In January, I shared with the community an idea for Jewish Portland Tomorrow (JPT) developed by a group of leading philanthropists. The concept received a variety of thoughts and opinions. At that time I mentioned we were hiring a consultant to assess the JPT concept and the potential Jewish NewCo model.
After two months, which included multiple visits to Portland and interviews with 140 community leaders (agency presidents, agency executives, board members, rabbis, community leaders, etc.), our consultant, Lou Feldstein, provided his assessment of Jewish Portland and the Jewish NewCo concept. Please click to read the Full Report.
Before releasing the report to the community, we shared it with agency leadership and those present at a recent Oregon Board of Rabbis meeting. Members of the Federation Board and the JPT Committee met with the various agencies to hear their thoughts and feedback. Did everyone agree with the report’s findings – no. Did everyone change his/her views – no. But most did acknowledge that there are real challenges facing our Jewish community going forward and are open to looking at new models and change.
I believe this report is an open and candid reflection of what Lou heard in his various interviews. One can agree or disagree with his findings, yet one cannot discount his “fresh, outside” perspective. As Rabbi Joshua Stampfer said to me after reading the report, “I will sum up my thoughts in one word – HONEST.”
Some key observations from those interviewed:
- Jewish Portland is a community in “decline.” The Jewish population is growing, yet “Jewish affiliation and engagement” is down.
- Our community has a lack of quality Jewish programming and services.
- Concerns were raised that the economic model for some of our Jewish institutions rely on serving a (large) percentage of non-Jews as a way to fund services for the Jewish population.
- There is a strong disconnect between people feeling that, while the community or other organizations (“not mine”) need to change, “their” particular organization is just fine.
- Denial of challenges facing Portland’s Jewish community (philanthropic changes in particular) and complacency of how our institutions operate and are organized are the current default positions.
- Younger generations have little to any institutional loyalty and are far more focused on services than organizations.
- There was a perception that the JPT process was secretive and a “top down” approach.
At the end of the day, several challenges came forward from the report:
- There was no agreed upon sense of urgency. Why change when things seem to be going okay?
- The rollout of the JPT concept and Jewish NewCo could have been done better and differently. What often happens is that AN idea becomes THE idea. In fact, in my email in early January I wrote, “Maybe Jewish NewCo is a good idea or maybe it is not? Maybe there will be tweaks or change altogether. But what the community must recognize is that the status quo will not lead to a sustainable future…This is the start of a challenging communal conversation.”
- People heard/saw it as a call to reduce costs and create efficiencies in Jewish Portland. The real focus and goal of any type of JPT framework will be to enhance Jewish life for our community.
- How do we create a shared vision for our Jewish community going forward? And, who is involved in creating that vision?
As a follow-up, we will be hosting two online webinars where Lou will provide the full context of the study and his findings. The dates and times for the webinars will be June 17 at 4:00 p.m. and June 18 at 11:00 a.m. Log-in details will be forthcoming.
In addition, this summer (date to be determined) we will host a “town hall” forum to garner additional feedback from the entire community. I know I look forward to that experience.
THANK YOU to the members of the Jewish Portland Tomorrow Committee for starting this conversation. I also appreciate the community members who were interviewed or participated in a focus group. Everyone’s thoughts, insights, and candor provided incredible information as we plan for the future.
In conclusion, three weeks ago, we read in the Torah parashat Behar. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out an important leadership principle in the reading. As individuals we often count the days, but leaders need to count the years. As private persons we can think about tomorrow, but in our role as leaders we must think long-term, focusing our eyes on the horizon. “Who is wise? ” asked Simon ben Zoma…“one who foresees the consequences.”
May we all be wise -- so the call for urgency does not become an emergency.
Shabbat shalom and I look forward to any thoughts you may have from the report.