The Wisdom of Shraga

Ahhh…summer is here. People enjoying their well-deserved vacations…children attending various camps (mine leave for overnight Jewish camp early next week)…and the weather is getting warmer and more beautiful (I was promised perfect Oregon summers when I moved here). In addition, a very successful year for the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland comes to a close on June 30, which I will report on next Friday.

Last week, Jay Leberman (a wonderful educator and gentleman who is embarking on a new life and career in Israel), Headmaster of my children’s former Jewish day school in Philadelphia, wrote a meaningful note to that school’s families as the year concluded. Although my children no longer attend, I received his email and was touched by his comments. He gave me permission to share them with you.

Jay wrote, “Throughout my career as a Jewish educator, I have been influenced and inspired by the personal example and writings of Shraga Arian (z”l), a former mentor and principal of the day school that I attended in Albany, New York. I was only fourteen years old when Shraga died, however, he left an indelible imprint upon me, - one that would ultimately define who I became as a Jewish educator as well as who I am as a Jew today.  Shraga served as principal of my Solomon Schechter affiliated day school for fifteen years. Upon the completion of his tenure, he wrote to the Albany Jewish community in 1971 what he had learned during his years at the school. These reflections and insights have served as a guiding light for me from the moment I read them nearly forty-one years ago. I am honored to reprint them as I now contemplate my departure from this wonderful community and remarkable school: (My personal comments are in blue)

 1.  Do not to be afraid to lead or follow.

For some, leading is a mark of arrogance. For others, following is a sign of weakness. But we must pick our spots and know when to go from one role to another. It is not easy.

2.  Achievement is limited only by the ability to dream and the ability to project that dream to others.

To do the impossible requires far more than money. It requires the willingness to think bigger than before and more creatively than ever. We have the opportunity to make anything we want for our community a reality – but only if we are willing to step out of our comfort zones and focus on what is best for the “greater good.”

3.  Creativity is possible, not only within traditional artistic forms but also in social and human relationships.

Ever been on a team, or in a friendship circle at camp, or with a group of co-workers where new ideas flourish and the camaraderie never ends? We can create that same feeling in Jewish life, but only if we allow ourselves to develop those relationships.

4.  Making enemies is an affirmation that you stand for something.

To be frank, this is my greatest professional struggle. I work for a community-building/fundraising organization which relies on communal support. Taking sides on difficult issues can impact that support.

5.  People are hungry to get caught up in the uniqueness of being human: relationships, to believe, to count.

This ties into Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. Within our own Jewish community, these decisions were met with celebration by many who have supported the right of people of the same sex to marry. Others have felt that such rights should not be afforded because of earnestly held religious beliefs. There are differing opinions as to how Jews should respond to this issue although there is consensus that Judaism teaches respect for others and exhorts us to oppose discrimination against individuals. Here are two differing responses to the Court’s decision, one from the president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation and the other fromthe Orthodox Union.  This fall, the Federation’s Community Relations Committee will begin discussions on the potential 2014 ballot initiative to repeal Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage, passed in 2004.

6.  The rarest quality of all is imagination.

We typically “think inside the box” and find it hard to imagine anything different. Let’s stretch ourselves and imagine what our Jewish community can be.

7.  When all the mass structures - camps, assemblies, schools, etc., - are evaluated, the most important thing we can work on is the one-to-one relationship.

This goes back to Dr. Ron Wolfson’s book, Relational Judaism. Everything we do is truly all about relationships. Yes, we have our organizations and institutions, but it is our connections with people that make the greatest impact.

8.  Despite all differences, the Jewish people are a mystic unity.

Yes, we are a special people. “Chosen,” in fact. A people that continue to learn. A people that focus on sharing l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. A people who honor the past yet look ahead to the future. Let us learn from Shraga’s wisdom and enable ourselves and our community to reach its full Jewish potential.

Shabbat shalom.


PS – Our community is blessed to have a wonderful agency focused on serving our senior community. As you may know, Cedar Sinai Park is now the general partner of four affordable housing apartment buildings in the downtown area.  These buildings include:  the Rose Schnitzer Tower on 12th & Clay, the 1200 Building and the Lexington Apartments, both on 12th near Jefferson, and the Park Tower on Salmon near Broadway.  Members of the Jewish community who are over the age of 55 or have disabilities and meet the low-income criteria (50% of median income or less) are urged to get their names on the waiting lists for these buildings.  Even if a person does not have the need now, it is worthwhile to put the name on the list in anticipation for the time when that need is appropriate.  If you or a friend are interested, please contact the buildings as listed below:

Rose Schnitzer Tower

1200 Building Apartments

Park Tower Apartments

Lexington Apartments


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