Opting Out No Option - July 31, 2020

Our community lost an integral member of our extended “Jewish family.” Joseph Mussabini (z”l), a familiar smiling face to many from Century Catering and events at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, as well as his 20 years as general manager of Alexander’s on the top floor of the Portland Hilton, passed away Sunday after suffering with ALS.
Joe lived a remarkable life, which you can read about here. Joe was always so warm, kind and hospitable. Our community will miss him.
Last night we concluded the observance of Tisha b’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av). The Talmud explains that on that day the Jews were lamenting the spies’ report prior to entry into the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb, among the spies, enthusiastically advocated marching forward. The other spies reported that “the Land consumes her inhabitants,” and the people wanted to return to Egypt. From that night forward, this would be the date on the Jewish calendar for tragedy.
On Tisha b’Av we have experienced -- First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians…Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans…England expelled her Jews…France expelled her Jews…Spain expelled her Jews…Start of World War I…Nazi Party approves “The Final Solution”…Mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began…Bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires killing 85 and injuring 300.
It is fascinating how many of these events unfolded by action of perpetrators who had no idea what day it was in the Jewish calendar when they acted.
Several members of our local clergy led a meaningful Tisha b’Av service downtown (among the protests) on Wednesday night sharing powerful words. You can watch it here.
One story I recently heard is that Napoleon Bonaparte was walking past a synagogue in Paris. It was August and the synagogue’s windows were open due to the heat. As he passed, he heard loud crying and wailing. Things were going pretty well in France, he thought, and he actually was famously kind to the Jews of France, so he asked why were the people so upset. According to legend, he was told that it was Tisha b’Av, and the Jews were mourning the fall of their Holy Temples in Jerusalem — one, 1,700 years earlier; and the prior, 2,350 years earlier. Napoleon is reported to have commented in response, “A nation that cries and fasts for 2,000 years for their land and Temple surely will see their land and Temple restored.”
There was an excellent article written in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal by Rabbi Nicole Guzik of Sinai TempleI encourage you to read the entire piece as she wrote about the potential issue of “Jewish commitment to community within the pandemic, when so many of our interactions have become virtual.”
She says we are forced to be separated and the choice of “opting out” of community (e.g. synagogues, day schools, JCCs, donations to Jewish causes, etc.) becomes a more viable option, and perhaps even “tempting.” By not being physically present we lose that attachment.
Rabbi Guzik warns, “If enough people decide to opt out, the Jewish world will never look the same. It will not have a solid foundation to rebuild and reconstruct in the innovative, vibrant, spiritually uplifting ways we so desperately need. Every person who decides to “sit this one out” means chipping away at the Jewish homes thousands rely upon for comfort, solace, celebration, companionship and connection.”
I recognize that COVID-19 has devastated our world. Too many people have died. Too many people have tested positive for the virus. Mental health challenges are real. Millions are still out of work. Many may not be able to afford to rejoin our communities. All of these people must hear our support and feel our love. “A real community is one that upholds those who have fallen. A true community exists even when times are difficult and scary. A sincere community chooses to remain active when the world falls apart.”
Hillel said, “Do not separate yourself from the community.” We need you. We need one another. Together we are not alone.
Rabbi Guzik concludes, “We question what our children will remember about this time, when faces are masked, parks are closed, and friendships maneuvered within a social distance of six feet. But we have a choice as to what our children will remember about our own roles in the Jewish community. May our children watch our actions, knowing that their families supported other Jews in need. May our children follow our examples, understanding that to be a Jew is to strengthen our community when the world feels bleak. May our children be proud.”
Speaking of community, here are some upcoming opportunities open to everyone:
  • Volunteer opportunities to support our houseless community by clicking here. Scroll down to see the month of August.
  • Throughout the Hebrew month of Elul (August 21 – September 18), leading up to the High Holy Days, we will be bringing you daily reflections from different leaders in our community.
  • The Jewish Federation presents Michael Solomonov, James Beard Award-winning chef, for a Rosh Hashanah cooking demonstration on September 14.
  • For several months the Jewish Federation brought you “Weekly Wednesday Updates.” Starting in September we will bring you monthly “Thoughtful Thursday” programs with speakers from around the world.
Check your email and the Jewish Review for more details as the events get closer.
Closing with a tidbit that may only be of interest to me. I am no music aficionado, but I am a product of the 1980s (remember my Live Aid comments last week). Last Friday was the 40th anniversary (July 25, 1980) of what became (wonder if you knew this) the second biggest selling album of all-time (50 million copies sold and only behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller) and my all-time favorite – AC/DC’s Back in Black. Thank you for some rocking teen and adult years.
Shabbat shalom.
Marc N. Blattner
President and CEO


Add Comment