Ding Ding Ding

Hard to believe it was 30 years ago, January 28, 1986, that the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on its way into space. On that shuttle was Dr. Judith Resnick, the first American Jewish astronaut. (Side note –Nichelle Nichols, the actress who famously played Lt. Uhura on the TV series Star Trek recruited her to NASA.) I vividly remember that moment.

I grew up in Orlando, Florida, which is 60 miles due west of Cape Canaveral. For every early launch of the Space Shuttle, our entire school would go outside and within 15 seconds of take-off we would watch the shuttle rise into the sky with smoke billowing below. It was an awesome sight. Sadly, on that day, 73 seconds after lift-off, the view was very different.

If you recall, that flight also included Christa McAuliffe, a high school social studies teacher from New Hampshire, who had been selected out of 10,400 applicants nationwide to be on that flight. It just so happens that my High School Physics teacher, whose class we were in at that time, was one of those teacher applicants. He was devastated, along with our entire country. I will never forget that day.

It is always fun to explore Portland and “bump into” someone Jewish and hear their story.

I recently had breakfast with one of our community leaders. We met at a popular restaurant and sat in the section of his favorite waitress. After taking our order, the leader shared with me that the waitress was Jewish.  As I am apt to do, when she returned, we engaged in a conversation about Jewish Portland.

Shoshana (not her real name) is in her late 20s and lives in North Portland. Shoshana grew up here, was a member of a local synagogue, involved in BBYO (Jewish teen youth group) and attended B’nai B’rith Camp. She talked proudly about being Jewish. When I asked her about her involvement today in Jewish life, she mentioned she does not currently belong to a synagogue, has not been to the MJCC in years, and really does not participate in the “organized” Jewish community.

Sharing this story I can already hear some in the community bemoaning Shoshana's situation because she is not “affiliated with” a synagogue or a member of the MJCC. Or ask, why isn’t she “trying or stepping forward?” And there are those who question whether we should reach out to people who do not reach out to Jewish organizations?

Well, let me tell you more about Shoshana. She is a yoga enthusiast. And, every Friday night she has Shabbat dinner with several of her Jewish girlfriends. She knows plenty of other young Jews in the community (especially through yoga) and would be interested in learning about other opportunities in the community. Yet, they cannot be too expensive and need to be convenient (we have certainly heard that before).


The bells were ringing in my head. First off, how many other Shoshanas (and I do not only mean young adults) are there in Portland? Where are they? In most cases, they are not “calling” Jewish organizations to self-identify and connect. What are they looking for? And, how do we find ways to Jewishly connect these people – especially as they define Jewish life on their own terms?

This story is emblematic of our opportunity – your opportunity via the collective annual campaign -- to meet Jewish community members on their own terms. With an “affiliation rate” (a term I dislike -- yet I will define “affiliation” as people who pay dues to a Jewish organization – synagogue, JCC, camp, school, etc.) of less than 25% in our community (not dissimilar from many other Jewish communities), we must think of ways to reach a broader audience, while at the same time provide desired programs and services for those most connected. It is a tricky balancing act, but one we must do.

Therefore, how creative can we be as a community to meet people “where they are” – in their stage of life, location, financial capabilities, etc.? Our top priority is to help people feel connected – and to help facilitate and fund the creation of those avenues of connection. Every study points to young people (and I am not so sure there is great differentiation between other age cohorts) today as “non-joiners.” Instead, people want “to do”…to participate...and to express Jewish life in a way that is meaningful for them.

On a separate note, next week is the beginning of Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month(JDAIM). It is a worldwide effort to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities and those who love them. In honor of JDAIM, the Jewish Federation is trying something new – to help raise awareness and money for our partner in Israel – Krembo Wings. Krembo Wings is the only youth movement in Israel for children and young adults with special needs, providing social activities and interactions for young people with disabilities and their peers. Learn more about Krembo Wings' amazing work here.

Let’s support the incredible work of Krembo Wings with a special fund drive from February 1-10. During this effort, you will have the opportunity to make a big impact on youth with disabilities in the Israeli city of Lod. Our goal is $3,600 -- and with a special matching opportunity, every donation will double – for a total of $7,200 to support Krembo Wings.

Be on the lookout for the community kickoff announcement on Monday!

In addition, for JDAIM, the Jewish Federation is bringing to Portland a national inclusion expert to work with our Jewish educators this March to enhance the work of our congregational and day schools in this area.

Shabbat shalom.



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