Two Dirty Four-Letter Words - October 2, 2020

200 days! Yes, 200 days! That is how many days it has been since the initial stay at home order in mid-March. 200 days…and it feels like there is no end in sight to the pandemic.
During this time, I have experienced two dirty four-letter words. Words that have been around far too long in Jewish communal life. Words that describe far more harm than help.
Those two words – silo and solo.
Since March 2020, the coronavirus has exposed our communal challenges such that everything is now different across our landscape, and all of our prior expectations are no longer fully intact. 
Rabbi Aaron Bisno of Pittsburgh recently wrote:
“Amidst so much crisis and uncertainty everywhere, one thing has not changed.  At least not yet.
By and large, every Jewish organization still seeks to solve its own challenges … (wait for it) … solo! And this in spite of the fact that organizations and synagogues, their boards, rabbis, and memberships share the vast majority of these present challenges in common.
Why would so many otherwise inclusive organizations pursue an isolationist silo policy? Fear, I suspect.
Namely our fear that we are the only one who is hurt & frightened, and, ironically, because we dare not admit our fear and pain, we therein exacerbate both.”
The Jewish Federation hosts regular meetings with leadership from the various organizations and synagogues. Some share. Others do not. Some are more worried than others. Some are financially stronger than others. And too many go about doing their own thing.
What would happen if we partnered with each other far more than we do today? We have made much progress -- perhaps not enough. The days of Jewish organizations being in their own silo and going solo cannot sustain them for the long-term.
Imagine if leaders and members of one organization/synagogue were truly to listen to members of another organization/synagogue. They would have a greater appreciation for their common challenges and then can find ways to work together to achieve our hopes and dreams for our Jewish community. This requires deliberate action. 
We must be transparent, honest, and real. We must listen. We must plan. We must share resources. We must be willing to bend for the common good. Of course, we will struggle, too. Yet, with open communications, courage, and the intention to join together we can make our Jewish community stronger for generations to come. Our organizations may have different missions and roles to play within the community, but I believe we are working towards a common vision for the future.
These are very uncertain times. And for our community to achieve its potential, we must remove those two dirty four-letter words from our lexicon and practice.
Here are several recent examples of the power of partnerships. In reality, I wonder if each organization could have done this on their own. By working with others, you reach more people, reduce costs, and provide an even better experience. As the old adage goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Congregation Neveh Shalom COVID-19 Outreach and Services (CNSCOS) is a new Oregon Health Authority-funded initiative serving those in the Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas county Jewish communities who have been affected by COVID-19.
Their outreach and support services aim to connect individuals and families to the information and resources they need to stay safe, healthy, and well-informed. The priority is to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Toward this goal, they are collaborating with all Jewish organizations and volunteers in the region to support public health efforts to curb the pandemic.
They have also developed two helpful guides. Here is a resource guide for teens that includes mental health resources, ideas for spending time with friends while social distancing, and online learning resources. And here is a guide to help you prepare our spaces for the winter.
Another example is “Mitzvah Morning,” a co-sponsored program by Portland Jewish Academy, the Eastside Jewish Commons, and the Jewish Federation. It was a fabulous example of community collaboration and how volunteering benefits participants and recipients.
Last Sunday morning, prior to the start of Yom Kippur, over 230 people participated in collecting toiletries and underwear and assembling 745 meal kits (for children who need help having enough food on the weekends) to those struggling with housing and food insecurity. Volunteers on the west and east sides of Portland collected these donations from car trunks in a contactless drop off. Every single participant dropping off expressed appreciation at the opportunity to help in this way and wanted to know when they could do it again. We look forward to other safe/socially distant service opportunities later this fall and winter with more community partners.
Federation recently hosted a cooking demonstration with Michael Solomonov. To make it possible, we partnered with 31 other Jewish Federations. And the Mittleman Jewish Community Center is participating with 100 other JCCs to provide Book Fest and its incredible array of authors.
Here is a nice article in The Skanner about the “United in Spirit” partnership between our Jewish Federation/Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, and the NAACP (please disregard the fact the writer did not always get Federation’s name correct).
As Lauren Goldstein, Chair of the Jewish Federation, always says – “When we come together, great things happen!” We need to come together even more!
On a different topic, I know many of you watched the Presidential debate on Tuesday evening. I only bring it up to share two important positions (from several years ago) supported by our Jewish Community Relations Council and their national umbrella organization, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs – read here.
Lastly, tonight we begin the holiday of Sukkot, my favorite holiday of the year. My sukkah is up and, weather permitting, I look forward to my annual tradition of sleeping in it each night of the holiday. In many ways, this is one of the most important ways I express my Jewish self and connect to our thousands of years as a people.
Shabbat shalom and chag sameach Sukkot.
Marc N. Blattner
President and CEO


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