As always, there is much going on in our Jewish world. I thought I would highlight some significant happenings.
Tragedy in Israel
First, we were saddened to hear of the horrific multiple stabbings that took place in Israel earlier this week. Numerous people were injured and, sadly, Taylor Force, a twenty-nine year old West Point graduate, U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a graduate student at Vanderbilt University was murdered. Taylor was on a business school trip with his wife to explore Israel's technology sector and to expand his understanding of global entrepreneurship when his life was tragically cut short. May his memory be for a blessing and the injured have a speedy recovery.
Our partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel(JAFI), provides financial assistance to the more than one hundred individuals and families affected by the recent terror attacks, as well as the over twenty families who have lost loved ones.
Despite the challenges in Israel, JAFI announced that more than 31,000 immigrants (half under the age of 30) made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) in 2015. This was the largest total since 2003 and represents a 17% increase from 2014. This number includes an all-time record for aliyah from France with the arrival of 7,700 immigrants — the largest group for the second year running. Additionally, aliyah from Ukraine, which has been the scene of an ongoing violent conflict, was up 230% compared to 2013. Interestingly, the youngest immigrant arrived in Israel from the United States at the age of six weeks. The oldest immigrant arrived at the age of 97.
Help for Jews in Ukraine
Keeping our focus on overseas Jewry, Federations have remained steadfast in providing our partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), direly needed resources for Jews trapped behind the lines in eastern Ukraine, as well as those who are now refugees in their own land. The JDC’s relief work was recognized this week by CNN. The video features interviews with Ira Zbrovskaya, JDC's representative in Odessa, and scenes from the city's Beit Grand JCC, the Hesed social welfare operation, as well as home visits, and winter relief distribution.
Inclusion Workshop for Educators
On Sunday, 50 Jewish educators from across Portland came together for a session on inclusion hosted by Portland Area Jewish Educators (a program coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland). Batya Jacob, Director of Educational Support Services for Yachad/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities, provided sensitivity workshops and visited our three Jewish day schools to work with students to better understand those with special needs.
Batya discussed figures in Jewish sources with disabilities, such as Moses and Leah. The educators then participated in a simulation where they went to stations that represented different challenges that students face (autism, auditory processing, blindness, dyslexia, etc.). At the conclusion of each activity, the teachers had a discussion of how the experience affected each individual and what that may look like in an educational setting. The day culminated in a larger discussion on the importance and challenges of inclusion.
Following the workshop, one teacher wrote me:“Attending the inclusion training program gave me a whole new perspective on teaching children and how I think about educating those who are part of a different learning spectrum. I had the opportunity to put myself in the student’s shoes and experience just a taste of what they experience moment to moment. This was a very worthwhile program and I’m glad I had the opportunity to participate. Thank you Federation.”
Over the next two days, Batya visited Portland Jewish Academy, and facilitated workshops at both Maayan Torah Day School and Maimonides Jewish Day School for students in the third grade and up. Students left with a deeper understanding of what it is like for those who have different challenges.
Aviel Brodkin, Principal at Maayan Torah wrote,“Our students walked away on a high after the inclusion workshop. It left them really thinking about students in their own classes and people they know with disabilities. The discussion comments after each activity had kids saying, “Wow, it must take a long time to do your work if you can’t hold a pencil well.” Or, “How does someone pay if you can’t see your money?” When I asked them how they would rate the special assembly 1-10, they answered, “It was a 10.” One boy said, “A twenty-five!” It was one of the most enjoyed and meaningful programs we’ve had the opportunity to offer our students at our school. Thank you Federation – it was such a special day. You would have had a lot of joy seeing these kids opening their hearts to better understand others.”
Rabbi Shneur Wilhelm of Maimonides shared, “Shine the light, place spices in front of her mouth, talk into her ear and place applesauce in her mouth all while she is building with Legos… Through this exercise and others, Maimonides students were able to better understand and empathize with people with special needs. This message of respect and tolerance had a great impact and will be remembered by the future Jewish leaders we are educating.”
A special thank you goes to Jill Slansky for connecting us with Batya and helping coordinate the program. We have many more professional development opportunities being planned for educators and youth workers in our community.
Chabad in East Portland
On Tuesday I visited the new communal space rented by Chabad of NE Portland near 28th and NE Sandy. The space will be ready in the next few weeks. We are delighted by this enhanced opportunity for Jewish programming on the eastside. More to come.
Finally, this coming Monday evening, high school students and their parents are invited to a Jewish College Night program at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center. This free program, sponsored by Portland Area Jewish Educators/Jewish Federation and the MJCC starts at 6:30 pm. The evening will include information about college admissions, financial planning, Jewish campus organizations, and gap year programs. Click here to learn more.