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Jewish Museum hires a new leader

Rebekah Sobel will join the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education in January, moving from the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

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"The Holocaust: An Oregon Perspective," one of four core exhibitions at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. Photo courtesy OJMCHE
“The Holocaust: An Oregon Perspective,” one of four core exhibitions at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. Photo courtesy OJMCHE

Rebekah Sobel, Policy Director for Museum Programs at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., will be the new executive director of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, the museum announced Tuesday. Sobel, who will assume her duties in January 2024, will replace longtime museum leader Judy Margles, who is retiring after 24 years as director.

“As a lifelong student of the human condition and a passionate advocate for understanding the darkest chapters of our history, it is an honor and a privilege to become the new Executive Director at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education,” Sobel said in a museum announcement released Tuesday morning.

“To build on Judy Margles’ legacy, I am humbled to have this opportunity to join the Portland and greater Oregon communities in continuing OJMCHE’s commitment to confronting the challenging issues of our time – racism, discrimination, antisemitism, and the Holocaust – through education, museum experiences and community dialogue.”

New Executive Director Rebekah Sobel. Photo courtesy OJMCHE.
New Executive Director Rebekah Sobel. Photo courtesy OJMCHE.

Sobel was chosen following a six-month search, and after a major, $2.2 million expansion that shut the museum down for four months earlier this year before a grand reopening in June with expanded core exhibitions, remodeled gallery spaces, a new cafe space, and temporary exhibitions featuring works by Rembrandt van Rijn, Henk Pander, and Salvador Dali. The expansion added a significant fourth core exhibition, Human Rights After the Holocaust, in added adjacent space formerly used by the Charles A. Hartman Gallery.

“We could not be more pleased that Rebekah will be joining the OJMCHE community,” Board President Liz Lippoff said in Tuesday’s announcement. “She has a deep knowledge of collections management, enhancing visitors’ learning experience, and strategic planning. This background is coupled with an education steeped in understanding the universal lessons of the Holocaust.” 

Before joining the National Archives and Records Administration, Sobel was Director of Interpretation at the recently opened Capital Jewish Museum, and before that spent 10 years in various roles at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. A seasoned museum project manager and an anthropologist, she has also taught museum studies and anthropology at The George Washington University in D.C.

Sobel also serves on the board of the Council of American Jewish Museums, and recently left her six-year post as treasurer for the national Visitor Studies Association.

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The Oregon Jewish Museum began with discussions in 1989 and for several years was a “museum without walls,” showing exhibitions in various locations, including Multnomah County Central Library in downtown Portland. Margles led its growth and relocation into several spaces, beginning at Montgomery Park, then to a storefront in Old Town and a larger home in Northwest Portland. In 2014 the museum merged with the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center and became the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.

In 2017 it doubled its size by moving into its current space in the former home of the late Museum of Contemporary Craft, near Portland’s North Park Blocks, the Pacific Northwest College of Art, and several major galleries. In October Margles was awarded the Western Museum Association’s 2023 Leadership Award.

The museum’s current temporary exhibitions are Leonard Baskin, the Great Birdman, continuing through Jan. 24, 2024, and Yishai Jusidman: Prussian Blue, which closes Nov. 26.

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Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

  • Address: 724 N.W. Davis St., Portland
  • Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays; closed Mondays-Tuesdays
  • Admission: Adults $10, seniors $6, students $5, free for members and children younger than 12

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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