BY DEBORAH MOON
Tradition! Just as Tevye discovers in “Fiddler on the Roof,” times are changing and traditions have to change, too.
Since 2015, the Laurie Rogoway Outstanding Jewish Professional Award has been presented at the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s annual meeting. This year’s pandemic has changed that tradition as it has so many others. For its 100th annual meeting, the JFGP is going virtual (see below), but Rogoway committee members staged a drive-by presentation celebration – something that seems to have evolved as a new tradition in the COVID era.
Selected as the sixth recipient of the Rogoway Award, Sonia Marie Leikam expected to receive the award virtually at the June 16 JFGP annual meeting. But on June 2 a masked delegation of four delivered the award to Sonia Marie on her porch.
“You created an incredible moment for me that exemplified why I continue to work in our community: because of people like you,” Sonia Marie wrote in an email to committee chair Eliana Temkin. "It was also special to share this moment with my family there. In doing my work, I often leave the kids at home, and it wasn’t until tonight that I realized the importance for me to have them see that when I am away from them, I am doing things that matter.”
Sonia Marie is indeed doing things that matter.
“We are richer because of the work she does,” says Eliana. “We really appreciate how devoted to youth Sonia Marie is through OJCYF.”
In her role as program officer at the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation, Sonia Marie leads programs to engage the next generation of leaders including the Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation, the OJCF Giving Council and the Sip & Tzedekah program for young adults.
“Our participants have grown into board members, Wexner participants and proud Jewish parents in the last 5 years,” wrote Sonia Marie on the nominating form for the award. “It has been so satisfying to open doors for amazing individuals and watch them embrace the challenge of strengthening our community.”
Three letters from community members supporting Sonia Marie’s nomination discuss just how special she is:
Sara Epstein: “Sonia Marie gives me the confidence that I can do it…. The special thing about Sonia Marie is that she is a supportive figure in not just my life, but for a whole community of people.”
Emily Benoit: “Sonia Marie’s dedication to the OJCF Giving Council makes a lasting impact on those who participate and for those who are granted. … Sonia Marie’s passion for the OJCYF program enthuses teens to learn about philanthropy and Judaic giving.”
Nicole Frisch: “Her commitment to ‘radical accessibility’ for all individuals who identify as Jewish creates a welcoming environment and opens doors to individuals who may otherwise find roadblocks to joining our community. … (She is) creating a pipeline of leaders for our future.”
Eliana notes that the nine members of the Rogoway Jewish Professional Award Committee were impressed with the strength of the pool of 11 nominees for this year’s award.
“The committee had a robust discussion about all of the nominees. I feel very proud to be in a community that has so many Jewish professionals doing good work,” she said.
The award includes up to $1,800 to participate in a professional development experience, and the committee was impressed that Sonia Marie “was able to describe for us her plans on what she would do with the money.” Those plans include applying for a Wexner fellow program and the Senior Educators Cohort at M2: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education.
Traditionally, Sonia Marie would be able to deliver her acceptance speech during the annual meeting. Yet with the condensed virtual format, she won’t have that opportunity. Following are some excerpts from what would have been her acceptance speech:
I affectionately call myself a Cashew. I grew up with a Catholic dad and a Jewish mom, first-generation American, born at the beginning of my parents’ American Dream. A Christmas tree with a Magen David on it was the most spiritual activity in my home.
Having chosen to immerse myself in Judaism in my late teens, every part of my practice is self-directed. I have never had family to fall back on for a honey cake recipe or shabbat candlesticks to inherit.… This community has created me, and in many ways has been my Jewish family. I came here at 17 to attend Lewis & Clark College and attended my first seder ever at the home of Sylvia Frankel. Melton classes, women’s retreats at the Kollel, family camp at BB Camp, navigating hard questions about justice with OJCYF teens, making challah with Chabad, finding a home at Shir Tikvah and most profoundly, my time with our local Holocaust survivors has created this Jew. I don’t know that who I am could exist anywhere else in this country, and I am profoundly grateful to this community.
I am humbled and touched deeply by this recognition. Building community I believe is a part of my purpose, and I am so grateful to be able to do this work with such love and support from others.
Part of this award belongs to my colleagues and the community that has so willingly supported my growth and evolution as both a professional and through my journey deepening my Judaism. The constant support of my family, and in particular my husband, who despite not being Jewish himself, has helped me in creating a strong Jewish home with our children, as well as stepped up to care for our kids when I am at community events or running meetings – I cannot thank him enough.
I would normally be accepting this award at the Federation’s Annual meeting, but the current crisis dictated otherwise. … What was done in the past could no longer be done safely. This is our call right now on so many levels, as Jews. To do things differently that may stretch us and challenge us. We need to look deeply at our institutions and who they are serving and hiring. We are called in this moment to stand in solidarity with the BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) community and especially our Jews of color. It is messy and difficult and oh so Jewish to wrestle with it all. I ask you, as my fellow Jews, to join me in imagining a different way of being. Grounded in our shared tradition and united in desire for a just world, l welcome your partnership.
Federation 100th annual meeting June 16
The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s 100th Annual Meeting will be a virtual event both emblematic of, and focused on, the incredible resiliency and vibrancy of our Jewish community during a not-so-normal year.
Keynote speaker Eric D. Fingerhut is the president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America, former CEO of Hillel International and a former U.S. Representative from Ohio. Fingerhut will share a broader view of what Jewish communities are facing across our nation.
Wexner Heritage Director Rabba Yaffa Epstein will deliver the invocation.
The meeting will acknowledge the five Sussman Fund Award recipients, who each receive a scholarship for undergraduate studies. Administered by JFGP, the Sussman Fund was started by Gilbert and Lillian Sussman in 1981 in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary to provide scholarships to Portland-area Jewish students attending four-year colleges in the United States. This year’s recipients are Natali Plotkin, who will be a junior at Pacific University; and freshmen Eliel Safran, Ithaca College; Isaac Vergun, Howard University; Arielle Bloom, Lewis and Clark College; and Rij Dorfman, Oregon State University.
Additionally, the Laurie Rogoway Outstanding Jewish Professional Award will be acknowledged during the meeting (see top of story).
WHEN: Tuesday, June 16, 2020, at 4:30 pm
WHERE: Zoom (register for log in information)