BY DEBORAH MOON
Weekly Wednesday Updates were created to keep our community informed of how COVID-19 is affecting all of us. The updates have provided an overview of the coronavirus, reports from local leaders on the health of our Jewish agencies, and news from U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley on the federal response and its impact on Oregon.
Past updates can be viewed at jewishportland.org/weeklywednesday.
Today, May 13, at 1 pm, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden will share fresh news and views from Washington. Register: jewishportland.org/covid-19-community-health-update-with-senator-ron-wyden.
On Wednesday, May 20, we will be joined by Israeli Deputy Consul General for the Pacific Northwest, Matan Zamir. He will provide a briefing and take your questions at 4 pm. A link to register will be posted on jewishportland.org on the events tab.
ADAPTING JEWISH AGENCIES
On April 29, Zoom attendees heard from leaders of B’nai B’rith Camp, Cedar Sinai Park, Jewish Family and Child Service, Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland Jewish Academy and the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.
Agency executives said they are largely “OK,” at least through June, thanks in large part to financial support from the Community Crisis Fund (see related story below), local donors and members, and the federal Paycheck Protection Plan.
“We are OK. Thanks to all of you, we are really OK,” said OJMCHE Executive Director Judith Margles.
“OK seems to be the operative term,” said Marc Blattner, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, which hosts the series.
JFGP Board Chair Lauren Goldstein observed, “The entire Jewish community has come together.”
“Staff morale is high,” said CSP Executive Director Kimberly Fuson, noting the community support with the Joy Ride parade and donations of masks have had a positive impact.
Beyond June 30, several leaders said they are looking at various budgets and options depending on when and how they will be able to reopen.
“All our programs feel quite viable,” said PJA Principal Merrill Hendin, who noted enrollment for next year has continued even after the school shifted to full online education March 17.
BB Camp Executive Director Michelle Koplan said they are still awaiting guidance from government, health agencies and national camp associations regarding camp sessions this year.
All of the agencies have shifted to virtual programming and gained important skills for the future.
“This is an opportunity reach rural Oregon in ways we haven’t,” said Margles, noting that this is especially important as OJMCHE explores how to help schools meet the new mandate for schools to provide Holocaust and genocide education. She said staff is developing virtual tours, because physical school tours are unlikely until sometime in 2021.
This is a great opportunity to look at new ways of serving the community,” said MJCC/PJA Executive Director Steve Albert. “Post-crisis, we will have a much larger virtual presence than we have had.”
“We have been able to provide a lifeline to a lot of folks going through difficult times,” said JFCS Executive Director David Block, noting the agency has provided emergency financial aid and emotional support. Post-crisis, he said he envisions the agency will “take advantage of the expertise gained in the virtual world and expand … our counseling program with virtual counseling.”
WASHINGTON UPDATE I
On May 6 Senator Merkley discussed the federal response to COVID-19, the challenges facing state economies, the role of the Paycheck Protection Program and reaching small businesses that need the funding, the potential Israel-Palestinian peace plan, and other issues impacting our state and nation.
Senator Merkley spoke about the response from Congress “as we try to find our way through this uncharted territory … (in which) the health-care crisis created an economic implosion.”
He spoke about the ground-up efforts to support small businesses and nonprofits with the PPP loans/grants and increased unemployment benefits of $600 per week and expanded eligibility to the gig economy.
He believes it is also essential to support state and local governments as they struggle with massive losses of revenue during this crisis. Asked about the impact if state and local governments were allowed to fail, Merkley said emergency response, education, health care, transportation and construction would be impacted. “I think the ripples would deeply impact everything in the state and the economy.”
Universal access to health care and mail-in ballots, at least for the duration of the crisis, are other areas he is focusing on. Ultimately he would like to see the nation follow Oregon’s Vote by Mail model, but if Congress won’t pass that, he hopes legislation can at least ensure absentee ballots are available to all.
Senator Wyden’s May 13 briefing will be a good opportunity to get updates on those and other initiatives in D.C.