On Sunday night, Kim Rosenberg, Federation’s Campaign Chair, and I were invited to a “parlor meeting” at a Federation Board member’s home. Close to thirty passionate people were in attendance, the majority of who are members of Havurah Shalom. The evening was an opportunity to dialogue about Federation and our Jewish community – with no topics off limits. It was a refreshing and open conversation where several important ideas/issues came to the fore – improved communications, social justice efforts in the broader community, and Israel viewpoints.
Communications is a challenge for any organization, no matter how big or small (think about your own company or even family for that matter). I must admit I get frustrated when people tell me they do not know what is happening at Federation or in our community. We are putting information out there – via our website, these weekly emails, Federation’s Facebook page (click here to like it), and even the Jewish Review (more on that next week). At the same time, however, I recognize people are inundated with information from all angles (email, Facebook, Twitter, actual mail). Yes, information is being shared – yet the challenge in today's world is how to capture your attention. It would be easy for me to say communications is a two-way street and there is responsibility on the other person’s end. However, I recognize that no matter how open and transparent we try to be – we can always do more. Trust me, there are so many incredible things happening on a daily basis, I often wonder where to even begin.
Many in the room talked about how we as a Jewish community can do more for the "general good." This is a laudable goal. (I know Ruth Messinger from American Jewish World Service was in Portland last weekend speaking to different synagogues and groups about this very issue.) The group raised important social justice issues including poverty, hunger and housing. Federation and our partner agencies should seek ways to develop new partnerships, create collaborative projects, and participate in leadership efforts in the general community to combat society’s challenges. I do believe this will bolster our own efforts within the Jewish community and engage many more people, especially the younger generation. I am pleased to tell you that soon you will hear more about the Federation's Community Relations Committee's efforts, in collaboration with other faith-based groups, to respond to food insecurity in Oregon. This is only a start and much more can be done.
At the same time, we must not forget our sacred mission of Kol Yisrael arevim ze la ze – Each Jew is responsible one for the other.
Finally, Israel. As I have stated in prior emails, Israel has, unfortunately, become a key dividing issue within our community. People/organizations get labeled, and despite changes in leadership, messages, or world happenings, those labels never get removed. I know there are those of you who see Federation as “right of center” on Israel issues, while others see Federation not taking a hard enough stand. These challenges are compounded since dialogue about Israel has come to a standstill -- unless talking to someone who agrees with your own personal opinion.
Someone shared with me the latest issue of Reform Judaism Magazine and focused on an article about the mainline Protestant churches views on Israel. At the end of the article the author included his “Ten Commandments of Interreligious Dialogue on Israel.” Here are a few “commandments” I felt were quite poignant:
Listen. Sometimes in our own eagerness, supporters of Israel find it difficult to hold back during a contentious discussion.
Think dialogue – not competition. Advocating for Israel is not a zero-sum game.
Seek solidarity. Find areas of mutual agreement (and there are plenty).
Don’t aim for victory. Concentrate on enlightenment, explanation and clarification.
These are keys not just for discussions about Israel, but for communal dialogue, like Sunday night. I am truly grateful to those who came out to meet with Kim and me. It was an informative evening. I learned a great deal about past feelings and experiences, as well as gained new ideas going forward. Most of all, I recognize our community will be so much stronger when our efforts are focused and moving in the same direction.
Let me close with this offer (once again) -- Federation leadership is happy to meet with anyone or any group at any time. When I first arrived in Portland I held several "meet and greets" around town, which I enjoyed very much. If interested in meeting, please do not hesitate to contact me by replying to this email. Federation is here for you and our community – listening and learning all the time. Let's keep the dialogue going -- no matter how charged it may be.
PS -- Federation held a very successful Super Sunday last weekend. Thank you to the 187 volunteers, including the day’s Chair, Jeff Robinson, who participated and helped to raise over $140,000 for our community. We are grateful for everyone’s support and involvement. Together we are building a stronger Jewish community.