Yesterday marked one year since the World Health organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic and one year ago today Governor Brown ordered schools to be closed (supposedly for two weeks). The global scale of the upheaval since then is difficult to capture. 118 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported worldwide and more than 2.6 million deaths, including over 520,000 in the United States.
More personally, during this time, we have lost loved ones, been unable to be with family and friends, and have watched far too many struggle. Our homes became our new office space, educational center, and workout facility. Travel plans were cancelled. We could go out to eat. Businesses suffered. Zoom became both a noun and a verb in our everyday lexicon. And our individual pandemic circumstances could go on and on.
Now, with vaccines becoming more available and infection numbers dropping, I am very optimistic. I could not be prouder of how our Jewish community has managed through the pandemic. We raised close to $1 million in additional funds to support people and organizations in need. We helped every Jewish organization apply for PPP loans. We became more creative in our program and service delivery. I marvel at all the online offerings synagogues and Jewish organizations created. Going forward we will take what we learned and do even more in the months and years ahead.
I am filled with gratitude for our health care professionals, vaccine researchers, front line workers, teachers, grocery store workers, etc. who have done so much during these challenging times. And, of course, I am grateful to the hundreds of Jewish community employees and volunteer leaders who continue to do so much to enrich and strengthen our Jewish community every day.
During this time, we truly banded together despite the fact we could not be together. It has not been easy. And we must recognize that there will be a post-pandemic transition period as our offices, schools, stores, restaurants, etc. re-open. We will be here to support you.
May we all get our vaccine, follow health and safety guidelines, and get past this pandemic!
Here is some follow-up on recent activities:
Thank you to the over 1,300 people who signed our petition to the school districts requesting that school not start on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. We rushed out the petition (with little information) due to the West Linn-Wilsonville school board meeting this past Monday night. The meeting did take place and a follow-up meeting is set for early next week.
Here is some additional background information on the work being done. For the past two decades, the Oregon Area Jewish Committee and now the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation mails a letter
along with a current 5-year calendar of Jewish holidays to every school and every school district office across Oregon and SW Washington
on an annual basis. We highlight the Jewish holiday schedule and discourage major school events (start of school, back to school night, prom, etc.) be scheduled on a Jewish holiday. In fact, we ask that no major school events be scheduled on any religious holiday.
In addition, ever since school boards were looking at school start dates for this fall, we have been in touch with leaders and superintendents about the potential Rosh Hashanah conflict. Most have been very receptive and understanding, although not all school districts have made their final decision.
We have received incredible support from several key state officials -- Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, Senator Rob Wagner, and Representative Rachel Prusack. Their efforts behind the scenes have been immeasurable. In fact, Sen. Steiner Hayward was able to get the Oregon School Board Association (OSBA) to write a release
to all school boards across the state urging them to avoid starting classes on September 7.
In addition, the Oregon Department of Education is highlighting a new policy that the Eugene 4J School District
passed which accommodates students’ religious observances, to assist students in Oregon’s religiously diverse state in avoiding conflicts between important academic and school-related events and major holy days. This may serve as an early model for other districts to consider.
We have also enlisted the support of the Oregon Board of Rabbis, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, and the Islamic Society of Greater Portland in this effort. This is a broader issue -- not only focused solely on the Jewish community.
We recognize that some believe this should be a non-issue or why should school districts change their schedule when Jews are such a small percentage of the overall student population. We are not asking for schools to be closed every year on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur like they are in many areas with larger Jewish populations. Instead, similar to other Jewish communities dealing with this issue, we believe students, teachers, and parents should not have to make a choice on the first day of a new school year, when that date can be moved.
More meetings and discussions will take place and we will keep you posted. And please contact us if your student encounters other conflicts on major Jewish holidays.
On a separate note, I want to thank the over 500 people who participated in our short marketing survey. I am going through the results and reading each and every comment. Your input is invaluable as we strive to be better at the work we do on your behalf.
Finally, I want to share that one of the most meaningful things our community does each year is the Passover 4All
campaign, which raises funds to make sure everyone in our community is able to have a Passover meal. This year, we raised $9,500 in less than 10 days to provide food and food gift cards for 140 families. Thank you to everyone who supported this effort.
I started this email reflecting on this past year. I hope you take the time to reflect, as well. May we all look forward to brighter days, good health, and opportunities to be together in-person with family and friends.