Last week, the Portland Jewish community made national news once again. Tablet, a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture made Portland its cover story with an article titled, “Bridgetown: A new census doubled the Jewish population of Portland, Oregon overnight. Now the question is who they are and how to connect them”. The article, with a few misquotes and factual inaccuracies, showcased several recent community events focused on the east side of town, including the Federation Community Impact Grant-sponsored “Shabbat in the Park.” It highlights the growth in our community, the opportunities ahead, and the challenges in reaching new audiences.
Jewish organizations struggle with the issues of “inreach” (often defined as those most connected, active participants in Jewish life, typically affiliated with synagogues and other Jewish organizations) and that of “outreach” (characterized by connecting new and different people in Jewish life who may not be currently involved) – not that anyone wants to be considered on the “outside.” Who sets the criteria between the two? Where do we put our limited resources? And do we have to make a choice?
Earlier this week, I was at lunch with a long-time communal leader and a Federation donor who is highly involved with his synagogue. We were talking about this very issue and the person asked, “What is the problem we are trying to solve in the Jewish community? Only after answering that question can we truly strategize and come up with solutions.” What a great comment! I shared my thoughts that cost, convenience, value and meaning are the key barriers/factors going forward for the Jewish community. He appreciated that response and then began to dig a little deeper. He wondered out loud, “Why aren’t the majority of Jews (in Portland) connecting with their Judaism and the Jewish community?”
For many, the challenge is articulating what this even means for oneself. Are we a religion? A culture? A practice? A set of laws? A people? And, moreover, unfortunately, there are those for which this introspection does not even occur.
Despite this we continue to seek ways to include and involve everyone in our Jewish “community.” How do we do that, especially when “community” is hard to define and each one of us may be a “member” of multiple communities?
To me, “community” requires a group of people to interact with one another. How they interact (in person? online?) is a different issue. Perhaps it also requires shared beliefs? Resources? Needs? Identity? Cohesiveness?
Here in Portland, I believe we are a “community of communities.” People identify based on geography, age categories, membership and affiliation, personal interests, online social networks, etc. We may not be a “one size fits all” Jewish community -- yet we are a place where people can explore their own Judaism and unique Jewishness in a myriad of ways. And at the same time, we are part of a larger whole – a global Jewish community with a common history.
One place where our “community(ies)” can come together is at the Jewish Federation’s Jewlandia Campaign Kickoff Event on Saturday evening, November 12 at the Left Bank Annex. It promises to be a fun-filled night for people of all ages and the place to “meet and greet” people from all spectrums of Jewish life in Portland. Come together and join us to celebrate the vibrancy of Jewish Portland and how collectively we are forging a more promising future.
As we look ahead, let's not think of people as being on the "inside" or "outside" of Jewish life. Let's focus on telling others and reminding ourselves that everyone is welcome.
PS -- This past Sunday I had the honor of being the speaker at the Lane County (Eugene area) Federation event. It was there that I learned once again the power of a small Jewish community. The highlight of the evening was listening to the presentations for the four award recipients (two for distinguished service and two for young leadership/high school students). To hear the accomplishments of each of these individuals in “creating and building community” was so awe inspiring. It made me appreciate the power of a small (in number) community coming together for a shared purpose – one where “stuff” does not get in the way of moving forward.