GA in DC

Federation’s Annual Campaign continues to move forward. We are 60 days into our 100 Days of Impact effort and have raised over $2.2 million. We are grateful for your ongoing generosity and we are on pace to have the fastest-paced campaign in our history. Please join over one thousand others (at this point) and make your pledge.

Last night, despite the wintry weather, Women’s Philanthropy held its annual IMPACT event. It was a ”sweet” event as Rabbi Deborah Prinz, author of On the Chocolate Trail, shared the connections between Jews, religion, history, travel, rituals, and recipes with the magic of cacao. Did you know that there is evidence that Jews first spread chocolate (no pun intended) across Europe and began chocolate making in France? Mazel tov to Naomi Levitt and her event committee for a beautiful evening.

Earlier this week I (along with three representatives from the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation and a student from Portland State University) was in Washington, DC for the annual Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly (GA). This is the annual gathering of Jewish federation leaders from across North America, along with representatives from Jewish communal organizations around the world. It is always an awe inspiring conference –an opportunity to hear incredible speakers (Vice-President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Elana Kagan, Britain’s former chief rabbi, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to name a few), network with colleagues, understand the latest trends in Jewish life and philanthropy, and to continue to reenergize oneself about the incredible work we do.

There were many excellent sessions detailing current realities, new ideas, and best practices in Jewish Federations today. Topics included: the future of Jewish education; the graying of Jewish North America and our infrastructure needs; understanding interfaith families; new opportunities to impact Israel and Jewish life around the world; putting Jewish values in the center of our decisions; relational, consumer-centric, and other models for managing Jewish communities; solutions to the young adult challenge; rethinking social services; new ways to engage new audiences – just to name a few.

When not in sessions, my time was also spent connecting with national program partners, as well as new people/organizations interested in partnering with the Greater Portland Jewish community.

I had the opportunity to sit with Harold Grinspoon, the visionary philanthropist behind programs such as PJ Library and JCamp 180. We talked about the continued interest and excitement about the PJ Library program. Harold has invested over $350,000 over the past eight years just in Portland and we are grateful for all he continues to do.

I also met with our partners from GrapeVine, the weekly email you hopefully receive detailing the “happenings” in our community. Portland is their “poster child” as they now expand the program into Atlanta, Los Angeles and Chicago. We have over 13,000 individuals on a weekly basis receiving GrapeVine and 43% of people are active users (click on at least three activities each week) after only one year with the program. We believe this tool will only get better over time as more people use the program.

I also met with the Chair of the International Association of Jewish Free Loans. These are organizations (often coordinated and run by volunteers) that provide interest free loans for members of the Jewish community. Oftentimes, the maximum loan amount is $1,500-$3,000 -- whether for student loans, small business loans, to help purchase a car, etc. David Contorer, who grew up in Portland and is currently the Executive Director of the Hebrew Free Loan Association in Detroit and I have spoken many times (along with several others) about creating such a program in Portland (there are informal programs in town). If interested in helping create such a program, please reply to this email.

As you can imagine, the GA program was filled with all the buzzwords we hear today - whether talking about education, healthcare, product marketing, or Jewish communal work. It emphasized that we are living in a time in which endless access to information and 24-hour communication is challenging us to question just about everything. As a result, we have seen new models of business, philanthropy and outreach.

And, that’s what the General Assembly is all about: Federations able to amplify the successes of their own communities to others, and think about the ways we can have a greater impact on the issues and concerns we share. Although one aspect of Federation’s work is to raise money – what we focused on was how many good things we are doing.

Most of all, participants got to hear from each other, as one big family. The venue created the kind of casual meeting space where participants could, well, hang out and network. It was an opportunity to learn about successes and failures, exchange ideas and offer guidance; to embrace a new age and a new way of thinking. 

As Michael Siegel, Chair of the Jewish Federations of North America said in his closing comments, “We do have the intellectual and financial potential to effectuate substantive change, but only if we work together.” I believe there is an extra step. Partnering requires the ability and openness to think critically, be reflective, and to talk honestly about where we are today and where we want to be.

The General Assembly did its job. I learned a great deal…got many new ideas…and had the opportunity to leverage the expertise of Federations across the country. Being together fueled my neshama, my soul, allowing me to return to Portland renewed and inspired.

Shabbat shalom.


PS – Mazel tov on the one-year anniversary of Kehillah House (a residence for income-qualified adults with developmental disabilities) sponsored by Cedar Sinai Park, in partnership with JFCS. I was able to attend their celebration on Wednesday afternoon and see the remarkable and heartwarming impact it has made on these individuals and their families.


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