Every week I am grateful for the scores of responses I receive from community members about my weekly email. I am amazed at what people share with me and appreciate their thoughtful comments. This past week I received the following email from a community member (altered to maintain confidentiality), sent to me after they read the latest edition of the Jewish Review.
I read with interest the article in the Jewish Review regarding Michael Weiner's new leadership role in the Federation here in Portland, and the remarks made regarding the demographics of Jewish people in this area. In particular, as a Jewish teacher and mother who lives with her family in outer Portland, I know what the effects are of disenfranchisement due to location and economics.
When a single mother of two, I was happily made aware of Jewish Family Services when I needed counseling and other support by our community, but the distance and other circumstances of their services was difficult for us and was not readily available given my work schedule. Understandably, the majority of Jewish Portlanders being able to afford living on the west side makes offering the services and community events there practical and necessary. Unfortunately, not all Jews are well off enough to live on the west side of Portland, and this leaves a wide gap that is hard for us to leap over.
Wanting our children to gain the Jewish experiences that deepen faith in our families, such as visiting Israel, attending Jewish summer camp or Jewish community events, is often an economic impossibility. When I receive mail from the Jewish Federation or my synagogue inviting me to attend charity events with $100-a-plate tickets, visit Israel for $3000+ or invitations to send my children to Jewish camp for over a $1000 for one week, these offers are immediately recycled. In addition to my full time job, I teach at my synagogue in order to pay for my child's Jewish weekly religious school education. Many years ago I had hoped to have my younger child attend Portland Jewish Academy, but we lived too far away to make it there on time given the location of our home, nor could we find a home close to PJA that was within my salary.
I am very grateful to have a job, but my husband is still out of work. The recession for us has not gone away; it has simply made the choice to attend services less likely given the rising cost of gasoline, food and utilities. If we have to pick between feeding our families and traveling to the west side of Portland, there really is no choice.
I hope that the Federation will take these ideas into consideration when you make some of your own choices in how to reach out to the "other" Jewish population in Portland.
How does one respond when they receive an email like this? There are those who will have empathy for this woman, agree with her assessment, while at the same time, there will be people who shrug off her concerns or think “not my problem.” No matter what – this is her family’s reality and that of a growing number of people. Affordability, accessibility, and convenience all matter and we must find ways to address those concerns.
In addition, the above email concluded with a statement about “the other Jewish population in Portland.” There can be no “other” – there must only be OUR extended Jewish family -- one that will be vibrant, learned, involved, interconnected, and caring -- however and wherever we must.
This email exemplifies what I have been sharing since my arrival in Portland some 10+ months ago – Jewish Portland must adapt itself to 2011 and beyond. Our Jewish community has its challenges -- it is more diverse and more geographically dispersed. We must expand our services “outside the walls’ of our current institutions, find ways to “meet people where they are,” create cost points people can afford, and develop new ways to engage people. To do this will take creative and courageous thinking on our community’s part – led by the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland – with your input.
What do you suggest?
P.S. -- I am excited that several of our Community Impact Grant projects are moving ahead. First, the Hazon Portland Leadership Project: Engaging Portland’s Jewish Community Through the New Jewish Food Movement grant seeks to identify, train and support a cohort of leaders who will strengthen and expand community engagement programs here in Portland. Applicants must demonstrate strong ability and desire to work in a grassroots setting to create engaging programming and build community, particularly around issues of sustainable agriculture, food justice and Jewish food traditions. Participants will receive full/partial funding to the Hazon Food Conference scheduled for August 18-21 at UC Davis, as well as work with Hazon staff and community partners to gain leadership and program administration skills. Be a part of the exciting growth of the New Jewish Food Movement in Portland! Applications are due by July 15 and can be found at www.hazon.org/foodconferenceportland. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Secondly, please mark your calendar for July 29 (Overlook Park), August 12 (Laurelhurst Park), and September 2 (Kenilworth Park) for Community Impact Grant sponsored Erev Shabbat in the Park. These prayer services and picnics in eastside parks hope to bridge the gap between eastside and westside congregations. More details will be forthcoming, but wanted you to be aware of the dates since they have just been set.