Awesome and Inspiring Responsibility

I often regard our final Board meeting (scheduled for June 5) of the year as the most challenging, yet also the most rewarding.  It is when our Board votes on final allocations decisions for our community from our community’s Annual Campaign.

How the Jewish Federation allocates your generous donations is not something we take lightly. Imagine two dozen community volunteers meeting over a six-month period, reviewing information from every Jewish organization that applies for funding (local, national, and overseas), asking thoughtful questions about goals and outcomes, and then looking at each request and balancing it with the allocable dollars available. It is a group of community representatives grappling with an awesome and inspiring responsibility.

We often look at the Jewish Federation’s Campaign for Community Needs, rightly, as the life-blood of running the Federation and our programs and allocations. Together, these dollars represent the best investment you can make in the Jewish community and will have a massive impact on our ability to support our Jewish way of life, both here in Greater Portland and overseas.

To paraphrase my Federation colleague in New Jersey, I want to point to three things:

First – our allocations process, both for local and overseas needs, is rigorous. The Allocations Committee (local) and the Overseas Special Projects Committee take their responsibility seriously and with great dedication and commitment. They sit and deliberate, conduct site visits, ask questions, agonize over tough decisions. And that is as it should be. Making these kinds of decisions is sacred and difficult work. 

Second – Federation is increasingly taking on responsibilities and tasks that only a Jewish Federation can and should do – overall communal responsibility, advocacy, Jewish free loans, small security grants, incentive grants for Jewish identity building experiences, leadership development, PJ Library, and so much more. There are growing areas where Federation provides a community-wide infrastructure and commitment to help everyone. The budget is a reflection of that concept, and shows you how our leadership sees true value in our work.

And finally, here’s what you’re not seeing in our work: the next crisis. The next disaster, human or natural, will occur at some point. It may be in Israel, or closer to Portland, or in some far-flung corner of the Jewish world. We don’t know what it will look like. But the platforms, infrastructure and partnerships that Federation creates allow us to turn on a dime and make sure that no one – no one – is left behind. Rescue operations, relief work, comforting those in need. We’re here every day because we’re a reflection of your values.

I know not everyone understands the role of the Jewish Federation. They believe we “just ask for money.” But we do so much more. Federation provides strategic, collaborative leadership, community planning and economic support to maintain our local and overseas Jewish communities. We secure the welfare of the most vulnerable. We mobilize in times of need. And we create and facilitate experiences and encourage individuals to find their own place in Jewish life.

We are most grateful to our thousands of donors – in reality, investors in our mission. Collectively, we focus our community inward to our own core commitments, sideways towards the welfare of others, and upwards, towards something nobler and greater than ourselves. YOU care for those in need, build our community, and save the world -- one person at a time. 

We owe tremendous gratitude to our lay and professional leaders. A very special thank you to Jeff Robinson, chair of our local Allocations Committee, and Carmella Ettinger, chair of our Overseas Special Projects Committee. In addition, thank you to my professional colleagues, Bob Horenstein and Wendy Kahn, who work so diligently with these committees on behalf of our community. 

On a separate note, I want to publicly thank Ilana Jaffe who reached out to PJ Library earlier this spring to inquire about sending books to a Jewish Day School in Uganda. At the end of April, we shipped a box full of PJ Library books to Uganda and last week they were delivered! We are delighted to see the extra PJ Library books from Portland go to good use with Jewish students in Uganda. Click here for more information about the community and the school. 



This Sunday is the 26th annual Song of Miriam Awards hosted by the Jewish Women’s Round Table. The awards program brings together the Jewish community to recognize outstanding, dedicated women volunteers for their vital role in Jewish life. Honorees are nominated by Jewish organizations and congregations in Oregon and southwest Washington. Since its inception, over 400 women have been recognized for their individual efforts and achievements in their volunteer activities, and their dedication to Jewish life and values.

I am proud to share that Debbie Frank is the Jewish Federation’s honoree. Debbie, originally from Mobile, Alabama, came to Portland eight years ago. She has had a diverse career from politics to non-profit work to PR and sales strategies and currently runs a corporate gifting company called The Right Promotions.

During her three-year tenure on the Jewish Federation's Allocations Committee, Debbie identified a need in the local community to bring together unaffiliated Jewish adults ages 30-40 something. She independently founded a meetup group called PDX MOTS (Members of the Tribe) in 2014, organizing over 150 events in three years. She helped these individuals reconnect with their Jewish upbringing. She later joined the Board of the Jewish Federation in 2015.

Mazel tov to Debbie and all the deserving women being honored this Sunday.

Finally, do not miss the 98th Annual Meeting for the Jewish Federation on Thursday, June 14 at 4:30 p.m. at Congregation Neveh Shalom. We will hear Ed Tonkin, Federation’s Chair of the Board, give a year in review and you will have a treat in listening to our keynote speaker, Rabbi Shira Stutman from Washington, DC’s historic Sixth and I Synagogue. This will be an exciting meeting with several awards given out and a very special announcement.

Shabbat shalom.



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