11 Interesting Men

Happy and healthy secular new year to you and your family. And a happy 8th birthday to my son.

Over the past four months I have shared many thoughts and ideas with you about the current and future Jewish community. It is now YOUR opportunity to share your “next great idea for Jewish Portland.” In the most current issue of the Jewish Review, there is a cover story about a new “contest” Federation is proud to sponsor asking for your ideas on how to make Jewish life more vibrant and exciting in Portland. No one knows our community better than the people living here and you are an incredible resource. All ideas are encouraged and welcomed. The person who submits the winning idea will be given an $1800 prize to be used within the Jewish community. Please click here to see the full details. I have no doubts you will provide some amazing and creative ideas. 

Three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to have lunch with eleven men (yes, all men, but I am happy to meet with women or any other individuals or groups). This came about after I met with two young attorneys in the community and I asked them to host a lunch with their peers so I could hear their perspectives on Jewish life in Portland. They invited their friends (professionals in real estate, law, business, and non-profits, mid-20s to perhaps early 40s, 4 were members of a synagogue, most married with children, 3 belonged to the MJCC, one sent his children to PJA, several 3rd or 4th generation Portlanders, and one person had only lived in Portland for two months) to lunch to meet me and to hear some of my ideas for the Jewish community. What followed was a fascinating conversation. Here is what they shared with me:

• “Costs to belong to Jewish organizations are ‘out of control’”
• “Federation just wants my money and I have no idea what for or where it goes”
• “That is what my parents do”
• “I have offered to volunteer, but no one knows what to do with me”
• “It is hard to connect in Portland if you have not been here for a long time”
• “Event costs are very high...by the time I get a babysitter and pay for the event my budget is blown”
• “I am not religious, so why pay for synagogue if I am only going to go maybe three days per year?
• “Can’t the community do more family programs for my children and me”
• “Boards and committees do not want me, they only want wealthy people”
• “Everything is so far away from where I live that Jewish activities are not convenient. Therefore I go elsewhere.”
• “How do I even get involved?”
• “Where are the fun activities that will make we want to come out? Everything seems so formal.”

This "organic" focus group provided great insights (I did not know who was coming and had only met three of the individuals prior to the lunch). Whenever organizations do surveys or studies, they often talk to “insiders,” since they are the ones most willing to respond. This group’s thoughts, and perhaps yours, may never be heard. These gentlemen could not have been more open, frank, and dare I say “spot on” in their assessment of Jewish life today. One person even questioned the value of being connected to the Jewish community.

I am grateful for these men’s time and know they are not alone in their thoughts. I hear many of these same comments again and again, as I am sure you have. Cost, convenience, communications, where to start, and even fun are barriers to involvement. The question is…what will we do about it?
As we enter 2011, the opportunity is in front of us to rethink what our community is and what it will provide for future generations. Can we address the concerns of these men (and believe me, they do care and are interested)? Can the community meet your individual evolving needs? Many of today’s “Generation Xers and Yers” are speaking loudly – with their voices and their feet -- wanting a community and institutions that are very different than what we have today. Are we willing to adapt or will we stay the current course?

As Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, said, “if the outside is changing faster than the inside, the end is near.” For me, we are only at the beginning of writing the next chapter of Jewish life in Portland. We can jump ahead of the curve and make enormous changes in a very short period of time. It takes leadership, risk-taking, human and financial resources, and the foresight to understand that a short-term loss may be worth the long-term gain. Join me in this endeavor by sharing your “next great idea for Jewish Portland” and by making your own Jewish hopes and dreams a reality.

Shabbat Shalom.


PS – Although still a relative newcomer to Portland (and the fact my wife went to The Ohio State University), I cannot help but get excited by the University of Oregon football team playing for the National Championship on Monday night. I will be cheering along with many of you – Go Ducks!


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