PHOTO: Cedar Sinai Park never closes since the residents always need care, but the Jewish senior campus does try to make snow days fun for staff. Yoga, or snowga, anyone?
The Jewish community hunkered down under winter storm warnings the last week of 2021. Some synagogue and agency buildings were closed or had shortened hours for all or part of the week, but the virtual and remote world that has evolved during Covid allowed work and services to continue for many.
While snow ranged from just a dusting on the valley floor to a few inches in higher elevations around the city, it was relentless in its reappearance each morning. The Mittleman Jewish Community Center closed on Sunday and Tuesday and had late openings a couple of other days. At Jewish Family & Child Service, telehealth allowed most counseling sessions to continue, and the snow had minimal effect on Holocaust Survivor Services ability to care for its clients. Some congregations closed their buildings for part of the week.
“We know that we can basically manage the day-to-day running of the shul from home if need be, without having to brave the roads,” says Shaarie Torah Executive Director Jemi Mansfield. “We can essentially shift everything to virtual (services, classes, etc.) as needed, plus admin work is already achieved remotely on a regular basis.”
Neveh Shalom Director of Congregant Relations Michelle Caplan has a similar view: “We did close the building due to unsafe winter conditions, including snow and ice in the CNS parking lot, (so) the building was closed Monday and Tuesday. Staff worked remotely from home. I think the ability for us to pivot in a weather situation like this feels very seamless, but because there is not very much happening this week, it also made it easier.”
For those serving the seniors who live at Cedar Sinai Park, it was business as usual with a little extra fun thrown in.
“Cedar Sinai Park is like a hospital – we never close,” says CSP CEO Kimberly Fuson. “We try to keep as light as we can, keep it fun. We give people rides and have slumber parties. We set up suites in the nursing home and assisted living if people need to stay. We try to make it fun.”
If employees don’t have transportation through the snow, the senior living campus has dispatchers and drivers ready to pick them up. “And the CEO has four-wheel drive,” Fuson adds with a chuckle.
CSP’s adult day services (ADS) did, however, close for part of the week.
“Last evening, I contacted ADS families that would’ve attended today to find out their interest and ability to get to ADS today,” said ADS Director Nancy Heckler on Dec. 27. “Families indicated that they would not get out in the snow/ice and were very ‘relieved’ to hear we’d cancelled by 7 am.”
The MJCC closed on Sunday, but the J and Portland Jewish Academy did open vacation camp and the early childhood program on Monday. Then on Tuesday, the campus closed again.
“This is consistent with other programs in the area – most early childhood centers closed today, as did vacation camps and other community facilities (libraries, recreation centers, etc.),” said MJCC/PJA Executive Director Steve Albert on
Dec. 28. “Hopefully, the road conditions will improve enough by tomorrow that we can reopen. That said, with more snow and freezing temperatures in the forecast for the remainder of the week, it’s very hard to know what it will be possible for us to do safely.”
The MJCC, like many synagogues and businesses, updated its website daily on what was open and when.
“Our top priority in determining whether the Mittleman Jewish Community Center can be open is the safety of our staff and members,” says Albert. “Whenever the roads are hazardous, we implement delayed openings, early closings, and/or closures to ensure that staff members can travel safely and are not put in danger. Likewise, at Portland Jewish Academy, such decisions are based on prioritizing the safety of faculty, staff and students.”
The snow can create a particular hardship for observant women needing to observe the laws of family purity, where immersion in the mikvah is time bound by halacha (Jewish law).
“Halacha requires immersing after nightfall on a certain day in woman’s cycle,” says Rachel’s Well Mikvah Manager Caron Blau Rothstein. “For those users, inclement weather that limits access is a challenge that impacts the family… We are responsible not just to the ritual but to the safety of our guests and guides – who are all volunteers.”
Unfortunately, Rachel’s Well Community Mikvah sits at the bottom of a steep driveway on the Schnitzer Family Campus.
“They close the driveway when it’s icy,” says Rothstein. “When the building is open, the mikvah can be accessed through the main building with exiting at the bottom of the driveway. … When the MJCC is closed due to inclement weather, there’s no access to mikvah.”
Fortunately, Mikvah Shoshana Women’s Mikvah sits on flat, accessible property owned by Chabad of Oregon and remains open during most inclement weather.
“We really appreciate when they can accommodate women who need to fulfill this time-bound mitzvah,” says Rothstein.
Further to the south, Ashland was hit by a lot of snow. Havurah Shir Hadash is normally closed on Mondays, but Ayala Zonnenschein said on Dec. 27 that she didn’t know if staff could make it into the building on subsequent days. However, she said, “being able to use Zoom has allowed our classes and services to continue despite the very challenging weather.”