Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, students, families, teachers, and all those impacted by the tragic shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. May the community find comfort and healing in the days ahead.
This past week, Wendy Kahn, Federation’s Director of Women’s Philanthropy, and I attended the Jewish Federations of North America Professional Institute in Houston, Texas. This conference brings together executive directors, and professionals from areas of financial resource development, marketing, planning and allocations, and young leadership. There were over 300 participants from across North America.
Interestingly, this conference was scheduled to be in Houston since March 2017. Hurricane Harvey made having the conference in Houston even that much more important.
The city is functioning, but the damage to much of the Houston Jewish community remains. People’s lives were turned upside-down, and remain difficult. Over 2,000 Jewish households were flooded. Every Jewish institution was impacted. Synagogues were severely damaged, including one whose sanctuary will need to be demolished. Their main Jewish Community Center is still in need of repair. Over $40 million in damage to the Jewish community, with insurance not coming close to covering the costs.
As part of our program, we spent a morning at the Houston Food Bank, the largest food bank in the United States (Houston is America’s 4th largest city). There, we put together “backpack buddies,” bags of food (cereal, milk, cans of fruit, vegetables, tuna and ravioli, and a sweet treat) that will go to 800 different schools in the area and placed in backpacks for kids to bring home over the weekend. Thousands are packed every week. In about four hours we made 1,800 bags, which will provide 10,800 meals.
We also had a very moving night when visiting the Jewish Community Center, which was flooded and severely damaged. It is a very large facility, probably double the size of our own Mittleman Jewish Community Center. While there we heard stories from a family who had to move to the second floor of their home as the flood waters rose and then were saved via canoe. We heard a similar story from the senior rabbi of Houston’s largest Conservative synagogue who had to deal with not only his own home’s flooding, but that of his synagogue. Perhaps to understand it best, we watched time-lapsed video footage from the JCC lobby of the flood waters filling the area up to the ceiling 10 feet high and then eventually shattering the windows from the pressure. It was disturbing and striking at the same time.
Together, Jewish communities around the world have helped to raise $20 million to help Jewish Houston recover. There is still more we can do. If anyone is interested, there is a national “fly-in” to Houston March 19-20 (program runs 3:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.) to volunteer and see what transpired in Houston. If interested, please reply to this email.
The new Federation CEO, who was hired one week before the hurricane, touchingly said to our group, “By being here, it is as if the entire Jewish community is giving us a hug.”
Beyond the moving experiences in Houston, we also learned a great deal. Here is a snapshot:
• Had a brilliant “vision setting” exercise with the director of ZingTrain, the leadership program developed by the owners of Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. If you have ever been to Zingerman’s you know what I am talking about.
• Met with Michael Masters, National Director of SCN (Secure Community Network), the Jewish Federation’s national security network. He talked about ongoing threats to Jewish communities in our country and ways we can be proactive. (Note -- Michael and his team will be coming to Portland in late April/early May to work with our community agencies and synagogues, as well as provide a security assessment for our community.)
• Leading Edge has done a national study of Jewish communal professionals to assess their views on work life in Jewish organizations. Are we great places to work? The Jewish Federation has participated each year and this past year scored the highest of any Federation in the country. I know they are looking forward to expanding their survey to as many agencies as possible in the future.
• Brian Gallagher, CEO of United Way Worldwide, spoke to us about the challenges facing United Way and their ideas moving forward. For probably 80 years, we were the same model, minus the workplace giving platform United Way used. Today, with the loss of major donors, generational shifts in giving (especially younger people not wanting to be told they “have to” give to the United Way at the office), technology, etc., they are creating a future for themselves by focusing on communal impact. It was a very interesting conversation to see where they are moving to and what we are doing as a Federation system.
But the highlight of these conferences is always the informal networking experiences and the sharing of ideas from communities. There is so much we learn from one another. We are not alone in Portland, and not necessarily unique. What I realize more and more – “all politics is local, but the challenges facing Jewish communities are global.”
I hope you are proud of what our Jewish Federation accomplishes each and every day in partnership and collaboration of our local and overseas partners. We are a shining star in the national system and we look forward to being even stronger.
On a separate note, the Jewish Federation is proud to partner with Congregation Neveh Shalom and their Israel360 series by bringing in Ravit Baer, Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest, for an update on developments in Israel-US relations and other issues (and there are many) of interest to our community. Ms. Baer will speak on Tuesday, February 27 at 7:00 p.m. in Neveh Shalom's Stampfer Chapel. The community is invited to attend.