Sadly, I start my weekly remarks with comments about the increased and ongoing anti-Semitism we are seeing in our country. In just a few short weeks, 68 incidents targeting 53 JCCs in 26 states, numerous Jewish day schools and even the national office of the Anti-Defamation League were contacted about a potential bomb threat. Thankfully, nothing was found. In addition, just a few days ago at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Missouri (St. Louis) 170 headstones were desecrated. It is awful! These attacks cause great disruption, uncertainty, and add fear to the hearts and minds of many.
What IS promising is that people are speaking out and doing something. Jewish and non-Jewish groups have loudly expressed their concerns. President Trump has now condemned the attacks. Over 150 Members of Congress signed on to the Murphy-Crowley letter, including Cong. Suzanne Bonamici, expressing the deep concern about the anonymous bomb threats. And Muslim activists launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the repair of the St. Louis Jewish cemetery that was vandalized. The initial goal was to raise $20,000, and as of now has raised in excess of $120,000.
Let’s hope our law enforcement officials find the perpetrators. Moreover, I hope our country will come together and fight anti-Semitism, intolerance, bigotry and hatred going forward.
I am pleased to announce that Portland’s Jewish Holocaust survivors will soon receive innovative new services designed to reduce trauma and isolation, thanks to a grant made to our Jewish Family & Child Service (JFCS) by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). When combined with matching funds from the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, the award will enable nearly $40,000 in new programs for local survivors.
JFCS is one of only 11 organizations to receive funding through JFNA’s Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care for innovations in Person-Centered, Trauma-Informed (PCTI) supportive services for Holocaust survivors. PCTI care promotes the dignity, resilience, and empowerment of trauma victims by incorporating knowledge about the role of trauma into programs, policies, and procedures.
This funding is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and allows up to $12 million over five years to support state-of-the-art trauma-informed services for Holocaust survivors in the United States.
These grants mark the first time that the U.S. federal government has provided direct funds for Holocaust survivor services. Of the more than 100,000 survivors who live in the United States (estimated 130 in Portland), nearly one-quarter are age 85 or older, and one in four lives in poverty. Many live alone and are at risk for social isolation, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other debilitating conditions that stem from atrocities in their youth.
Most of the 115 Holocaust survivors that JFCS works with in Portland are Russian-speaking refugees from the former Soviet Union who immigrated during the 1980’s and 1990’s as part of a JFCS resettlement program.
JFCS will use the grant to add holistic group counseling and wellness services for local survivors, many of whom live below 150% of the federal poverty line. It will equip social workers working with these survivors with a strengthened skillset and a very specific toolkit to go into the homes, recognize red flags of trauma and create unique specialized treatment plans so the survivors can continue to age in place in safety and independence and dignity.
The desire to be trauma-informed really is recognizing the long-term effects of trauma in survivors and then using those effects to understand the experiences that someone has in their behaviors or their mental health status. It addresses the effects and the consequences of trauma and helps to implement procedures and care plans on a smaller level that understand the symptoms, the red flags and how to avoid re-traumatization.
Carrie Hoops, executive director of JFCS said “Triggers are everywhere, especially as survivors experience the losses associated with aging. These new services will help foster a sense of healing.”
Our Holocaust survivors deserve the highest quality of services available, and the Federation is proud of JFCS for stepping forward and seeking this grant to provide additional support for our survivor community. It is the Federation’s honor and obligation to partner on these efforts.
On a separate note, thirteen months ago, the Jewish Federation started Jewish Free Loan of Greater Portland – a program to help people with “life’s ups and downs.” The biblical imperative for an interest-free loan program comes from this week’s parsha, Mishpatim, which states that granting an interest-free loan is not just nice, it is a mitzvah (Exodus 22:24). The Torah portion details civil laws, mandating what is “right,” and thus, enabling and enhancing human co-existence. One of the most critical of these mitzvot pertains to interest-free loans. We begin to realize their importance, while discovering – for all Jewish people – the prospects and responsibilities associated with them.
The concept of “Jewish giving” involves helping to put someone on the path toward self-sufficiency, which as Maimonides asserts, is actually the very highest form of charity.
The program now loans UP TO $4,000 for life’s ups and downs. This could be for debt reduction, moving expenses, car repair, healthcare, overnight summer camp, Israel travel, b’nai mitzvah expenses, tuition, etc. We want more people to be aware of the loan fund and to take advantage of what it offers. Also, donations to the revolving loan fund are a beautiful way to honor or memorialize loved ones.
Learn more about the free loan program at our website: jewishportland.org/FreeLoan.
A handout may preserve a life for a day, but a loan preserves that sense of self-sufficiency necessary to get back on your feet. That is why our community proudly supports an interest-free loan society.