When Given the Time

I hope everyone enjoyed the Purim holiday with all the shpiels, food, and fun!

This has been quite a positive week for me. I haven’t written a “week in the life” email in quite some time, but thought I would share about the past five days.

On Monday night, I had the pleasure of spending the evening at the Moishe House in NE Portland. Moishe House Portland is one of a network of houses around the world that provide activities and opportunities for hundreds of Jews in their 20s and 30s. Moishe House creates 5-7 programs per month, including outdoor adventures, Shabbat and holiday dinners, educational and cultural events, and sporting activities.

I met with the residents (who coordinate and plan the activities), and we talked about “Jewish community.” There was no formal agenda. Just an open discussion about what our Jewish community can offer going forward. We talked a great deal about our Jewish community “of today,” as well as potential ways for people to express one’s Judaism in the future. It was an open, free-wheeling, authentic conversation where I learned a great deal. 

Interestingly, all but one of the residents are Portland transplants. And, what makes them truly special is that each resident brings his/her own background, Jewish connections, and interests to the programming and “spirit” of the House. They are wonderful communal leaders connecting people in such rich and diverse ways to Jewish life – our community owes them a special thanks for the work they are doing.

On Tuesday morning, the Jewish Federation office was visited by 15 children from Portland Jewish Academy’s 3rd grade class. What an absolute delight! They came to learn more about the Jewish Federation (who we are, what we do, etc.) and were prepared with many questions for our professional team. 

Tuesday at lunch (and then later that evening at Congregation Neveh Shalom), Ravit Baer, Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest, shared her insights on developments in Israel-U.S. relations and other issues of interest to our community. She provided great insight to the challenges facing Israel today with multiple “failed states” surrounding the country. She briefly discussed the peace process and said we must wait and see what the U.S. administration proposes. And the issue of the African asylum seekers was raised.

On this important issue, the Jewish Agency for Israel, our partner, has called on the Israeli government to grant legal status to more than 500 young asylum seekers from Africa and to ensure that all migrants are afforded a transparent asylum application process. These young migrants arrived in Israel years ago as unaccompanied minors and were integrated in the education system of youth villages operated by the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Education. These youngsters have grown up in an Israeli educational environment, speak fluent Hebrew, are imbued with Israeli culture, and are loyal to the State of Israel. 

Even with the Purim holiday, Tuesday night made my entire week. The Jewish Federation held a Board meeting where we discussed and wrestled with challenging issues. What should the funding priorities for our community be? What “gap areas” should we be looking at for potential funding? Should we relook at how we allocate funds to specific service areas? In fact, over the two-hour meeting, we barely covered half the agenda due to the richness of the conversation.

The reason I am so proud, and I shared this with the Board, is that in my first federation position my CEO would proudly say, “The best board meetings are those when the minutes can be written before the meeting takes place.” I have never followed that mindset as I value and encourage difficult conversations that stretch people’s thinking. It is never our intent to “come in with all the answers” and ask for a “rubber stamp” of approval. People can be so amazingly creative and thoughtful when given the time and space – and not rushed to cover the agenda. 

Our community is blessed to have such incredible leadership that cares and always has the overarching Jewish community’s best interest front and center. And, although he does not like it when I do this, I must give credit to the superb leadership of our Chair, Ed Tonkin. In so many ways, it is his style that creates such vibrant and open meetings.

We are still coordinating our Passover 4All campaign to help the many in our area who struggle each year to celebrate Passover. For some, getting the items needed for the Passover seder is difficult, if not impossible. With your generous donations, Passover 4All gets food boxes to nearly 120 individuals and families throughout the Portland and SW Washington areas through the combined efforts of Congregation Kesser Israel, Jewish Family & Child Service, and the Jewish Federation. It is our goal to raise $5,000 in just ten days (seven days left) – a gift of $36 will provide a food box for a family. Please join us in this effort as every dollar counts.

On a final and personal note. I remember long ago reading about the “Seven Man-Made Wonders of the United States.” I am unsure who created such a list (and there are probably many versions), but it has always stuck with me. What are they you ask? They include: the Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam, Mount Rushmore (my all-time favorite), Seattle Space Needle, and the Washington Monument. Just last week, I finally completed the list, Hoover Dam. 

Whether creating these engineering marvels, developing community programs for young adults at Moishe House, educating 3rd graders about Jewish community, or even a Federation Board meeting, look what we can do when given the time to think, learn and create. 

Shabbat shalom.



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