Three years ago, on October 27, 2018, eleven Jews were murdered and six wounded at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. This was the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history. Sadly, since that terrible day, the importance of fighting anti-Semitism has only increased. We must work to eradicate this ugliness and keep Jews safe in our own country and around the world.
Jim Meyer (z”l), a tremendous community leader, passed away last Saturday. When I got the call, my heart sank. I knew he was not well, but losing Jim is devastating to his family, our community, and me.
Jim grew up in a small town in New Hampshire with very few Jews. Eventually his family relocated to the Boston area where Jim graduated high school and ultimately attended Harvard University (more on that later). He met his beloved wife Lora on a blind date and they were married for 63 years. In 1960, Lora and Jim had a business opportunity that brought them to Portland. Their move here was a blessing for our community.
Jim was a man who found great fulfillment serving on community boards, in the Jewish community and outside. When called upon he was always there. Remarkably, Jim served as President of the Jewish Federation (1970-1972) when he was only 34 (!) years of age. Eighteen years later he served as our Campaign Chair, and 50 years after being President he completed a three-year term as our Treasurer. How many people after serving in the top lay leadership role come back to serve in other important positions? Jim also served as the second president of the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation.
Jim taught me a great deal about the importance of an organization's board -- especially the role of each individual member. We would often talk about what makes a great board member. He would remind me that they needed experience, expertise in an area that would benefit the board, a "organizational mission oriented mind," and a track record of participation (attendance and input at meetings). Serving on a community board was not about having one’s name on the letterhead – it was about doing!
One word many people use to describe Jim is “humble.” And he was. Except one word he often used surprised me (I wrote this on Sunday after hearing of his passing and his grandchildren reaffirmed it at his funeral). Most people, when they reflect on their college days, they will often say “When I was in college…” without referencing the school. Jim, in the gentlest way possible would always mention Harvard. Not as a “flex.” He was just a proud alumnus. Two weeks prior to his passing (and this was also shared at the funeral), Jim and I were talking and he revealed to me that his goal was to attend Yale University yet was not accepted.
I know the term “mensch” can be overused – but Jim really was a mensch. He was even more than that. He was a “gadol hador” -- a “great of the generation.” Although the term most commonly refers to rabbis, Jim was a true great. Everyone respected him. He asked all the right questions. He believed collaboration was key. He made people feel good. He spoke softly, yet his voice was always heard. He was the epitome of the old commercial, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”
In my professional career I have had two incredible mentors. First, was the CEO of the Jewish Federation in Baltimore. He took me under his wing when I started graduate school in Baltimore and then I had the privilege of working for him for 10 years. He taught me everything I know about “community building” and volunteer-professional relationships.
I am proud to say that Jim Meyer was my other mentor. I have had the honor of working with five different people as Chair of the Federation since my arrival 11 years ago. Each of them became a partner, confidant, and friend. There is open communication and you rely on one another. But, in this role, I also need someone “from the outside” who I can confidentially bounce ideas off of and share challenges. A neutral party. And I found that in Jim. He was always available to listen, asked probing questions, and offered sage advice. He provided great context and insights (often with examples from his own life) to allow me to work through an issue and focus on a "win-win" for all involved. At the end of every conversation he always said to me, “Now you decide what you want to do next.”
One day, Jim and I were having lunch and he made a profound statement that has stayed with me ever since. In fact, I had him repeat it so I could write it down on my napkin. He had heard this many years before -- “Most people think of success and failure as opposites, but they both are products of the same process.” Think about that.
I learned so much from his understated brilliance, fine questions, collaborative nature, and calm demeanor.
Finally, if you knew Jim, you understood that nothing was more important to him than his family. He talked about them all the time. He honored them. Reveled in their successes. In 1982, on National Grandparents’ Day, President Ronald Reagan said, “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” Jim, and Lora, have done exactly that for their beautiful children and grandchildren.
As one community leader simply said to me, “We lost a good one.” We sure did and I will miss him dearly.
Baruch Dayan HaEmet. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Meyer family and may Jim Meyer’s (z”l) memory be for a blessing.
It is likely there will be no Marc’s Remarks next week. A surprise “why” to be shared the following week. Shabbat shalom.