Unimaginably Difficult - June 5, 2020

This past week was unimaginably difficult.

On Tuesday, the Jewish Federation, in partnership with JPRO (our local Jewish communal professionals’ association) had planned a “social lunch” together with an Israeli comedian. It had been planned for several weeks as a good break from the stress of the pandemic. On Tuesday morning, I received a copy of a text from someone who said we should cancel it – “just not in the mood or spirit.” So, we postponed it.

I share that story because this past week has been filled with -- Pain. Sorrow. Anger. Frustration. Introspection. And so many other words that are flowing through my head. What can we do to make things better?

Tuesday afternoon, the Jewish Federation sponsored a special program with two leaders in the African-American community, E.D. Mondainé, President of the Portland NAACP and Senior Pastor at Celebration Tabernacle Church and Emmett Wheatfall, Former Assistant County Administrator for Clackamas County and Equity and Diversity Consultant. These are two men the Jewish Federation has had a long-standing positive relationship with on community initiatives and relationship-building.

For those who watched the program (click here to find a recording), I hope you felt the authenticity of the discussion. Real and raw emotions…feelings…passion.

Several quotes from our panelists that struck me:

  • Powerlessness is the worst form of oppression. It drives people to perpetuate their own suffering, as well as the suffering of others.
  • The Black community does not see the point of the democratic process. We cannot win our own struggle. Our participation feels like it makes no difference and serves no purpose. Our voices are just not heard.
  • We do not need you to just be an ally. An ally goes with you only to the gate. We need you to be an accomplice and go with us to the battlefield.
  • Do I die from the virus or while I am driving down the street?
  • No one remembers the name of the person who throws a rock or broke a window or stole stuff. They remember those with strategy, a plan, and most of all discipline.

Our professional team met on Wednesday to discuss what more we can do now to support communities of color. Our clergy have relationships. Synagogues have relationships. The Jewish Federation has relationships. But in so many cases it is with our leadership counterparts in those respective communities.

What can we do that will make a real difference between ordinary people? How do we get to know the Black community better? How can we collaborate from planning to implementation and not create something that just “feels good” or is artificial with no lasting impact?

I am proud of the longtime work of our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and the relationships they have developed with African-American leaders throughout the region. We have lobbied on issues of joint concern from criminal justice reform to voter suppression. And our Black-Jewish dialogues continue to build bridges and explore areas where we can become “accomplices.” In addition, the JCRC is planning a joint civil rights mission to the American south in October 2021 (was supposed to be this November) to learn together about the important history of the civil rights movement and, more importantly, about the injustices that still plague our society 60 years later.

We have talked about large town halls with other racial, ethnic, and religious groups. We discussed creating neighborhood “clusters” where people from all backgrounds can get together on a regular basis. Maybe it is as simple as inviting people to your home for dinner? We recognize that personal interaction and relationship building is what makes the difference.

Please share your thoughts and ideas with me to help our community as we plan a path forward. Just reply to this email. I want to hear from you.

Here are two of many articles people have shared with me with ideas. Please find those articles here and here. In addition, thank you to Portland Jewish Academy for sharing incredible resources for children. Here is a link to the ever growing list of anti-racist books for children and there are other excellent resources here for your family.

Going back to the Jewish community professionals. We postponed the “comedy lunch.” Instead, on Thursday we created a safe space for Jewish professionals to share and decompress. With excellent facilitation by Douglass Ruth of Jewish Family and Child Service, I believe we created something very special. It was needed and necessary.

In fact, all of us need to find that time and space. And Shabbat is the perfect time to do it.

Let me conclude with these thoughts.

We applaud and stand with all who are raising their voices in protest against this latest injustice and the entrenched racism in our society that it reflects. We most especially applaud all those on our streets and in our communities who are refusing to join individuals who would cause the safety of our people, neighborhoods, and businesses to be torn asunder by reckless violence.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the person who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

What did I realize this week? I have a lot to learn about myself. I will never truly understand. People are angry and frustrated. Protests are about the here and now. Looting distracts from the message. Creating and dictating change takes all of us. Only together can we make this world a better place.

Shabbat shalom.

Marc N. Blattner
President and CEO





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