Tragedy, Celebration, and Loss

We have all been following the tragic news from Jersey City, NJ where four people were killed at a kosher supermarket. Our deepest sympathies and prayers are with the victims, their families, and the entire community. The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey has established a fund to support the victims’ families –  click here to make a donation .
After several days of investigations and interviews, authorities believe this was as an act of domestic terrorism, fueled by anti-Semitism and anti-police beliefs.
Please read the following statement from the Oregon Board of Rabbis:
The whole Jewish community is united in our horror at the violent attack at a kosher supermarket in New Jersey. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims whose grief is beyond description right now. The Jewish way is to face darkness by trying to increase light. With that in mind, we encourage the Portland Jewish community to mark this moment by increasing acts of kindness and tzedakah, by being together with a synagogue community this Shabbat, by lighting candles in memory of the victims, or all the above. May we soon see a world filled with light, love and understanding. Amen.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance ( IHRA ) definition of anti-Semitism – " Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The executive order is modeled on language in the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, drafted with bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress and formalizes a definition of anti-Semitism that can be used in discrimination cases throughout federal agencies.
This executive order bolsters tools that prevent discrimination on college campuses, which have been hard hit by a nearly 90% increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the past three years. These new tools are not inconsistent with first amendment protections, which will continue to be upheld and defended.
The full text echoes the President Obama era doctrine for protecting Jews under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Because Title VI does not mention discrimination based on religion, it could be interpreted to exclude protection for religious groups like Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, and others. To close this loophole, the policy is based on prior precedent that stated that these religious groups were nonetheless covered under Title VI’s provisions, despite the language of the act.
Here is a “backgrounder” from the Anti-Defamation League about the new executive order. There are Jewish organizations with varying viewpoints and interpretations on this issue.
In Israel, the Knesset dissolved itself on Wednesday night, sending Israelis back to the ballot box for an unprecedented third time in March 2020. The government’s fall comes after both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party head Benny Gantz were unable to form a government after the last elections in September. Following those failures, lawmakers also came up short in their bid to find 61 colleagues to agree to support a candidate for prime minister.
On a celebratory note, a hearty MAZEL TOV to Greater Portland Hillel for being honored with the Philip H. and Susan Rudd Cohen Outstanding Campus Award at Hillel International’s Global Assembly this week. What an incredible achievement for the organization, students, university partners, and the agency’s leadership! The Jewish Federation is proud to support Greater Portland Hillel.
Chanukah starts Sunday evening, December 22. Click here to find a calendar listing of all the Chanukah happenings in our community.
In celebration of Chanukah, the Jewish Federation is trying something new. We will be hosting 8 Days of Giving – an online fundraising campaign that will run from December 22 - 30. Our goal is to raise $1000+ each day for each of our Federation-run programs:
Day 3: PDX Pathways
Day 4: Chai Israel
Day 5: Security
Day 6: Right Start
We ask that contributions to the 8 Days of Giving be “over and above” one’s annual campaign contribution.
Here is how it will work. On December 16 th , Federation will send you an introductory email asking you to sign-up to receive daily email reminders during the course of the campaign. Yes, we need you to opt-in . Once you do, you will have the opportunity to learn more about each program and read inspiring personal stories of those directly impacted. You can also follow along on our Facebook page . We hope you will support this effort.
Finally, one of my all-time favorite books is Carroll Spinney’s autobiography, The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers . This is the man who for 50 years was the voice and puppeteer for Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. He passed away last Sunday. His beloved characters were friends and teachers to millions of children.
The memoir is filled with wonderful stories, including following his dream to become a puppeteer. By chance he met Jim Henson at a puppeteer festival in 1969 and soon after joined the newly created Sesame Workshop.
The chapter of his autobiography I loved the most was how his Big Bird costume works. Mr. Spinney was 5’ 10” and had to maneuver the giant 8’ 2” costume from inside with hands, wires and a TV monitor strapped to his chest to guide him around studio sets.
What made Big Bird so special was his childlike innocence – he was sometimes goofy, sometimes subdued, outgoing or shy. Plus, he taught us that it is good to speak up, okay to make mistakes, and it is all right to be sad sometimes.
He also made Oscar the Grouch very special. Ten years ago, Mr. Spinney was interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN and he said, “Oscar would still be orange — his original color — if he ever bothered to bathe his shaggy green moss.”
Think of all the life lessons we learned from Mr. Spinney!
Shabbat shalom.


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