Wednesday night, I had the privilege of teaching students at Congregation Shaarie Torah’s Wednesday Night School. I’ll be frank – I am not a trained educator and working with students grades 6-9 certainly has its challenges. My topic – kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh – All Jews are responsible one for another. We talked as a group about how they interpreted this phrase. Does this only apply to helping the Jewish community? Are we responsible for all Jews no matter where they live? What about our responsibility to people in distress around the world?
Their insights were what one might expect. Yes, taking care of Jews is important, but “we do live in a global society and we should help all people.” They discussed the idea of “Jewish giving” (supporting Jewish institutions) and “Jewish values giving” (Tikkun olam – “repairing the world” whether through a Jewish organization or not). In addition, they did an exercise ranking priorities in their Jewish life. Interestingly, Jewish education was their top priority followed by Jewish culture and social services.
At the end of the class (trust me…I am sure the kids were happy it was over), I provided a large supply of Lego bricks. I asked each student to create out of the Legos a Jewish value that meant the most to them. The Lego creations were truly inspiring – a house to represent their Jewish home…a tzedakah box…a person assisting someone in a wheelchair…a synagogue…and even an Israeli flag. These youth are our future and we must continue to nurture their connections, education, and involvement for years and years to come.
Some community briefs:
- Mazel tov to Liz Menashe who has been elected to the Jewish Federations of North America National Women’s Philanthropy Board. She is following Sharon Weil (thank you!) who has so ably represented Portland for so many years.
- In our role as a community convener, the Jewish Federation brings together individuals representing a cross-section of our community and our communal institutions. We recently facilitated two groups of volunteer and professional leaders – one group to discuss our community’s efforts to provide for people with special needs and the other on adult education. These were beginning conversations as our community evaluates its current offerings and looks to increase accessibility, fill in gaps and expand opportunities. More to come.
- Jewish Right Start, the Jewish Federation grants for new families enrolling in Jewish preschools, has been a huge success! The request for incentives has been so high that unfortunately, we have already had to create a waiting list. The program provides up to $2,000 for a new child enrolling in Jewish preschool. In its initial six weeks, Federation has already utilized the entire $80,000 allocated for these incentive grants. We look forward to increasing funding for the program in the years ahead.
- For new children registering for Jewish overnight camp, please sign up for the One Happy Camper incentive program that provides up to $1,000 for first-time campers.
- Shabbat Across Portland is Friday, March 13. This is part of NJOP’s Shabbat Across North America Initiative which will have its 1 millionth participant this year! Locally there are several options to participate. Several of our synagogues and other Jewish community organizations (including Federation’s PJ Library program) are hosting Shabbat experiences which you can view via the community calendar here. In addition, if you host guests in your home for Shabbat and register by March 9, Federation will provide a “Shabbat Kit” with Challahman challah, grape juice, and candles.
- The international annual Good Deeds Day is happening Sunday, March 15. There are hands-on volunteer opportunities for all ages, interests, locales and times – register today.
- Mark your calendar for the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s Annual Meeting on Tuesday, June 9. Our guest speaker will be Avraham Infeld, president emeritus of Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, founder of Melitz (an educational service institution that fosters Jewish identity rooted in a pluralistic understanding of Jewish life), and was the first community shaliach from Israel to come to America in 1968. Avraham is a world renowned speaker with a very impactful message about Jewish life. Join us!
These are just a few of the activities going on from the Jewish Federation. In our vibrant community there are even more – check them out via GrapeVine or visit the Jewish Federation’s community calendar to learn more.
On a somber note, some of you may have seen a disturbing report about Jewish life on campus. According to a survey by the Louis D. Brandeis Center and Trinity College, 54% of college students have experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism within the past academic year. This survey was taken in spring 2014, so prior to the hostilities last summer in Gaza.
Next week, we celebrate the holiday of Purim. It is a celebration of overcoming anti-Semitism and hatred. As world events continue to unfold, let’s remind ourselves of the strength of our people and the fact that kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh – All Jews are responsible one for another.
Shabbat Shalom and chag Purim sameach. Enjoy the reading of Megillat Esther and the incredibly fun Purim shpiels around our community.