Celebrating Women and Fighting Climate Change - March 22, 2024

Purim begins tomorrow night and our community has a full range of services and shpiels. Please click here to learn more.


The Purim story, in many ways, is all about women’s leadership. Here is an interesting article from last year in The Harvard Crimson, titled, Vashti, Esther, and the Feminist History of Purim.” The author writes, “While Esther is the obvious hero of the story, Vashti deserves credit in her own right. Esther is unimaginably brave, but in some ways she is still complicit in patriarchal rule, playing by the king’s rules and bending them just enough to prevent a Jewish genocide. While this caution is perhaps necessary, it is Vashti who truly defies the patriarchy and abandons it altogether through her firm refusal to yield to the king’s petty, objectifying wish.”


This month is Women’s History Month, when we celebrate the power and influence of women every day. We recognize that women stand at the center of Jewish life, preserving our traditions and weaving our precious values into our homes, workplaces, and communal spaces. I want to thank the incredible women working in Jewish communal organizations as rabbis, chief executives, teachers, program staff, and every position in between. Our community would not be what it is today without your leadership and deep commitment to enriching Jewish life. WE HONOR YOU!


Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Seattle and meet with my CEO counterparts from the Seattle and Vancouver (BC) Jewish Federations. It was the first time we had all been together since the pandemic. Seattle has a new executive, Solly Kane, and it was my first chance to meet him in person. (Solly was the director of my nephew’s Jewish overnight camp in Wisconsin before this role.)


Our time together included updates on each of our Jewish Federations (annual campaign, Israel emergency campaign efforts, new priorities, and more). What was most helpful was exploring ways that our three Jewish Federations in the Pacific Northwest could work more closely together. We have many shared challenges – growing Jewish communities, less Jewish engagement, and rising antisemitism, to name a few. One simple example of working together is sharing the costs of speakers (it is expensive to bring a speaker to Portland and then for them to go straight home instead of going up or down the coast).


This summer, we are planning a retreat for our senior management teams. This will be the first time we have done this (we did have a meeting scheduled several years ago but the pandemic cancelled it). We hope to learn from one another, develop new relationships, and find ways to collaborate for years to come.


The issue of climate change is one of our planet’s greatest challenges. There are many ways we can address the issue, but it takes all of us. And there are Jewish organizations like Dayenu leading these efforts.


The Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism writes, “Addressing climate change requires us to learn how to live within the ecological limits of the earth so that we will not compromise the ecological or economic security of those who come after us. Genesis 2:15 emphasizes our responsibility to protect the integrity of the environment so that its diverse species, including humans, can thrive: ‘The human being was placed in the Garden of Eden to till it and to tend it.’ Similarly, Jewish tradition teaches us that human domain over nature does not include a license to abuse the environment.”


I am proud to say that the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and the Jewish Federation of Lane County have both voted to withdraw their investment dollars from fossil fuel companies. We are the first Jewish Federations in the country to screen out fossil fuels from our investment portfolios. It is fortunate that the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation (OJCF), where our endowment funds are invested, has investment pools that meet this requirement.


This was not a decision taken lightly. Beyond the recommendation from the Climate Action Committee of our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), both the Jewish Federation’s Finance Committee (which monitors our investments) and the Board of Directors had serious discussions about the change. In the end, screening out fossil fuels aligned with our values and made financial sense. The decision was unanimously approved.


In addition, during the recent legislative session in Salem, the JCRC supported legislation protecting state investments from risks related to climate change. House Bill 4083, the COAL Actdirects the Oregon Investment Council and the State Treasurer to eliminate certain investments in thermal coal companies. It calls for divestment and reinvestment of monies, “without monetary loss to the funds through reasonable, prudent, and productive investments in companies generating returns that are comparable to the returns generated by companies subject to the divestment.” The measure narrowly passed the House and the Senate and is going to Governor Kotek to sign.


Last Sunday, in partnership with the Hindu community, we held our first joint Purim/Holi cultural event. It was an incredible success with new friends, great food and drink, and an opportunity to learn more about the holidays and each other. You can read more about the event here.


Finally, a correction from last week. Senate Bill 1583, which prevents a school board or school administrator from banning a book when the content includes a perspective, study, or story of or is created by any individual/group against whom discrimination is prohibited, did pass the Senate but the House never had a final vote on it.


Shabbat shalom, have a joyous Purim, and a safe spring break for all children and teachers.



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