This past Wednesday morning, we began the day with the horrific news of a terrorist attack on a bus of Israeli tourists at the Sarafovo Airport in Burgas, Bulgaria. The explosion occurred shortly after a chartered flight of Israelis landed and the passengers from a single tour group boarded their bus. Five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver were killed in the attack, as was the suicide bomber. In addition, dozens were injured. The blast occurred on the 18th anniversary of a bomb attack on Argentina’s main Jewish organization, AMIA, which killed 85 people.
What some may not know is that last week, Iranian-sponsored terrorists were arrested trying to carry out an attack against Israeli tourists in Cyprus. And only six months ago, Bulgarian authorities thwarted an attack when they found a bomb on a charter bus of Israeli tourists traveling to a Bulgarian ski resort. At that time, the Israeli authorities asked Bulgaria to increase security for the large number of Israeli tourists who visit the country.
Through your generosity to the Jewish Federation, and in conjunction with our partner the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Fund for Victims of Terror will provide financial assistance to those Israelis wounded in the attack and to the families of those killed. This fund will help those affected by the attack address supplemental needs not covered by Israeli government bodies. Any family that experienced loss or injury of a loved one in the attack may request assistance from the fund. If you are interested in making a contribution to the Victims of Terror Fund, please click here.
And, then, this morning we awoke to the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. At this moment, 12 people killed and 38 injured. It makes you scratch your head and wonder at times about the world in which we live.
We are shocked and saddened by the bus bombing targeting innocent young Israelis traveling to Bulgaria, as well as the horrible news this morning about the shootings in Aurora, Colorado. On behalf of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, we offer our deepest condolences to the families of the victims and stand together with all in condemning these horrific acts of violence.
On Tuesday night, I volunteered to speak to the residents at the Rose Schnitzer Manor at Cedar Sinai Park, which provides independent and assisted living for seniors. Forty residents came to talk about the Jewish community – its past, current realities, and future opportunities.
Interestingly, of the 40 seniors in the room, none were Portland natives. In fact, only five had lived in Portland for 25+ years while the remaining people in attendance all lived here for less than 10 years. In almost every case, these seniors moved (or as several said to me, “were moved”) to Portland to be closer to family (children and grandchildren). It certainly is a blessing that we have a quality institution like the Rose Schnitzer Manor to meet the needs of these seniors.
We touched on a myriad of topics, but two were of great concern to the attendees:
Israel -- 80% of the attendees have traveled to Israel, with many being there multiple times. One gentleman’s first trip was in 1947 prior to the founding of the State and another visited less than one year after Israel was born. Each fondly recalled their trip(s) and the impact it had on their life (interestingly, 50% of their children have been to Israel – much higher than the national average for people in that age group). One gentleman in a wheelchair asked me to find him an Israel trip that could accommodate his needs – he wants to go one more time. (I have already put him in touch with two tour operators and hope he has the opportunity.)
What came out loud and clear was that Israel is an important piece to who they are as Jews. Each person fondly recalled the pride they felt upon the founding of the State of Israel, and, moreover, how being there impacted their lives. They were so pleased to learn about such programs as Birthright Israel (free 10-day trips to Israel for those ages 18-26) and other summer experiences to connect more people to the wonders of Israel.
Interfaith families – The residents asked about the number of interfaith families and our efforts to involve them in the Jewish community. For most, this was a difficult discussion. As you can imagine, coming from an older generation, their idea of “intermarriage” years ago was when an Ashkenazi Jew married a Sephardic Jew. Today, as they recognize, it is when a Jew marries a non-Jew. Although a few expressed their dismay, most in the room have children, grandchildren, relatives or know of people who are currently in interfaith families. So the focus of the discussion was really on what more the Jewish community can do to reach out to these families and involve them in Jewish life. Nothing seemed more important to these people than having Jewishly involved and committed grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
These seniors are a fun, vibrant, interesting group of people. They enjoy being engaged in conversation -- in fact, one resident asked how we can get more speakers to come and meet with the residents. They certainly keep up on the current issues of the day and are very concerned about Israel. And, it was obvious they enjoy living at the Manor (some less happy about living in Portland since they moved away from their long-time friends in other cities) knowing the care they receive is second to none.
As we ended the evening, I thanked them for helping build the incredible Jewish world in which we currently live. I assured them that I, along with all of you, are working hard to enrich the Jewish community, Israel, and our world even more for generations to come. But when acts of violence occur like happened this past week, it shows how much more work we have to do.
May we all have a Shabbat shalom.