The Next Stage - November 20, 2020

We are once again in “lockdown.” Restaurants, gyms, and other places of business closed for the next several weeks, and perhaps longer. The pandemic continues to impact more and more people, despite continuous calls for mask wearing and social distancing. We must remain vigilant in our efforts with the hope for a vaccine on the horizon.
Andres Spokoiny, President and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network wrote an important article titledCovid Was Not A Crash Diet: What Funders Need to Do In The Next Stage. I encourage you to read the entire article, but here are some excerpts.
The author focuses on two initial stages of communal response to COVID and its impact on people and Jewish organizations. As you know, our community immediately responded to the challenges created by the pandemic and raised $900,000 in emergency funds. This was how most communities addressed the “first stage” of the crisis. As Andres explains the first phase saw the following things happen very quickly:
Collaboration: When Covid hit, funders realized that collective action was needed. The long-term challenges posed by Covid require more of that collaboration, so partnership and joint action become standard practice.
Communal (local/national) Partnerships: In the beginning of the crisis the Jewish Federation, the OJCF, synagogues, local Jewish organizations, funders, and national communal umbrella organizations worked together more than ever before.
Unrestricted, Long-Term, Flexible Funding: When needs are evolving rapidly, nonprofits need to have fungible dollars and funding stability. Our community provided these funds quickly.
Simplified Processes: Understanding that nonprofit leaders were overworked and overwhelmed, the application and reporting processes needed to be simplified. In Portland, we made the grant application easy and grants were turned around on a weekly basis.
We managed well during the first 8 months of the pandemic. Now comes the much harder part -- the next stage. The author outlines what we need to do going forward during this “second phase” of COVID support:
Systemic Communal Planning: Much of our reaction to the crisis was to treat it as a “blip” rather than an earthquake. Thus, we tried to shore up organizations and help them “return to normal.” In doing that, we missed the big picture; the opportunity to rethink entire communal systems that need rejuvenation and reformulation. It is necessary to “save (name an organization)” in your community, but what about also rethinking the (name an organization) and adapting it to the realities of the 21st century?
This is something I have written about in the past. There is a need to reevaluate our communal structures and systems. That conversation begins not from our existing institutions but from the individual and collective needs of our Jewish community.
Mergers and Consolidations: So far, we have only scratched the surface in terms of reducing inefficiencies and redundancies among communal organizations. In a way, the government support that shored up organizations reduced the urgency for these kinds of initiatives in the short term. Now, however, with stimulus funding drying out and greater communal needs, these conversations become critical.
Spiritual Reckoning: The pandemic will – like every other pandemic in history – create a new set of spiritual and religious questions. The community has not invested enough in providing the tools for individual Jews to confront the transcendental questions that will come after Covid. Without that investment – in deep Jewish learning, theology and even philosophy – we may have saved Jewish organizations, but we may endanger Judaism.
Listening: During the first phase of our response, we needed to act rapidly and could not engage in deep and long consultation processes. Now, however, to fine tune the long-term response, mechanisms of participatory decision making will need to be implemented. To be effective, we will need to hear more and more in-depth from the populations we serve.
Helping Organizations and People: In the second phase of Covid, we will risk a domino effect because individual families will not be able to afford fees, tuitions, and dues. So far, we have mostly supported organizations, but, in this context, supporting families so they can keep affording Jewish life may be a better and more empowering strategy. Probably, a combination of these two will be necessary.
There is so much to unpack and excellent “food for thought” in what Andres wrote. The pandemic is not over and many in our Jewish community still require emergency financial assistance, food, and mental health support. Isolation continues to be a challenge. Many of our Jewish agencies are closed or have curtailed much of their programming. People can only spend so much time online each day. Once the pandemic is over (who knows when that will really be), we hope life will go back to “normal.” Perhaps. But we have learned to adapt in new ways and we need to offer programs and services to match. Our work is not done.
Enough with the “heavy stuff” – let us have some fun. Back by popular demand, join James Beard award-winning chef Michael Solomonov for a free Chanukah cooking demonstration on December 2 at 5:00 p.m. Like his demo at Rosh Hashanah, this will be both fun and delicious! Register here.
A reminder for 3rd through 8th grade students -- entries for the Maimonides Jewish Day School’s 4th annual Chanukah Essay Contest are due on December 1 to essay topic is "The Festival of Lights celebrates how the Maccabees found the strength to overcome difficult obstacles their community faced. How can you help support your community of friends and family in today’s challenging times?"
Mazel tov to Deni Avdija, the 9th pick in the NBA draft by the Washington Wizards. He is the highest Israeli player ever drafted. Yam Madar, also from Israel, was the 47th pick by the Boston Celtics.
Allow me to extend early best wishes for a wonderful, safe, healthy and Happy Thanksgiving. Understanding our limitations of being together with our extended family and friends, I hope that we can all enjoy the holiday. Focus on the things to be thankful for in our lives – there are many!
Shabbat shalom and I will take a holiday from Marc’s Remarks next week.
Marc N. Blattner
President and CEO


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