The news/videos from Houston and its outlying areas are devastating, to say the least. The impact of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath on people’s lives will be felt for years to come. Thank you to those who have already supported our Relief Fund, where 100% of all dollars donated go directly to the impacted areas. In just four days, local Jewish Federations from across the country have raised more than $1 million for the relief effort. Your dollars are needed most right now – give today!


Yesterday JVOAD (Jewish Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster), the network of disaster response organizations, convened to maximize resources and streamline efforts across Jewish communal organizations. They are currently assisting with immediate needs like locating and relocating residents, and ensuring they have the basics: food, blankets, and clothes. The next step will focus on homes: removing water, ripping out drywall, pulling floorboard -- a process that means several days of work per home. The actual rebuilding and renovating comes in the months that follow.


One Jewish agency anecdote -- Seven Acres (think of our own Cedar Sinai Park) is a 75-year old eldercare provider serving a population of 700 people. They have approximately 160,000 sq. feet of flooded campus both at Seven Acres and the Medallion Jewish Assisted Living Residence. All residents are safe, now living on the second floors of their contiguous buildings.  


Let’s hope the water recedes soon and the cleanup can begin.


Earlier this week I returned home from a 10-day trip to Israel with Jewish Federation Chair, Ed Tonkin. This trip was special because it was Ed’s first visit. Two things about visiting Israel with a first-timer: 1) It is always a joy seeing the wonder in a person’s eyes when they visit sites (Western Wall, Masada) or have experiences (jeep ride in the Golan Heights) for the first time. 2) I recognize that the Israel Ed saw today as his “baseline” for what Israel is stands in contrast to the Israel of my “baseline” visit 31 years ago.  I can see the incredible development and transformation in the country.


Ed and I had the opportunity to explore Israel from end to end-- literally driving from Eilat in the south through the entire country up to the Golan Heights in the north. What is happening in Israel is nothing short of amazing – the desert is blooming, construction cranes are everywhere, and the country felt at ease as Israelis enjoy the end of their summer.


Let me share one highlight -- Shabbat dinner. We enjoyed home hospitality with an American-born couple who made aliyah to Israel two years ago. They host up to 18 strangers every Friday night as part of an outreach organization. What made the evening so interesting was the diversity of the people:


 The host wife was born Jewish. The husband is the son/grandson of Christian ministers. They met while learning Sufi mysticism…then studied Buddhism…and eventually realized Judaism spoke to them and he converted. Two weeks ago he was ordained as a rabbi.


• One guest family from New York included a mother, a daughter who teaches 3rd grade Hebrew School, and a son who just made aliyah three months ago. The mother and daughter came to visit the son and participate in a Kabbalah spiritual retreat. The son, when asked why he moved to Israel, simply replied, “Felt like it.” 


• There was a young non-Jewish couple from Toronto where the husband is a social worker and the wife a high school comparative religion teacher. They were full of questions about Judaism and soaked in everything said. Moreover, their visit to Israel was focused on meeting Palestinians. 


• A family of five from Chicago. The mother’s father was born in Israel, yet she was estranged from him. She would not visit until he had passed away. The husband had little to no interest in even being in Israel. Then, we heard from the three daughters. One participated on Birthright Israel yet felt challenged because she is in a serious relationship with a non-Jew. Another daughter went on Birthright Israel and during college experimented with Islam. The youngest daughter was just entering college and planned to major in Jewish Studies.


• A family of four from New Jersey included the parents, their adult son and his wife. It was the parents’ first visit to Israel, while the married children were on their second visit. The daughter in-law spoke about making aliyah, which seemed to surprise the in-laws. 


The dinner reinforced for me that we each have our own Jewish journey, and that our community’s strength is in its diversity.


It was a true blessing to share this experience with Ed. Israel is an amazing place and our community should be very proud of its role in building the country.


I would be remiss if I did not mention the passing of Milt Carl (z’l), a “leader among leaders” in our Jewish community. I did not know Milt during his heyday, but he was an incredible positive force in our Jewish community. Through his tireless efforts in partnership with others, and his willingness to ask anyone for support, he helped build Greater Jewish Portland into what it is today. May Milt’s memory be for a blessing and his family comforted by the mourners of Zion.


Finally, here we are at the start of a new school year. I wish all our students and teachers a great year of learning and fun. Here is a lovely video from Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, preparing Israeli school children for the year. It is worth watching.


Shabbat shalom and have a safe Labor Day weekend.



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