Personal Challenges of COVID-19, May 5, 2020

Perhaps we are seeing some “light at the end of the tunnel?” Hospitalizations in Oregon are down. New cases have decreased. Many have followed the “shelter in place” order and quarantined themselves. But the impact of the virus has wreaked havoc on our country’s employment, economy, and psyche.
In our Jewish community, the pandemic is making our most vulnerable — especially our frail elderly and those struggling financially — even more vulnerable. It is threatening our Jewish community and our treasured Jewish infrastructure — summer camps, early childhood centers, day schools, and synagogues. The Jewish Federation is committed to protecting our most vulnerable and to strengthening our community. Now more than ever.
Our crisis campaign has raised close to $800,000 and granted $525,900 to 28 Jewish organizations. Grants requests continue to come in. As the pandemic lingers on more and more community members will need help. Your gift in support of our crisis campaign is greatly appreciated.
This May, the Jewish community is bringing the power of ”Collective Compassion” to National Mental Health Awareness Month. Created by Jewish Teens Thrive, a project of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative. Collective Compassion is a national response to the growing wellness needs of teens.
America is in the throes of a teen mental health crisis. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those ages 10-24 in the United States. The number of drug overdose deaths in that age group has tripled since 1999, and today’s young people are more likely to abuse opioids than street drugs except for marijuana. Thirty-two percent of high school students in Oregon report symptoms of depression; 17% report suicidal thoughts.
National Jewish surveys show that 52% of teen respondents said they or their friends were struggling with anxiety, and 42% of respondents said they struggle with low self-esteem, sadness, or depression. Other concerns cited by teen respondents are eating disorders (25%), bullying (22%) and drug use (17%). Our Greater Portland Jewish community is not immune.
Too often these teens and their families struggle alone, their problems kept in the dark because of the stigma mental illness still holds on our society — that mental illness is a personal failing, a result of bad parenting, something you should be able to just “snap out of” on your own. None of that is true.
With so many teens at home, their routine schedules upended, new pressures emerging, it is time to take the issue of teen mental health — and its accompanying stigma — out of the shadows and into the light. 
“Adolescence is a turbulent time, and COVID-19 is leaving many teens and their families reeling by creating a heightened sense of uncertainty, confusion and loss,” says Sara Allen, Executive Director of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative. “We aim to both call attention to these challenges and offer teens and adults new self-care practices they can use all year long, and a deeper understanding of the many dimensions of mental health.”
Collective Compassion is free and accessible to anyone. Highlights include:
  • Creativity for Coping, resilience-building workshops led by Jewish artists like ‘Storytelling for Sanity,’ that include an intimate concert and open mic with musicians, movement exercises, and guidance on inventing new rituals to mark loss.
  • Finding Purpose & Meaning with toolkits for Mental Health Shabbats, integrating gratitude into daily lives and philanthropy pop-ups for teens to support local wellness organizations.
  • Education & Awareness with screen-side chats and live Q&As with experts such as teen author and mental health advocate Sophie Regal, parent-focused discussions with Dr. Betsy Stone, and panels and trainings with youth professionals.
  • Curated books and quarantine playlists
Although I focused on teens above, mental health is important at all ages. Being cooped up in one’s home all day long, loss of employment, financial struggles, physical health challenges, family distress, etc. are all real. The important thing is our Jewish community is here for you!
There is a fabulous website devoted to COVID-19 and mental health support -- Whether for you or someone who needs assistance, please visit the website.
At the same time, our Jewish Family and Child Service is prepared to help with their excellent counseling team. They can be reached at 503-226-7079.
Staying physically active is another way to combat stress and anxiety, especially in uncertain times like these. The Mittleman Jewish Community Center has online fitness classes available to help.
A few notes about upcoming activities:
  • Join us for our Weekly Wednesday Update series with United States Senator Jeff Merkley at 4:00 p.m. Register here.
  • This Friday night we will honor all moms for a Mother’s Day Unity Shabbat candle lighting. We will light candles at 7:30 p.m. together as a community (and perhaps break our own world record). Click here to register.
  • On a disappointing, yet understandable note, the Wexner Heritage Leadership Program has postponed the launch of Portland’s cohort, which will now begin in summer 2021. The Wexner Foundation made the difficult decision to postpone all their programs for the upcoming year due to the virus.
As we watch and monitor the daily cases of people contracting the virus, or sadly, people dying, we continue to recognize that we are in this together. We hope that sooner than later guidelines will appropriately be lifted.
In the wise words of Dan Nichols, a Jewish rock musician and founder of the band, E18hteen:
There is a power in this place and time,
it shapes the rest of our lives,
For when we return each year we find a truth we can’t deny.
Be strong, let us strengthen one another.
Be strong, let us celebrate our lives.
Be strong, let us strengthen one another.
Cha-zak, cha-zak, ve-nit cha-zeik.
Stay healthy and a special shoutout to all educators (including my wife) during Teacher Appreciation Week for their hard work and efforts during these challenging times!
Marc N. Blattner
President and CEO


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