Rabbi Jonah B Wise often referred to as Dr. Jonah B Wise in the local papers, was a key early supporter and member of the leadership team that raised private funds and assisted in the building of Eastmoreland Municipal Links. Rabbi Wise was specially suited for this role as prominent leader of the local Jewish Community. Born in Cincinnati in 1881 the son of Rabbi Isaac Wise, an early leader of the Jewish Reform Movement (liberal) and founder of Hebrew Union College. Rabbi Wise followed in his father's footsteps and was ordained in 1903 before moving to Portland to lead Congregation Beth Israel, Portland’s oldest and most prestigious synagogue, from 1907 to 1926. Rabbi Jonah Wise adhered to the Reform movement's emphasis on the compatibility of Judaism with modern life, including many traditional practices like strict observance of the sabbath. See Oregon Encyclopedia Jonah B Wise (1885-1959)
In my research I found just the most perfect example of his devotion to his congregation and to.... golf:
Bernice Feldman (1896-1985)
Yup, he's a golfer alright. If I had a moment with Bernice, I would suggest that his golf game is evidence of religious devotion. After all what greater test of faith then lining up a 20 foot putt to save par, with four foot of break. It's only by the divine providence that such a putt should ever find the cup. When they did, I'm sure the playing partners of Rabbi wise chalked up those putts to his close relationship with God.
He would wear his golf clothes under his robe because [after service] he was going to leave for a golf game
Rabbi Jonah Wise was an original founding member of Tualatin Country Club. As often described in the Oregon Jewish Museum oral histories, the golf club along with other downtown social clubs, like the Concordia Club, were created out of the necessity that Jewish people in the community were often excluded from the other golf clubs. At the time, there was only one golf club in Portland across the river, so their loss was the city's gain as motivated prominent Jewish members built a new golf course with open membership. Interestingly the Tualatin founders almost purchased the land at the future site of Portland Golf Club. They chose Tualatin, even though it was further out, because there was a rail line from downtown to Tualatin. Remember this is in 1912, so no one really owned automobiles for everyday transportation. See Oregon Jewish History - David Finkelstein (1895-1979)
Rabbi Jonah Wise would have certainly been open to the early efforts by T. Morris Dunne, who lead the efforts to install playgrounds and promoted the benefits of recreation. By joining the Eastmoreland leadership team gave the three private clubs an opportunity to do community work together, despite their past differences. After all all the members were very active members of the business community and certainly were involved in many levels of the city affairs.
Rabbi Jonah Wise was prominent figure at the official grand opening of Eastmoreland Golf Course on June 16, 1918. The above photo shows him along side (Left to Right) T. Morris Dunne (committee member), Paul J. Keyser (Parks Superintendent), Dr. Jonah Weiss, Rudolph Wilhelm, Northwest Champion and W. G. Pringle, who coaxed the grass and leveled the greens.
By the way that photo in the bottom right - that's the fourth hole, guarded by trees bridge and water. As some long time readers may recall, the author hoped to find a photo of this long forgotten bridge on the fourth hole in the article about the Golf Ball Eating Salmon Roaming the Municipal Links.
Here's where everybody with a golf stick may play the game to his heart's content.
I really appreciate Rabbi Jonah Wise involvement in Eastmoreland Municipal Links as part of the Jewish community that shaped so much of what we know and love about Oregon. Research shows the Eastmoreland committee meetings were held at the downtown cafe in the Meier & Frank building, owned by the prominent families who belonged to the same congregation and golf club as Rabbi Wise. Take some time when you have an hour to learn all about "The Jewish Frontier" and how Oregon proved a land of opportunity especially for Jews immigrating from Germany where their professions were often limited. These early pioneers were later met with other waves of Jewish immigrants from all over Europe melting together in a diverse community tapestry we have today.
I do want to take a moment to also highlight some other achievements of Rabbi Jonah Wise, before we delve deeper into his golf game check scores on his matches he played, contemplate is swing and whether he'd have been a good partner for a small wager.
Rabbi Jonah Wise life is a story of community and fighting for equality, fairness and I like to think that he may have prompted the headline in the quote above about having a golf course for all to play, though any member of that committee may have been the source as they were united in their devotion to the common good.
Where Rabbi Wise's life takes on larger than life turn, was his involvement in national policy with regards to the plight of immigrant and refugee Jews. Per the Oregon Encyclopedia he fervently promoted progressive causes of education and social equality while condemning prejudice and intolerance. He was a staunch supporter of Women's rights and the Council of Jewish Women. Rabbi Wise was known as a defender of labor, advocating collective bargaining, an eight-hour day, and other workplace reforms
America in the 1920's along with Portland faced a backlash following the war, of nativism and the rise of prejudice against immigrants. Rabbi Jonah Wise collaborated with Catholic leaders who were both the targets of Tiki-Torch wielding members of the Ku Klux Klan. As Oregon Jewish History - David Finkelstein (1895-1979) member recounts the anti-semitism got very bad into the late 1920's and 1930's and Rabbi Wise was instrumental in bringing together the targeted groups, primarily Jews and Catholics, though certainly African Americans, Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans as well.
His most prominent involvement in social political affairs came from a trip back to his ancestors home in Germany:
After traveling to Germany in 1933 and returning with dire warnings and eyewitness accounts of Nazi rallies and persecution of Jews, he led a campaign to raise money to assist Jews in leaving Germany. In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt selected him as a delegate to the Evian Conference, an international meeting in France that attempted—unsuccessfully—to address the Jewish refugee problem. Although he remained an anti-Zionist until the early 1940s and was a founding member of the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism in 1942, the scope of the Jewish crisis during World War II soon led him to abandon this position.
As this point I'd like to tip my cap and give thanks to the Oregon Jewish Museum volunteers for the foresight to collect the stories of the Jewish community members. The website is a treasure of personal stories as immigrants, as citizens and as Jews who witnessed, even from afar, the tragedy and terrible crimes of the Holocaust.
I may the only person in the history of the Oregon Jewish Museum to ever search the term "Golf" and found delightful tidbits and references by all sorts of people they interviewed. Yet I spent more time reading the full accounts and learned as much or more from these stories as I had from "The Jewish Frontier." Bernice Feldman who so graciously shared the little memory of Rabbi Wise wearing golf clothes (knickers and argyle socks, most likely) also shared this poignant memory from the WWII era
Rosenfeld: And then as we got into the 30s, what was the attitude of people you knew toward the plight of Jews in Western Europe, in terms of Hitler and all that was happening?
There before the Grace of God go I - Rabbi Jonah B Wise
Rabbi Wise is now joined my "dream foursome" of playing a 18 hole round with anyone, and I'm sure that I would have million questions and could glean so much wisdom from man such as him.
Going forward, we will dig more deeply into the the connections of Eastmoreland golfers and World War II. A time of great crisis where the bell of liberty was a call to action for God and country. Many of the Eastmoreland Wolves and the Leisure Hour Club the Nisei Golf Club and the Chinese American Golf Club would find themselves caught up in the throes of war. Some serving on distant shores, others building Freedom Ships in Kaiser Docks to supply the troops and some others rounded up into internment camps.