And Now We Know Who We Are - June 6, 2023

This has been an extremely exciting and interesting week. As the headline in the Jewish Review read, “The Answers Are In.”


Tuesday night, the Jewish Federation held its 103rd annual meeting where we thanked our outgoing Board members (Emily Benoit, Ronnie Malka, Alan Montrose, Nicole Sacks, and Eliana Temkin), elected three new Board members (Rochelle Abitz, Simon Gottheiner, and Diane Rankin), presented the Laurie Rogoway Award to Alisha Babbstein, archivist at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, and shared many highlights of this past year. We also had the pleasure of wishing a "happy retirement" to Deb Moon, who for 31 years played a leadership role in chronicling the life of our Jewish community. You can watch the meeting here.


Following the business portion of the meeting, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland released the findings from the 2022-2023 Greater Portland Jewish Community Study. Dr. Len Saxe of Brandeis University went through key highlights of the study, which you can watch here.


Some key findings without giving too much away (I encourage you to at least read the Executive Summary of the report):


  • 56,600 Jews in Greater Portland (45,100 adults and 11,500 children)


  • 13% of people were born in Portland while 34% moved here in the past decade.


  • 55% of the Jewish community lives on the east side of the river.


  • 64% of the Jewish adults feel at least some connection to the local Jewish community, including 9% who feel greatly connected.


  • 20% of Jewish households are members of a synagogue or “belong” to another type of Jewish congregation (Chabad, independent minyan, etc.).


  • 17% of children are enrolled in some form of Jewish school (day/supplemental) while 36% attended a Jewish summer camp (day/overnight).


  • 34% of households require mental health support.


  • 26% of Jewish households say financially they cannot make ends meet (4%) or are just managing (22%).


  • 43% of Jewish adults believe Israel lives up to its values with respect to human rights.


  • 10% of Jews have “visible body art (tattoo) with a Jewish theme” – we are the first community to ever ask this question.


Beyond the study of the Jewish community in Greater Portland, a study of the Jewish communities in Lane County and the Willamette Valley was also conducted. On Wednesday night, Dr. Saxe was able to present those findings to that community.


We are grateful to the generous donors who helped support this particularly important (and candidly, expensive) project. The list can be found on page 3 of the study.


The report is nice. The true measure of success, however, is what we do with the data. What do we need to do more of? What do we need to do less of? Which services, areas of town, or demographic groups should be prioritized? How do we best prepare for the future? All of this will require thoughtful conversations (that may ruffle feathers) and courageous and visionary decisions - potentially changing what we have been doing for decades.


These studies enable us to move away from anecdotal information to real data. It provides a clear path for our community to go forward. Some say, "Data is king, as long as you use it to drive your next moves." The Jewish Federation is focused on using this information in its planning and allocations going forward – and we know other Jewish organizations will do the same.


Now the exciting work begins! Later this summer we will begin a process of creating task forces and work groups to identify key areas within the study. We will look for collaborative best practices on how to address them. We do a greater service to our community when we come together for greater good. The challenges and opportunities cross rivers, denominations, organizational walls, etc.. Only by coming together to tackle these issues will we have the greatest chance of success.


As I mentioned in several of the community presentations, I think about this in four words:


Opportunity – None of the data you see should be viewed as a negative. It is what it is. Now we have the opportunity to address areas of concern.


Exploration – We will learn what is happening locally and nationally – whether sponsored by Jewish organizations or not. We will explore every possibility to enrich our Jewish community.


Engagement – A thread throughout the study is the low levels of Jewish engagement in our community. We must better understand the barriers to participation (number one on the list is “activities are not of interest”) and re-double our efforts to reach people throughout the region.


Experimentation – We must take risks and try new things. Some may work – others may fail. But only through trial and error will we find the “sweet spot” in connecting more people to Jewish life.


None of this will be easy – but it is an exciting challenge!


You all have a lot of reading to do (and I am tired as I write this after seven presentations in 44 hours, including driving to Eugene and back). I hope you gain something from the study and appreciate the importance of this work. Feel free to email me back and share any thoughts or feedback on the study/data.


I am so proud that the Jewish Federation made this possible. Our ongoing mission for 103 years is to enhance and benefit the Jewish community at-large. I believe this study will add to that legacy.


Shabbat shalom.



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