Our Voices

Our Voices

I know you have heard all about the Centennial Trip to Israel in March 2020. We are only six days from the end of the early-bird special when prices will increase $500 per person. Sign up before November 15. We promise this will be the trip of the century! Do not miss out!

On Tuesday of this week, election day, I had the absolute pleasure meeting Kim Stafford, Oregon’s 9th Poet Laureate and Director of Lewis and Clark College’s Northwest Writing Institute, at Maimonides Jewish Day School. He spoke with the warmest of voices to the children in the most majestic way – the children were so attentive to his every word. I was amazed by how he connected with each student, his brilliant vocabulary, and incredible recollection of poems.

Three important things he said that stood out to me:

  • When asked who his literary inspiration was, he said, “Anonymous. He/she can always write whatever they wish with no retribution.”
  • The world today is “starving for kindness and connection.”
  • Three things he has learned about being a poet:
  1. You cannot make money as a poet, so you are free to write whatever you wish
  2. Teachers cannot fully understand because poetry is a mystery
  3. Writing poems is a luxury that can save your life as you learn to express yourself

At one point in his talk he read a poem he wrote that morning (it was election day) called Election. In the poem he said the two most important things we have as American citizens are “a voice and a vote.” He said each person’s vote is important, yet it hides in a box and is counted among many others. But we each have a singular voice that can be heard around the world. We have to make sure we use both.

One area where we need our voices heard loudly is standing up to hate. This week, the Jewish Community Relations Council heard from Aaron Knott, the legislative director for Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. Mr. Knott staffs the AG’s Hate Crimes Task Force (Federation’s Bob Horenstein serves as a member), which includes representatives from communities that have been affected by hate crimes (Muslim, Sikh, African-American, Latino, LGBTQ, in addition to our own Jewish community). Also serving on the task force are district attorneys, law enforcement officials and two state senators.

Mr. Knott explained that since the 2016 elections, Oregon has had the highest increase in reported hate crimes of any state in the nation! The task force is looking at correcting certain inconsistencies in the current statutes and rendering these laws more effective. The term “hate crimes,” Mr. Knott noted, does not even appear in the state’s laws that are used to prosecute hate crimes, nor is language of what constitutes a “protected class” (race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, etc.) consistent across the relevant laws that are presently on the books.

The biggest challenges in prosecuting hate crimes are: 1) that the motive of the suspect — that the suspect committed the crime due to the victim’s actual or perceived race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. — must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; and 2) that Oregon offers more protection to offensive speech than most other states.

Mr. Knott said the task force is looking at how to improve the reporting of hate crimes. He noted that the current data on hate crimes is not reliable as some counties are not reporting at all. Not all hate incidents are even reported to the police because, for example, victims in certain communities — e.g., the immigrant community — have a significant degree of mistrust of the police. The task force is also reviewing the remedies (civil suits, restitution, state funds for trauma counseling) that are available to victims and whether these might be broadened. Mr. Knott said that the AG will introduce new hate crimes legislation in the 2019 session but that it’s too early to know what the specific proposals will be.

Our JCRC will be watching and active with its voice.

The Interfaith Coalition for Dignity, representing a diversity of faith and ethnic communities in Greater Portland – Jewish, Muslim, and Christian – is asking people to sign a pledge stating, “While interacting with members of my own faith, ethnicity, and or gender community, as well as with others; if I hear hateful comments from anyone about members of any other community, I pledge to STAND UP for the other and use my voice to challenge bigotry in any form.” Please click hear to sign the pledge.

We also have a wonderful community opportunity for our 3rd to 6th graders to share their voice through Oregon’s 2nd annual Chanukah Essay Contest sponsored by Maimonides Jewish Day School. This year’s topic is “What Freedom Means to Me.” Essays should be typed and not exceed 150 words. One winner will be selected from grades 3-4 and grades 5-6. The submission deadline is 5 p.m. on Sunday, November 25.

The winning students will receive a new hoverboard and the opportunity to read their essays on Sunday, December 2 at the Menorah Lighting Ceremony in Director Park.

Please submit your essay via email to Office@PortlandJewishSchool.com with “Chanukah Essay Contest 2018” in the subject line. Be sure to include the student’s name, age, grade, and the school’s name and phone number.

Eric Kimmel, award-winning American-Jewish author, and Kim Stafford are endorsing this year’s essay contest. Kimmel will help select the two winners. The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland is proud to be a partner.

Finally, this Shabbat is National Organ Donor Shabbat, an opportunity to increase awareness of the need for the lifesaving and enhancing gifts passed to others through transplantation and encourage people to sign up in their state registry. There are many in our community who have donated organs, tissues, and blood stem cells to restore hope and share gifts beyond measure. Please consider being an organ donor.

Shabbat shalom, and on Veteran’s Day let us honor all those individuals who serve and have served our country.




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