Create A Society That Matches Our Scenery - September 29, 2023

My favorite Jewish holiday of the year, Sukkotbegins tonight and concludes the evening of October 6. My sukkah is built and with a seemingly rain-free forecast, I look forward to sleeping in it every night. I hope you enjoy the holiday!


Three weeks ago I wrote a Marc’s Remarks about agingIn the piece, I shared a recent article in The Atlantic by New York Times columnist, David Brooks. After I wrote my remarks, I learned that Mr. Brooks would be coming to speak in Portland this past Wednesday night. I made sure I got tickets for my wife and me.


Out of nowhere, I received an email from Steve Higgs, Executive Director of SAGE: Senior Advocates for Generational Equitya non-profit that encourages people over 50 to “give forward” by contributing their time, skills, and wisdom for the benefit of future generations. Steve shared with me that a community member forwarded him my email and the next thing I know, I am being invited to a special luncheon with David Brooks. (Thank you to the person who forwarded my article and thank you, Steve, for the invitation.)


On Wednesday afternoon, I had the opportunity to join David Brooks (we did wish each other l’shana tova) along with a “Who’s Who” of area social service, foundation, and community leaders, plus a former governor. As a participant remarked, “There is a surplus of purpose in this room.”


David Brooks was in Portland to talk about Weave: The Social Fabric Projecta national organization he chairs. The organization’s focus is on what they describe as a “torn social fabric, where many do not see or trust one other.” To change this, the organization is empowering “weavers” to build connections with neighbors and others to put relationships at the center of our lives. Over time, this arc of connection grows in ever-widening circles.


According to the Pew Research Center, the levels of social distrust in our country are at an all-time low:


  • 54% of respondents say, “No one knows me well.”


  • In the past 20 years, the number of people with no “close friends” has quadrupled.


  • 47% of people do not even trust their neighbor.


Weave states, “We can invest in education, healthcare, economic opportunity, climate change, racial equity, and other critical issues, but if we don’t rebuild the trust that allows us to see our common humanity and act together, we will make little progress.”


Our community (and country) are divided along many lines, isolated, and unable to address our common needs. Brooks shared his thoughts on how we can build that needed trust:


  • Knowing and understanding others is core to everything.


  • Help people feel “seen” – there is infinite value and dignity in every person.


  • Assume responsibility for our problems – do not wait for others to take action.


  • Have the moral motivation to “do good.”


  • Express radical hospitality and be aggressive in developing friendships.


  • Find “our common story.” Ask questions to others and solicit their stories, and then organize around that.


Ward Greene, founder of SAGE, ended the lunch by reading a poem from William Stafford, former poet laureate for Oregon. Someone then quoted Stafford, who would often write poems focused on the outdoor beauty of our state. Stafford wrote, “We have the opportunity to create a society that matches our scenery.” What a beautiful picture that would be.


Several important updates:


  • Juju Chang, Emmy Award-winning co-anchor of “ABC News Nightline,” will be the speaker for this year’s Women’s Philanthropy IMPACT Event on Thursday, November 16“50% Korean. 100% Jewish.” -- that’s how Jew by Choice Chang describes her three sons with her husband, Neal Shapiro. Their blended cultures share a reverence for education, a powerful immigrant experience, and, sadly, a history of persecution, discrimination, and scapegoating in the United States. Juju, who has received rave reviews from other Jewish communities, shares her journey to Judaism and Jewish identity in her highly personal talk and discusses the historical parallels between Asian hate and antisemitism. She calls for the two communities to become allies against the rising forces of hate in our country. It will be a joyful and special evening. Register now.


  • I am proud that the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland received a 4-star rating and a score of 100%the highest scores possible, from Charity Navigator! Since 2001, Charity Navigator has performed comprehensive ratings on the cost-effectiveness and overall health of a charity’s programs, including measures of stability, efficiency, and sustainability. Other local Jewish organizations are highly rated.


  • The Women’s Giving Circlesponsored by the Jewish Federation, brings women together to be leaders, funders, and decision-makers to expand and improve opportunities and choices in all aspects of Jewish women and girls’ lives through strategic and effective grantmaking. One of their grants funded local Oregon filmmaker Michael Turner. His film, Monumentdocuments his first visit to a Holocaust memorial created by his grandmother, Lici, a Hungarian Jew whose parents and sister were killed in Auschwitz. This personal documentary is a powerful story of two relatives meeting through time and space to carry their family memory forward. The film will premiere on Wednesday, October 18 at 7:15 p.m. at Cinema 21. Michael Turner will be in attendance for a post-film Q&A and this special showing is in partnership with the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.


  • More on the TV/movie front and the Jewish Federation’s role. The Israeli production and distribution company yes Studios -- best known for the hit shows Fauda and Shtisel -- announced a new Israel-based documentary series called Lifeline. It will take viewers behind the scenes of the ERAN Association (Emotional First Aid), a helpline center in Israel that responds to calls including family violence, heartbreak, loneliness, and suicide. I bring this up because the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland has proudly supported ERAN through our Overseas Special Projects committee.


Shabbat shalom and chag Sukkot sameach.


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