Powerless - February 19, 2021

Powerless! Both figuratively and literally!
That is how too many in our region felt following our recent snow and ice storm. The ice in particular wreaked havoc across the region. At one point, over 300,000 people were without power. No lights. No heat. No internet. No appliances. No cell phone charging. In fact, cell phone service was down for many. We were lucky the temperatures went up (and melted the ice relatively quickly) instead of other parts of the country where they remained bone-chilling for days. As of this writing, there are unfortunately still people without power (locally and across the country), and I worry about them.
If you or someone you know needs assistance, please reply to this email or call 503-245-6219. We want to help.
When disasters like this happen, the outpouring of support and acts of kindness from others is inspiring. I know of families in the Jewish community who are providing hot meals, internet access, a place to charge their cell phones, and even opening their homes to others without power.
Last weekend actually created a long list of questions for me when these things happen:
  • How do we help people? How do we know who may need assistance? Is there a Jewish community hotline number we need to create? What if their/our phones do not work?
  • How do people eat and stay warm if there is no electricity for days, especially seniors or those with no other family nearby? Eventually food will spoil. I even thought about the fact my family only has an electric can opener.
  • If people have no power, no home internet, and perhaps no cell service, then what good is an email to offer assistance?
  • If roads are bad, how do we even reach people to help them?
  • We want to use our community spaces (MJCC, synagogues, etc.) as warming centers. Could people even get to them? What if they have no power?
  • And for now, how do we deal with all of this while adhering to COVID safety guidelines?
How can we be better prepared as a Jewish community to respond and help people?
The Jewish Federation system is currently assisting people across Texas through an emergency fund mailbox. Please make a contribution here. 100% of all fund raised will go to people in need. The stories there are just heartbreaking.
I am humbled that I never lost power, have a roof over my head, fresh food in my refrigerator, and warm heat in my home -- I should count my blessings. Because millions of Americans each night have none of those things. 
We can all watch the weather reports and prepare ourselves in the event of such a storm. But who knew power would be out for 5+ days? In addition, we have talked about the “big one” predicted to strike the Pacific Northwest for many years. It will eventually happen.
Is your family prepared? Are we as a Jewish community prepared? This weekend was another “wake up call” to get prepared at your own home with extra water and food – and for our Jewish organizations to think how we can best serve others. We never need to be powerless in serving our community.
Next Thursday night we begin the joyous holiday of Purim. Unfortunately, once again, we will be unable to gather in-person and hear the reading of Megillat Esther (Book of Esther) and shout down the name of Haman. Click here to find Purim happenings in our community.
In the Purim story, Esther is a young Jewish woman, who through her youth and beauty becomes queen of the Persian Empire, and then by her wits and courage saves the Jewish people from destruction.
After Esther becomes queen, her cousin Mordecai becomes involved in a power struggle with the grand vizier Haman. Mordecai refuses to bow before Haman, and this angers him so much that he resolves not only to put Mordecai to death, but also to slaughter the Jewish people. He secures the king’s permission to do this and a date is set. When Mordecai learns of Haman’s plot, he rushes to the palace to inform Esther.
At this point in the story, Esther’s true leadership comes to the fore. When she first learns of Haman’s plot and the threat to the Jews, her reaction is one of helplessness. She cannot approach the king without being summoned. However, following Mordecai’s prodding, she resolves to do what she can to save her people. Esther is the heroine who uses her power to act.
Women were, in the world of Persia, as in many other ancient cultures, essentially powerless, marginalized members of society. Even if they belonged to the dominant culture, they could not simply reach out and grasp power. The same held true for the Jewish people.
Esther changed that! Power was obtained by astutely using her political intelligence and charm, and by taking the risk to approach the king, Esther saves the Jewish people and brings down Haman. She, along with the Jewish people, are no longer powerless.
The message of the Book of Esther provides encouragement to the Jewish people that they, although powerless in the Persian Empire, can, by their resourcefulness and talents, not only survive but prosper, as does Esther. And the same holds true for what our Jewish community can do to help people during an act of nature like our recent winter storm.
Finally, the Jewish Federation, with other partner organizations, is continuing its series exploring the “history of discrimination” in the State of Oregon. Please join us on Tuesday, February 23 at 6:30 p.m. as we hear from Chisao Hata from the Japanese-American Museum and Jackie Peterson-Loomis from the Portland Chinatown Museum as they explore the Hidden History of Anti-Asian Discrimination in Oregon. The program will be moderated by Judy Margles, Executive Director of the Oregon Jewish Museum & Center for Holocaust Education. Click here to register for the free event.
Shabbat shalom.
Marc N. Blattner
President and CEO


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