fall into inactivity and disengagement.
GrapeVine launched in Portland in November 2013. Since then, 30 organizations have partnered with us to bring updates, recommendations, ideas, and activities to the city’s Jewish population. Our email goes out to nearly 13,000 people per week. But now that we’ve connected with affiliated Portland, we want to go after those who are not affiliated. How do we find these unaffiliated Jews, especially those who have never heard from us?
We have learned that community (non-Jewish) events are one of the best ways to connect. For the last few years, Portland has offered a unique summer event called Portland Parkways. From May to September, Parkways picks a different area of the city in which to set up 5-8 mile bike loops. Interspersed along these routes, stationed near parks, vendors can set up their booths. Just this past July, GrapeVine participated in our first Parkways in Northeast Portland.
At the June Parkways, 31,000 people cycled; the July bike ride was no exception. From 11:00 am until 4:00 pm people streamed through the northeast part of the city. We were situated on a beautiful tree lined street and saw many familiar faces bike by, happy to see us. One of the best parts of our day, though, was seeing the surprise and elation on the faces of people who, by seeing our station, learned that there was a strong Jewish presence in Portland. When we shared that technology existed to connect them to programming across the entire Jewish community, it was just the icing on the cake.
We will be attending two more Community Parkways as well as two other street fairs between now and October, with the intention of reaching out to those in our community who may not feel connected. Events of this kind, non-Jewish but with many Jewish participants, are great opportunities to spread the word about GrapeVine to the many people who are so excited to know what they’ve been missing.