Trees, Ideas and Commandments

This week is a wonderful confluence of events on the Jewish calendar. We not only celebrated the holiday of Tu b’Shevat (New Year of the Trees) on Wednesday, but this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, includes the Ten Commandments. Taking these two events together, and an experience I had last Friday, perhaps I can showcase the importance of community and the needs of current and future generations.

Here is a Talmudic story that illustrates this point:

An old man was planting a tree. A young person passed by and asked, what are you planting?

A carob tree, the old man replied.

Silly fool, said the youth. Don't you know that it takes 70 years for a carob tree to bear fruit?

That's okay, said the old man. Just as others planted for me, I plant for future generations.

Last Friday, I met with many members of the future generation. You may recall last year I wrote about a lunch I had with “11 interesting men,” where I shared their insights and experiences in regard to Jewish life in Portland. Well, the organizers of last year’s luncheon contacted me to do it again. This time, I had the privilege of sitting with 16 men (I would love to have a similar conversation with women – who can help coordinate?) – a few of whom were at the meeting last year. Once again, I heard incredible feedback from people in their 20s and 30s:

  • “I feel like I am in ‘no man’s land’…I am 32…married…no kids…where do I go in the Jewish community?”
  • “I am involved in the Jewish community (member of several Jewish institutions) almost exclusively for my children – I personally get little out of it”
  • “I live on the east side…Jewish institutions are too far away from where I live…I wish there was something closer to my home”
  • “I’d like to meet others in my neighborhood who are Jewish. How do I do that? It would be great if there was a ‘resource center’ so I can connect with other Jews in my area.”
  • “I feel like I am being judged based on what I do or do not do in the Jewish community. It is not a comfortable feeling.”
  • “I have lived in Portland for five years and have not been involved Jewishly since my bar mitzvah. I am interested in getting involved with Jewish activities, but only ones that are social in nature.”
  • “I moved to Portland 18 months ago. It is not so easy to break into the community. I remember my old city having an annual ‘Bagel Bash’ on Christmas Eve where it seemed every Jewish young adult was in attendance.”
  • “There seems to be all these different young adult groups in the Jewish community. Why can’t they all work together? It seems like a lot of smaller 'independent activities' instead of big programs with lots of people. I am confused.”
  • “I have no interest in things that are religious. I want more cultural and social programs.”

Now, I know some of you will say (as some of you told me last year), here we go again with a bunch of individuals looking for excuses of why they are not involved in the Jewish community. I disagree. I assure you that these young people want to be involved! But, the community is not YET meeting their needs.

We have the opportunity – NOW – to meet the needs and interests of these 16 men, as well as thousands of people young and old who feel the same way. What we have to do is be willing to adapt to a changing reality – one that says I want to experience and participate in the Jewish community on my own terms and not those prescribed to me.

Therefore, let me take the liberty to create my own Ten Commandments for Jewish Community Connections:

  • Accept that there are multiple ways to experience “Jewish life”
  • Inviting people is even more important than just welcoming people once they are in the door
  • Stage of life matters in regard to how and where people get involved
  • Convenience of location is an important part of involvement
  • Organizations cannot ask for money right away – let people learn about who you are and what you do
  • More activities and opportunities with other Jews creates positive connections
  • Cost is a major consideration
  • Planned programs are wonderful, yet “organic” activities can be even more meaningful
  • Have fun! Being Jewish is a joy!
  • This is where you get to add your own – and please share

So many “Jewish heroes” in Portland planted trees for future generations. In fact, we are all currently enjoying the benefits of those past and present efforts. With changing times and new realities, it is now our obligation to “plant communal trees” that will meet the needs and interests for generations to come. A challenging, yet important task.

Shabbat shalom.



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