What's Right in 5777

Shana tova! A happy and healthy New Year to you and your family. I hope everyone enjoyed the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

Sadly, we begin the New Year with the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean and in Florida and beyond. We have opened a mailbox for donations – 100% will go to hurricane relief (make note in comment line for Hurricane Matthew Relief). 

On September 15, the Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article detailing how September is a time when people make as many resolutions as they do in January. I am unsure why this is the case, but it certainly coincides with Rosh Hashanah most years. According to the article, September marks a time of change in how we live, what we buy, and what goals we set. It is when new cars come out, we see an increase in fitness club memberships, Hollywood studios put out their serious award contender movies, people spend more time browsing new career opportunities, and more people get married in September than any other month besides June. 

While these trends/changes affect our personal lives, I take this time of year to think about what I can do and what we can do for our community. Communities do not just happen -- they are created, nurtured, and continuously evolve.

My colleague, Stu Mellan in Tucson, speaks of our work as “weaving community” whereby our organizational partners, (i.e. agencies, synagogues, organizations; along with Federation departments and projects) work in mutually supportive ways to build an interdependent network of community services. This “weaving” model enhances collaboration and strengthens social networks amongst our most precious resources – our people and our organizations. This model allows our community to be less institutionally-focused, and more nimble and strategic in response to community needs. 

We have much work to still do. In my time at the Jewish Federation here in Portland, I have learned a great deal. I have certainly made mistakes along the way. But the key is to learn from those mistakes. And with the New Year upon us, here are some personal thoughts and reflections on the job at hand:

  • Our work is about individuals and families -- It is about addressing the opportunities and challenges at every stage of life. It is not about how much money is raised, number of members, or what the next event or program is. Instead, it is about the direct impact we make on people to enhance their lives for the long-term.
  • We must accept that our work is unpredictable. -- My graduate school professor used to say, “Strategy in philanthropy is a set of logical hypotheses about how to achieve a goal – hypotheses that guide decision-making and, importantly, learning.” We must recognize the effects of complexity and uncertainty in Jewish communal work. Much of the knowledge needed to support our change strategies can arise only during implementation. Therefore, collaborative experimentation and risk-taking are what will take us to the next level. 
  • Our efforts require working partners – Jewish agencies, synagogues, rabbis, communal leaders, donors, non-donors, individuals in the community, etc. must work better in consort with one another.  
  • Our community requires trust – As Stu Mellan recently wrote, “Trust can be built, trust can be broken; and broken trust can be healed. In the end, trust is achieved when individuals of good intention approach the building of their relationship with integrity.” 
  • Times demand we be “great,” not just “good.” -- "Good" speaks to protecting and advancing the widely accepted ways of how we currently do things. When “good” rules the day, it’s not noticeable, since things are transpiring just as they should. “Great,” however, is exciting, energizing, and stimulating. Striving for “great” shocks complacency and inertia into action. 
  • Our collective work necessitates shared ownership --This requires accepting the premise that to tackle community-wide issues “no one organization can go it alone.” The advent of more community-wide task forces on major issues like teen engagement, leadership development, in-home eldercare, Israel connections (just to name a few) must be done in a collaborative manner. 

It is important to realize that for our community to be successful it necessitates “putting egos aside,” something that does not necessarily come naturally to Jewish communal leaders (me included). It requires patience, persistence, and a whole lot of listening.

It is amazing what can be accomplished when everyone is on the same page and pulling together in the same direction. Getting to that point takes real effort – and, it is not the easiest thing to do in a community with such a wide variety of opinions, turf-related foci, and long histories. This is an example of the importance of what’s right -- not who’s right.

As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Let’s create “what’s right” starting now in 5777 for generations to come.


Earlier this week I finished reading Dr. Ellen Eisenberg’s new book, The Jewish Oregon Story: 1950-2010. Dr. Eisenberg is the Dwight & Margaret Lear Professor of American History at Willamette University and did a phenomenal job articulating both the history and, perhaps more interestingly, her own analysis of the changes in Jewish Oregon during that time period. She did this by using community archives, oral histories, and newspaper stories (and included plenty of information I never knew). It does not read like a history book – it, instead feels like a familiar “family story” – about our collective Jewish family in Oregon.

Get your copy of the book by clicking here or call the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education at 503-226-3600.

Finally, Yom Kippur begins Tuesday evening. Click here for a listing of Yom Kippur services throughout Portland. I encourage everyone to find their own synagogue, space and community in which to observe the holidays. 

G’mar chatima tova – May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life. Have a easy and meaningful fast.

Shabbat shalom.



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