Last Thursday, following the Federation gala, Ed Tonkin, Federation’s Chairman of the Board, and I traveled to New York to meet with colleagues at our international partner agencies. It was a learning trip for Ed and me, as well as an opportunity for us to share what is happening in Jewish Portland.
Once in New York, Ed and I made a pilgrimage to the Carnegie Deli (where we had a memorable deli meal). The iconic deli is scheduled to close at the end of December. While waiting outside in line to get in, we joked how every time we each go to New York we run into someone we know. Not five minutes later, Irv Potter (an involved community leader) walks down the street right towards us! It is a small world.
On Friday, we spent the day meeting with representatives from our partner organizations.
The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is the “trade association” for the federation system – it was created from the merger of the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) and the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF). JFNA is a tremendous resource to local federations providing support for fundraising, marketing, and community planning. In addition, they coordinate international gatherings like the Lion of Judah Conference and the upcoming General Assembly, as well professional development conferences. They are also the lead provider of missions to Israel and elsewhere around the Jewish world. We are grateful to the support JFNA provides our community.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) was founded in 1914 following a Western Union cablegram from the then United States Ambassador to Turkey to Jacob Schiff, a wealthy man in New York, asking for the American Jewish community to raise $50,000 for Jews in Palestine. Today, JDC is the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian assistance organization, active in more than 70 countries, oftentimes serving as the international Jewish 911. JDC leverages a century’s experience of confronting poverty and crises around the world to save the world’s poorest Jews, revitalize Jewish life throughout the Former Soviet Union (FSU) and elsewhere, develop communal leadership (especially among young adults) in places where Jewish life is being reborn, create new social service programs in Israel in partnership with the government, and rescue victims of global emergencies.
We learned about multiple “hotspots” in the world (much I cannot share), including the longstanding elderly crisis in the FSU, especially the war-torn areas of the Ukraine and the far eastern reaches with so many seniors homebound, impoverished, and needing medications. Venezuela and Iran are examples of where the JDC does its work “underground.”
The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) is our partner in Israel whose mission is to inspire Jews throughout the world to connect with their people, heritage, and homeland, and empower them to build a thriving Jewish future and a strong Israel. Initially, JAFI served as the quasi-government prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. Their historic role morphed into rescuing Jews from around the world and to bring them to Israel. Currently, we are fortunate to have more of an “aliyah of choice” than one of rescue. JAFI also connects young Jews to Israel via immersive (short- and long-term) experiences in Israel and shlichim (emissaries) in communities around the world.
The JAFI representative we met, Dima Shimelfarb, is a true JAFI poster child. Born in Minsk, Belarus, Dima was told he was Jewish yet his parents were devout Communists. At the age of 16, Dima attended a JAFI-sponsored summer camp with Jewish teens from across the FSU. It was here he discovered his own Jewish identity. The camp inspired him to make aliyah to Israel without his family at the age of 17. He eventually returned to Moscow for several years as a JAFI shaliach, had a senior role at the Prime Minister’s office in Israel, and now works for JAFI in New York City.
Our final visit was with the National Chair of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs (JCPA), the national umbrella organization for community relations councils and nine other national Jewish organizations, including the religious streams. The JCPA convenes the “common table” around which member agencies, through an open, representative, inclusive and consensus-driven process, meet to identify issues, articulate positions, and develop strategies, programs, and approaches designed to advance the public affairs goals and objectives of the organized Jewish community. There are many issues to discuss, but the challenge is to focus on those where consensus is possible. Major issues include hunger, poverty, social service support, Israel, and anti-Semitism.
I am delighted we had the opportunity to learn firsthand about the incredible work we are doing around the world. With your support, we proudly impact Jews in all twenty-four time zones.
On a professional note, Nicole Walters, who for the past six years has served as the Jewish Federation’s Director of Marketing and Communications, will be leaving to be the first Marketing Manager for the City of Beaverton. One of the great joys I have in my career is watching people grow their skills and talents and, yes, move on. Federation provided Nicole with tuition assistance to get her MBA and to advance her skills. It was a huge benefit to us, and now the City of Beaverton will enjoy her talents. Nicole, thank you for your incredible work on behalf of our Jewish community and may you go from strength to strength.
Finally, two great volunteer opportunities where you can lend a hand. First, on Giving Tuesday, November 29, join us for Jewish community night at theOregon Food Bank (Beaverton location). This was a hugely successful event last year and we know it will fill up again. And, December 4 will be Super Sunday – an opportunity to reach out to our community to support our Annual Campaign. Be a volunteer! And, answer the call.
Shabbat shalom and please vote!