I am writing my remarks this week on a plane ride to Orlando, Florida (where I grew up) for a family bat mitzvah. I must admit I am amazed that there is no direct flight between Portland and Orlando (I thought everyone could get straight to Disney World) and that it seemingly takes all day and night to get there.
As I travel to my family simcha, I am painfully aware that I will once again spend more evenings away from my family (they did not come with me). My wife and children will attest that I am out a minimum of two nights a week for Jewish communal activities (a blessing and curse of a vibrant Jewish community). It is not easy for them, and certainly I love being with my family. These remarks, however, are not about me -- this is my chosen career and the commitments come with the territory. I realize that I have my own time demands, while recognizing that I see many of the same community members at the same meetings and events that I attend. More and more, perhaps because it is “the season,” I hear from many about the “burnout” they feel with so many meetings, activities and community events taking place.
Three observations (which you may agree or disagree with):
1. Events are very important for the “lifeblood” of any organization. They deepen connections, raise important philanthropic dollars, and build community.
2. Events are expensive to attend (and for those who may need babysitting, the costs become even greater), expensive to put on, and take time away from family.
3. The majority of attendees I see are people who have lived in Portland for long periods of time, and often are the more senior members of the community who are “used to” attending such events.
Understanding that Federation has its enormous share of events and meetings, perhaps our community needs to look at ways to collaborate more, reduce the number of evenings out, and make events more affordable. If we do not, I am afraid we will see diminishing returns and attendance into the future.
Beyond events, there is a concern among many Jewish communities of a “missing generation” – typically those 50-65 (I would suggest actually younger here in Portland) who are not/less involved in volunteer life. Some people have "aged out" and feel they have "done their time." In addition, surveys show that these individuals have turned away from volunteer experience and communal involvement because of professional work commitments, the desire to spend more time with one’s family, financial cost, and, interestingly, a resentment of their own parents involvement (“that was their thing and they were never home”). How do we educate and encourage the 2nd and 3rd generations of our families to serve their community?
Volunteerism demands a commitment of time. In fact, Federation’s allocations committee just finished its deliberations and spent over 40 hours(!) meeting with and listening to each partner agency. This included over 10 hours (one meeting went from 5 pm – 11:45 pm) trying to determine final allocation recommendations for each agency. Are most people willing to give that kind of time in this day and age? To say that I am grateful to this dedicated group would be an understatement.
I am afraid if we cannot find ways to be flexible in the timing of meetings and how we meet (technology is incredible), reduce the number and cost of events, and help people manage their volunteer commitments, we will lose a great number of potential leaders. It just becomes too much! The old axiom, "if you want something done, find a busy person" is how we often operate. In reality, how much time can one person truly commit to his/her volunteer role, professional career, and family and be 100% effective in each?
Sitting next to me on the plane was a 23 year old man in uniform who has served two tours in Iraq and was now returning home to Houston to see his family. We engaged in a conversation about his war experiences and, of course, talked about the demise of Osama bin Laden. Regardless of your thoughts about the United States’ involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, I believe we owe a great deal of gratitude and support to our men and women in the military.
Perhaps nowhere do people appreciate and respect their military more than in the State of Israel. Beyond the security it brings to the country, almost every 18 year-old man and woman (they are so young) enters Israel’s military or performs national service for a minimum of two to three years. This Sunday will begin Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, when the entire country honors its fallen soldiers. People will visit military cemeteries, come together with family and one’s army unit, and wait for the country-wide siren to blow when literally everything and everyone stops what they are doing to remember. It may be one of the most chilling and moving experiences ever.
At the conclusion of Yom HaZikaron, Israelis are able to “turn on a dime” and begin to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Talk about a time of enthusiasm and joy, despite the current challenges Israel is facing in the Middle East. We may not be in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but please join our community-wide celebration on Monday night at 6:00 p.m. at the MJCC to enjoy Israel’s 63rd anniversary. I hope to see you there.
So, yes, I began my remarks with comments about how we ask individuals to come out again and again (meetings, events, etc) – but the difference here – come out as a family, enjoy together, and show the next generation(s) that Jewish communal life is truly full of joy and meaning, not just meetings and another event. These experiences will lead to positive impressions and our children and grandchildren will follow in your footsteps!
Shabbat shalom and have a happy Mother's Day.