Campaign 2015 continues its exciting pace. We are in the final month of the calendar year where many of you will make your charitable donations. Please join so many in our community and contribute to our Jewish community’s campaign. Only with your generosity can we reach a stretch goal of $4 million in total fundraising. Make your contribution by visiting www.jewishportland.org.
I am also proud that our community has one of the highest pledge payments rate of any Jewish Federation in the country. This only happens because of your commitment. To take advantage of year-end tax deductions, please make your pledge payments by December 31 – call 503-245-6219.
Earlier this week, I returned home from my trip to Israel. As I shared last week, much of my trip was focused on seeing firsthand many of the programs funded through your generosity to the Jewish Federation. When I left Israel, I know how proud I am of the work we are doing.
We met with IGY, Israel Gay Youth, a program focused on LGBTQ youngsters ages 14-23. We met at the IGY center in Tel Aviv, the only municipal subsidized gay center in the world. There are currently 3,000 young people involved in 60 different groups in 30 cities throughout Israel. They work to bring greater acceptance to the LGBTQ community in Israel, as well as provide support to these youth. Through our funding, they have been able to add two new chapters in the past six months and plan several more as the year moves forward.
We made a stop in the town of Modiin and saw the local Krembo Wings chapter in action (see side story in this email for video). Krembo Wings is a youth movement for young people with special needs. Teenagers ages 14-17 make a four-year commitment to work together (“buddies”) with special needs individuals ages 14-21. Two volunteers “buddy” with each special member for the year for weekly activities. The program aims to integrate special needs teenagers into the mainstream of the community, as well as teach tolerance and equality. Plus, the program provides respite time for the parents and families of these children.
There are 33 groups currently involving over 3500 people. Krembo Wings hopes to expand this to 45 groups next year and eventually 150 groups within the next five years. What is most amazing – these groups are all youth-led and youth-run. Basically, 5-6 teenagers in each chapter coordinate and run the various activities. It was truly inspiring to see the joy, excitement and enjoyment in the eyes of these young people at the local Krembo Wings meeting.
I also made a special visit to the Hand to Hand School in Jerusalem, a co-educational program for Arabs and Jews.
The school had been hit with an arson/graffiti attack (the perpetrators have been arrested). We saw the classroom where the fire was started (they took all the first grade classroom books and put them into a pile and set them ablaze) and the room where the fire spread to. Within six days of the fire, the rooms were almost completely restored, yet the charred smell remained.
It was uplifting to see the students undeterred by the incident – and certainly the large outcry against the attack throughout Israel was well deserved.
One of the highlights of my visit was having dinner with Charlie Schiffman, my predecessor of 23 years at the Jewish Federation. When I asked Charlie about his family’s move to Israel several months ago, he said, “It is good to be home.” He looks great and loves his daily life there, while recognizing many of the challenges.
Right as I was leaving Israel, the government basically dissolved itself and new elections will take place in March 2015. I asked Charlie for his perspective on the political landscape. He shared that he believes there are currently four types of Israelis: those on the far-left, far-right based on religious beliefs, far-right based on ideological sentiments, and a huge middle group. He believes that Iran and potential peace will be major issues in the election, but internal Israel issues like salary wages, affordability, job creation and internal security will drive the voting. Only time will tell.
We also currently have a group of young women visiting Israel. I look foward to hearing about their experiences when they return home.
This week, much of the Israel discussion also came to Portland. Our community welcomed Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder of JStreet, and Col. (Ret.) Miri Eisin, former IDF spokesperson. Each provided their own insights into the current situation and their viewpoints on any potential for the peace process.
While I was unable to attend the briefing with Miri Eisin, I understand from my colleagues what a special night it was in terms of the attendance. Dozens of teens not only came to the program, but actively participated, so much so that Colonel Eisin commended a teen who asked the first questions in the Q&A. In fact, she commended our entire community for having such a broad age range represented, particularly our young people who are the voices for the future.
One thing I am very proud of is the number of people from Portland who go to study in Israel on an annual basis. For a community of our size, the numbers are quite remarkable. Unfortunately, study in Israel is not inexpensive and there are no set aside funds for such a purpose. Until now.
I recently wrote about the passing of Cantor David Rosenberg. Cantor Rosenberg was committed to both Israel and continuing education. He felt very lucky to receive both his undergraduate and master's degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Cantor Rosenberg's greatest pleasure was to give both his children and other students the opportunity to see and experience Israel as a young adult. The Rosenberg Family is partnering with the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland to create a scholarship fund to assist students who want to study in Israel. To contribute to “The DAR Fund,” please send your contribution to the Jewish Federation at 6680 SW Capitol Hwy, Portland, OR 97219.
Shabbat shalom and best wishes for a Happy Chanukah next week.
PS – Do not miss the opportunity to sign-up for several excellent Melton classes starting next month. Click here for more details.