PHOTO: Lauren Goldstein. Photo by Kitta Bodmer Photography.
BY DEBORAH MOON
Lauren Goldstein had an agenda to bring Jewish Portlanders together when she became board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland in June 2019.
With her rallying cry of “When we come together as a community, great things happen,” she hoped to unite the community with in-person gatherings throughout Federation’s centennial year. Inspired by JFGP President and CEO Marc Blattner’s vision of an inclusive and integrated Jewish community in Portland, Goldstein says, “I wanted to help lead toward that vision … of what Portland could be in the future.”
Then Covid changed the world in March 2020, and the JFGP community trip to Israel that month was abruptly put on hold. (It has been rescheduled for March 2023.) Many other programs and ideas also fell by the wayside.
“She was able to quickly adapt and not lose momentum,” says Ed Tonkin, who was Lauren’s predecessor as board chair. “This was a major hurdle, and she was able to keep things going. To be effective under those circumstances shows exceptional leadership. … She was the right person at the right time.”
Goldstein adopted a new motto – pivot.
“She had the opportunity to lead this community through the pandemic,” says Blattner. “She helped us create the Covid Relief Fund, which raised over $900,000 between Federation and Oregon Jewish Community Foundation.”
Goldstein is proud of how the community came together during Covid. “We had no choice in this desperate moment but to say how do we come together as a community and make something great.”
“A week into Covid reality, we convened a task force, spearheaded by Marc, that touched all of our agencies and synagogues to think about how to fundraise and how to deploy the funds … to support a community in crisis,” she says, getting a bit emotional. “It was a beautiful act. … this was the most amazing effort I’ve ever seen our community accomplish. We put down our barriers and solved our problem together.”
Goldstein is also proud of how Federation helped the community find new ways to connect on Zoom and other creative approaches. A Unity Shabbat candlelighting on Zoom April 17 drew more than 1,200 people. That warmth and community connection inspired Federation to host a series of virtual Unity Shabbats. Federation also sponsored a “Weekly Wednesday” series with Jewish leaders around the world and a series of holiday cooking classes with famed Chef Michael Solomonov on Zoom.
“We found new ways to connect,” she says of the Unity Shabbat and other online programs. “We needed a little something; it gave us a sense of foundation … seeing people in our community, their faces on our computer screen.”
Goldstein’s best friend, Lee Lazarus, says Goldstein’s superpower is her ability to connect people. “She is able to take all the great intelligence and ideas people have and then supercharge that to the community.”
Lazarus sits on the board of B’nai B’rith Camp and co-manages The Presentation Company. She says the two friends share an entrepreneurial mindset and commitment to community.
“Lauren has great storytelling skills and is able to get people to lean in,” says Lazarus.
“She is a great partner with Marc (Blattner); Marc has a lot of vision,” she adds. “She told me Marc tapped into a side of her she had never tapped into before.”
Blattner says Goldstein has been extremely creative in finding solutions.
“Lauren is an enthusiastic, motivational, optimistic people person,” he says, adding she is a great leader. “She is strong in her views, open to hearing new ideas and has the ability to be creative in how to find solutions. She does everything with a huge smile, and she is willing to make tough decisions.”
Those traits have been part of Goldstein’s personality since she was very small says her mother, Susan Shleifer.
“She was always an involved, motivated young woman,” says Shleifer. “It was there from the very beginning.”
Goldstein credits her family for setting good examples of strength, tzedakah and giving back.
“I come from a family of strong women,” Goldstein says. “There were no wallflowers in the Shleifer or May families.”
Growing up in Portland with a small Jewish population, Goldstein says she focused on leadership in school. At Tufts University, which she says was nearly one-third Jewish, she became very involved in Hillel, and then spent a semester abroad at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,.
Goldstein says she realized, “This is what a vibrant Jewish community looks like.”
When she returned to Portland in 1998, she felt inspired to get involved in Jewish community building. She joined other young adults for Shabbat and Hanukkah parties.
“I saw the power of bringing Jewish community together,” she says, adding a lot of young couples were formed at those gatherings including Goldstein and her husband, Mark. “A lot of joy comes from creating vibrancy in Jewish community.”
She became involved in Federation because, “I like the reach Federation has across the community. Federation has an impact on so many parts of the Jewish community.”
Serving on the Federation board, she was impressed by how Tonkin chaired the board.
“Ed is really good at really understanding the voice of the ‘customer,’” Goldstein says. “He spent a lot of time talking to agency leaders and community members. He did a good job listening and that is where innovation comes from. We got to put that to use during Covid in a ‘Zoomified’ way.”
During her term, Goldstein says she focused on “What’s our highest best?” She adds, “The highest best of our organization is when we are convening our community.”
Goldstein hopes her successor as board chair, Mindy Zeitzer, will continue that tradition of listening to the community.
“She will get a head start with the community study we are doing – that will be huge,” says Goldstein. Pushing for the community study, which will begin in the fall, is another effort she is very proud of. “It will be a lot of voices heard.”
Mark says his wife put in a lot of hard work to help Federation achieve “it highest best,” but “she did it with passion and enthusiasm that makes it look seamless.”
He adds, “People like to rally around someone who brings positive energy to the table, and Lauren is able to do that in spades.”
The couple have two sons, 15-year-old Jack and 12-year-old Evan. Jack says his mom loves to help the community.
“She is very selfless when it comes to helping others,” he says, adding he doesn’t regret the time he has sacrificed with his mom over the past three years. “I am willing to give up (the time) because it is for the community I am also part of, it is helping my future.”