Sing with me – Tis the season to be… – we all know the words and hear it plenty during this time of year.
I must admit, I enjoy the December holiday season. The sounds, the lights, the rush at the mall, and even the festive mood people seem to be in. But all of this was shattered last week with the horrific massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I really do not have anything to add to the sentiments of pain and anguish shared by so many – it was just a tragedy on so many levels!
As I thought about the incident and followed the news reports, I often asked myself was “What now? What can I do – for the families and the town?” Well, one thing is to take action. The Jewish Council of Public Affairs (JCPA), the national umbrella organization representing all major Jewish organizations and community relations committees has created a petition – www.endgunviolencenow.org – expressing the Jewish community’s pain and our resolve to enact comprehensive reform, including meaningful legislation to limit access to assault weapons and ensure access to quality mental health care for all who need it.
We are asking you to read and sign the petition and share this effort with your friends, family, and throughout our community. With your help, we want to show the American Jewish community supports action being taken. Over the next few months, our work together can change the national conversation and make new gun safety laws a reality.
During this holiday season, we, as Jews, often think about what we can do while others are celebrating their holidays. I must admit, growing up my family lived the stereotypical Jewish “Christmas eve and day experience” – movies and Chinese food for dinner. But “Christmas time” today seems to be a time for members of the Jewish community to participate in volunteer activities to better our society.
Last Sunday, the 4th grade class at Portland Jewish Academy (my son’s class) participated in a wonderful volunteer project – the Northeast Portland Backpack Lunch Program.
For many children, the Federal-sponsored school lunch is the main source of nutrition and most satisfying meal of the day. At other times, children go hungry, including over the weekend. Currently, the Northeast Portland Backpack Lunch Program is providing weekend lunch sacks to 170 schoolchildren in need of food. (This is making a difference, but, unfortunately, for just a small number of children while large numbers of families are facing food insecurity in the State of Oregon.)
PJA students and their families met at the Fremont United Methodist Church in southeast Portland. Everyone purchased food supplies prior to arriving and then assembled 135 bags of food containing 270 lunches for children – preschool age through 5th grade. Each food package includes: two proteins (canned chili, spaghetti or soup), two snacks (peanut butter/cheese crackers or granola bars), two fruit cups (apple sauce), and two juices. Not much food at all. And, in somebody’s mind this is supposed to be enough for two lunch meals during the weekend. (This does not even factor in siblings and parents and their food needs, as well as the other two meals of the day.) The food goes directly to those children who need it in a simple and confidential way – the children get the bags placed in their backpack each Friday.
The experience was quite meaningful in many ways. First, we did this as a family. It was easy and spirited. Secondly, it had meaning. My children better understood the needs of others in our community, and not just in the Jewish community. Moreover, joining other families from the 4th grade class created a “team” atmosphere where collectively we made a difference.
I am grateful to the organizers from the class, as well as inspired by the volunteers leading the backpack program.
I have always believed that we need to increase the number of volunteers and volunteer opportunities for our Jewish community. I know others have raised this topic in the past. The power of volunteerism is real. The need is enormous.
I am proud to announce that in March 2013, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland will officially launch the Portland Mitzvah Network – a “one-stop shop” portal for volunteerism throughout the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.
The goals of the Portland Mitzvah Network are:
Use volunteerism as a tool to bring our community closer together
Actively reach out into the community to engage people in Jewish life via volunteerism. It will provide a sense of Jewish connectedness for a segment of the community that finds meaning in service and social action and in a Jewish context.
Bring together Jews interested in volunteering throughout the community and in connecting with other Jews at the same time.
Expand the reach of participating organizations and broaden the perspective of volunteers through centralized volunteerism services.
You will be hearing more about this exciting new initiative in the near future – it will truly enhance volunteerism in our Jewish community.
Finally, as we approach the end of the calendar year, do not miss the opportunity to make your tax deductible contribution to the Jewish Federation’s Annual Campaign. Remember, all increases of 10% or more and all new gifts will be matched dollar for dollar. I am excited to share that we have already raised over $2 million, yet your support today will make the difference in the lives of so many.
Yes, tis the time to give of ourselves, and to make our world a safer and more wonderful place.
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