Founded in 1914, the Mittleman Jewish Community Center began its life as the B’nai B’rith Building on SW 13th Avenue and Mill Street, quickly becoming the hub of Jewish living for Portland’s growing Jewish population. From its beginning, the Center has always served all families without regard to religion, background or ability to pay.
For many local families, the JCC has been a tradition for generations. Many recall learning to swim from the legendary Mickey Hirschberg (who taught swim lessons for 49 years), or playing basketball with Harry “Polly” Policar (who spent 45 years at the Center). More than one family can trace their roots to the Center since many married couples tell stories of meeting at the Center.
In 1971, the Center moved to its current location on SW Capitol Highway and has expanded immensely over the years. During this period, before they had their own facility, the Portland Trailblazers held their practices in the MJCC gymnasium. The building’s name was changed to the Mittleman Jewish Community Center in 1976 to honor Helen Rena Mittleman following a significant donation from member Harry Mittleman. In 1987 and in 1996, wings were added to accommodate Portland Jewish Academy. In 2003, the Sportsplex was created for indoor soccer and gymnastics.
In 2004, the Center faced a challenging period. Due to the commitment of Jordan Schnitzer and the emergency board he led, the MJCC embarked on a major capital campaign to renovate the building and thrive in a new era. The MJCC’s subsequent capital campaign—Roots & Rafters—has enabled the Center to make much-needed upgrades to the aging building, while providing an endowment to address future capital needs.
Thanks to these major facility improvements, the MJCC is now a thriving community center, with over 1,640 member units, representing more than 3,615 individuals. Several monumental events and activities take place at the J including Israeli Independence Day celebrations, Purim carnivals, Jewish Community Orchestra concerts, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, quinceañeras and more. The Center welcomes people of all faiths and backgrounds for cultural events, sports classes and leagues, a state-of-the-art fitness facility, afterschool activities for kids and drop-in childcare. Over 1,000 people come through the doors daily.
Summer is a particularly busy time on campus when MJCC summer day camp—one of the oldest camping traditions in Portland—is in session, offering full-day coverage to working families with a variety of options including arts and crafts, swimming, sports, theater, cooking, and more. Since 1947, kids love their summers at the J and return year after year.
For over a century, the MJCC has served as the living room for the Jewish community as well as Southwest Portland. With your help, the MJCC will continue to meet the needs of our community for generations to come.
MJCC Historical Timeline
1914: The B’nai B’rith Building Association was founded on SW 13th
Avenue and Mill Street
1921: The Center’s Camping program began (B’nai B’rith Camp)
1923: The name changed to B’nai B’rith Center
1924: Mickey Hirschberg joined the staff developing an award-winning
swimming/water therapy program
1938: The name changed to Jewish Community Center
1947: Preschool opened and day camp program started
1954: Celia Lesman served as the Center’s first female board president
1971: Jewish Community Center moved to 6651 SW Capitol Hwy. and
was later renamed the Mittleman Jewish Community Center
1978: Harry “Polly” Policar retired after working at the JCC for 45 years
1986: Hillel Academy merged with the Jewish Education Association
and became Portland Jewish Academy (PJA). PJA occupies the
Min Zidell Education Building on the MJCC Campus
1996: The Marian Abrams Children’s Wing opened
2003: The Sportsplex opened on the MJCC campus
2005: The MJCC underwent a major renovation
2007: The property was renamed the The Schnitzer Family Campus
2014: The MJCC celebrated its 100th Anniversary