Vuja De

When I moved to Portland two years ago (my family actually arrived on August 18, 2010) everyone told me about the magnificent summers and to enjoy them while they last. This summer sure has been spectacular, despite the heat the past few days (hey, I grew up in Florida where there was heat and humidity). One way that our Jewish community continues to enjoy the sunshine is by having Shabbat programs in the park or “on the lawn.”

Last summer, the Jewish Federation, through its Community Impact Grants (CIG), helped fund three Shabbat in the Park programs. Now, I recognize this was not a new idea (several synagogues have done these for years), yet we felt by funding them we would create “open space” for people to enjoy Shabbat together. They were well attended and beautiful evenings coordinated by both Congregation Neveh Shalom and Congregation Shir Tikvah. Unfortunately, many people shared with me that they decided not to participate since they did not belong to one of the sponsoring synagogues despite the evenings’ openness to everyone.

This past May, we released the results of Federation’s market study of the eastside Jewish community. The number one message from the study was the desire for large-scale communal Jewish celebrations and events. Therefore, to enjoy the beautiful sunshine, follow-up on the study, and continue the success of last year’s (and years' past) programs, I invite all of you and your families to please join the Jewish Federation tonight for a community-wide TGIF at Laurelhurst Park from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. (35th and SE Oak – look for the signs).

One person recently said we should have called it TGIS – Thank Goodness It’s Shabbat. There will be music by the Klezmonauts, comedy from Betsy Kauffman, children’s activities, challah and ice cream for everyone. Bring a picnic dinner, blanket and chairs and enjoy a warm (literally and figuratively) evening and get prepared for Shabbat. I hope to see you there.

Cynthia Barton Rabe, a former innovation strategist at Intel, said, “What we know limits what we can imagine.” Many organizations, she argues, struggle with a “paradox of expertise” in which deep knowledge of what exists in the marketplace or a product category makes it harder to consider “what-if” strategies that challenge long-held assumptions. Thus, we become stuck in our current mode of thinking and believe what we do today will work long into the future.

In addition, earlier this year, John Chambers, Chairman of CISCO, went even further at the Israeli Presidential Conference titled, “Facing Tomorrow.” He said, “If you want to know where to go in the future, think like your children.” A wonderful and creative idea – one open to so many possibilities. I know that I often observe what my children like to do, how they interact with others, their ability to “just know” how to do things (especially in regard to technology), and their thoughts in regard to their own Jewish identity and involvement.

So I wonder, how do we create the Jewish community of the future – one that will meet their needs and interests 20+ years from now – when we are slow to change, if we truly change at all? Those organizations and institutions that do not evolve continuously, regardless of how strong they think they are today, will get left behind. Change is the required norm – and it is happening at a pace faster than ever.

At times, I have received feedback from people that I am not from Portland and just do not understand this community. I share ideas that are not part of the “Portland ethos.” In addition, they like to tell themselves that our Jewish community is doing just fine. Yes, there is vibrancy with multiple programs and happenings each week…we present tremendous Jewish cultural opportunities…provide excellent social services…raise millions of dollars…and have a deep commitment to Jewish education and experiences. Yet, more than 65% of the Jews in Portland participate in nothing in the Jewish community. Why? What aren’t we doing? One could make the argument to focus only on those who have “walked in the door”…while others believe the future of the Jewish people depends on greater numbers connecting to the community.

It is time for an open and honest evaluation of our entire Jewish communal system – on all levels. What do we want as a community? We cannot provide everything – nor can we “compete” in some areas of our work. What we can do is learn best practices from other Jewish communities and leading organizations in unrelated fields and apply that knowledge to our own situation.

Someone said to me long ago, we have all experienced déjà vu – looking at an unfamiliar situation and feeling like you have seen it before. “Vuja de,” however, is the flip side of that – looking at a familiar situation as if you’ve never seen it before, and with that fresh line of sight, developing a distinctive point of view on the future. If you believe, as I do, that what you see shapes how you change, then the question for change-minded people becomes: How do you look at the Jewish community as if you were seeing it for the first time? Open your mind to a bright new Jewish future, because together we must create it.

Shabbat shalom and I hope to see you tonight!


PS - We need one more volunteer for the Hood to Coast relay race. It is not an easy time/location. 12:15 a.m. - 5:45 a.m. at the T exchange #23, near Vernonia. We need a volunteer to help with traffic control, parking assistance or other operational tasks to help runners and keep the event running smoothly. Teams need to provide volunteers, as well as runners, to qualify. Please contact me at if you are available.


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