Our History

Congregation Kol Ami began in 1989 as the Jewish Community Association of Southwest Washington (JCASW).Our initial goal was to provide a feeling of community for the Jewish population of southwest Washington. From that initial social group we have grown into a thriving congregation of nearly 125 member families.

Over the course of nineties, the JCASW gradually evolved from a community association model to a congregational community.By 1996, Clark County’s first Jewish religious school and first dedicated Jewish cemetery had been established. A Torah, ark and prayer books had all been purchased, allowing for services.As the decade came to a close, JCASW became a congregation and launched a rabbi search effort. The name Congregation Kol Ami was adopted in 2001. In 2004, the congregation further defined itself by unanimously voting to join the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ).

As a new decade got under way, the young congregation formalized its relationship with Jan Rabinowitch, who had a long-standing connection to the community’s families as tutor and frequent service leader. Rabinowitch was made the congregation’s first spiritual leader. Service frequency was increased, and for the first time, spiritual guidance and support were offered. Rabinowitch helped the congregation’s lay leadership to better understand and define the spiritual and educational needs of the growing community.

In 2005, the congregation hired both a full time rabbi and a Director of Life-Long Learning. Rabbi Aviva Bass was formally installed just after High Holy Days, while Susan Cosden, the new Educator, worked to further develop religious school programming.As the community strived to become a full service congregation, ritual and educational programming were both increased and enhanced.

The very next summer, the congregation finally got its first home with the dedication of the Kol Ami Learning Center.A Hebrew school was established, and at the same time, Lauren Trexler joined our congregational family as our Religious School and Congregational Coordinator. Just a year later a year later High Holy Day Services 2007, Doug Green, president of the congregation, announced a six-million dollar donation from an anonymous donor to begin building a synagogue. The new synagogue is slated to open in 2011.

In July of 2008, we welcomed the arrival of Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker to lead us in the next phase of our growth as a congregation and a community. Under Rabbi Dunker’s leadership, by the summer 2009, the congregation had grown not only in the number of families, but in the variety of Jewish experiences offered.Jan Rabinowitch rejoined the professional leadership team, now as Educator.

In the spring of 2009, with the goal of being in a new synagogue building by the close of 2011, members of the building committee could reflect on the incredible story of change and growth as they worked to create a synagogue that could house the community’s needs and reflect the community’s values. Less than a decade before, when the question of a synagogue had been raised, many felt it would lie empty five or six days a week. By the time synagogue planning was underway in earnest, the congregation’s Learning Center had become a hub of activity every day of the week, with the congregation hoping for a synagogue building big enough to house the community’s ever expanding activities.

In August of 2012 we opened the doors to our new synagogue. The spaces have large windows everywhere looking out on our view of the wetlands. We now have a large sanctuary and social hall with office and classroom space, and a warm and inviting library. The synagogue building is the framework for increasing and deepening all of our programing.

We hope that you will now add yourself and your family to this short history. At Congregation Kol Ami, your family can be a part of a very unique and exciting experience. Our next chapter should include you!