Difficult Discussions -- Part 2 The Three T's, May 19, 2020

Thank you the tremendous feedback I received from my email last Friday.
This week, I want to write about the “Three T’s,” an idea I got from the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Charlotte.
Triage … Transition … Transformation
In early to mid-March, as the virus became more pronounced in our country, everyone and every business began to understand things were about to drastically change. Governor Kate Brown, following the advice of health experts, instituted a “shelter in place” order for the entire state.
Our Jewish community “jumped into action” – we were in triage mode. Every Jewish organization closed its doors and work started from home. People began to more fully acquaint themselves with Zoom and other online technologies. The Jewish Federation, in partnership with the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation, opened a crisis campaign to help the most vulnerable and quickly raised over $600,000 (the total is now over $850,000). Emergency grants were made available to Jewish organizations. Volunteers were delivering groceries and making phone calls to seniors. Everything was focused on the immediate needs in our community.
We soon realized that this pandemic was not short-term. We have since transitioned into new ways of conducting business. Our Jewish day schools quickly pivoted to online learning (much faster than the public schools). Shabbat services, b’nai mitzvah, weddings, shiva minyans, etc. were streamed online. Community-wide candle lightings were being held (and breaking world records) along with Shabbat walks. A new “Weekly Wednesday Update” series was launched. Fitness classes were online. Mental health support gatherings were being offered. Suddenly, you could find a full range of virtual activities to keep you busy and engaged. Amazing!
During this transition time we have learned quite a bit. Working from home has its challenges, but we can manage outside the office. Physical spaces are not the only venue for gathering as a community. Nationally and locally, synagogues have seen minyan and Shabbat service attendance increase since transitioning to a virtual-only option (many already had been streaming services to those unable to attend in person). Jewish life can operate virtually and differently.
As our state and country begin to re-open, we must take a long, hard look at what transformation may look like in the Jewish community. It will take years before the world feels as it did on let’s say March 1, 2020 – and by then our world will have changed even more. Our immediate future will include prolonged social distancing, mask wearing in public, and most likely limited size in-person gatherings. And none of this takes into consideration the financial struggles ahead.
What will this “new normal” mean for High Holy Day services with our congregations? What will this mean for participation in membership organizations? What will this mean for those who rely on galas and other in person events as primary fundraisers? What will it mean for our schools and camps? And how do our Jewish organizations re-open their offices and buildings with all employees and constituents feeling safe?
National Jewish organizations have seen massive layoffs, including 20% of personnel at the Union for Reform Judaism and 37 people at Jewish Federations of North America. Changes in staffing patterns will continue going forward on national and local levels as revenues decrease (donations, membership fees, program fees, etc.). As one Jewish organization CEO said, “The impact of COVID-19 on all our revenue streams has been difficult, and we anticipate it will take several years to recover. Consequently, our organization must be more nimble and smaller.”
So, now is the time to contemplate what our community’s transformation could look like. Three things to consider:
  • Who is involved in any change process and who makes final decisions? This process is about what may be best for the Jewish community as a whole – not one’s favorite organization. As I said last week, protecting turf and silos will not move us forward.
  • Closures, mergers and collaborations. They will happen. Every Jewish organization says, “not me,” but many factors are out of our control. Several key questions to consider – If “organization XXX” did not exist, what would be the impact on the Jewish community at-large? Are there ways organizations with similar purposes can merge or work more closely together? Can resources -- human or otherwise -- be shared in new and different ways -- to create efficiencies while maintaining excellent service delivery?
  • Perhaps most intriguing to me is the creation of new platforms to deliver Jewish content (educational, religious, spiritual, cultural, emotional support, etc.). Think Netflix and Peloton. In simple terms, creating a full spectrum of program content that can be found virtually and in-person that is of benefit to all. Jewish life does not only happen in Portland. We are learning that we can channel programs and speakers from around the world to enrich what we are offering – and not have to create it all ourselves (think The Great Big Jewish Food Fest that starts today).
More on all of this in the weeks ahead.
I do want to add one more “T” to the conversation. And that is thankfulThankful that most in our community have remained healthy. Thankful for the incredible work of Jewish professionals and volunteer leaders in managing our community organizations in such a stressful time. Thankful for the perseverance of community members. Thankful for the hundreds who have contributed so generously to our community crisis campaign. And most of all, thankful our Jewish community is here for you.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the passing of Rep. Mitch Greenlick (z”l). Mitch was an advocate for health care policy in our state and a true friend to the Jewish community. On the state level, he was known as a “policy wonk.” In the Jewish community, and with our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), he was generous with his time and expertise. Our condolences go to his entire family and may his memory be for a blessing.
Please stay healthy as our state begins to “open up.” And, I welcome your thoughts.
Marc N. Blattner
President and CEO


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