September 10, 2001 was one of those proud moments in my professional career. I was the Vice-President for Campaign at the Baltimore Jewish Federation and we had just launched our Annual Campaign. The event was held at the National Aquarium in Baltimore (including a special dolphin show) and had record attendance. Professor Reuven Hazan from Hebrew University in Jerusalem was our speaker and talked about the challenging prospects for peace in the Middle East. By all accounts, a very successful evening.
The next morning at 8:30 a.m. I dropped Reuven off at the Baltimore train station for an 8:40 a.m. train to New York City. He had several scheduled meetings that afternoon followed by a late night flight back to Israel. When I arrived at my office several minutes later the entire Federation professional team was in the board room glued to the television watching in disbelief what was happening in New York City. The visual images brought about fear and a worried feeling of what may happen next. Will an attack take place in Baltimore? Should we close? Should people run to get their children from school? No one really knew for sure what to do. As for Reuven, he ended up being stranded in Philadelphia for four days before returning to Israel.
September 11, 2001 is a day we will always remember. Evil (if that is even a strong enough word) reared its ugly head. That evening, President George W. Bush addressed the nation and said, “Today our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts.” Close to 3,000 people lost their lives and others lost family and friends. And now, ten years later, many are still struggling with the mental and physical anguish from that day.
This leads me to a meeting earlier this week of the Agency Council (Agency Presidents and Executive Directors). At that meeting, Cedar Sinai Park shared their well-designed and thought out disaster plan for what they would do in case of an emergency. (Where would the residents go if they needed to be moved off site? What will they do for food and electricity? Etc.) Several other agencies have plans in place, yet many need to develop one. This made me wonder, does our overall Jewish community (Federation, its partner agencies, synagogues, etc.) have a coordinated and systematic action plan in the event of a natural disaster (Hurricane Andrew in Miami and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans) or a terrorist attack (9/11 and the Seattle Federation shooting)?
In either case, how would we instantaneously contact Jewish communal leaders and share information? How would we provide critical social services? Where would people go for food, shelter, and comfort? How would we inform the entire Jewish community of the situation and our efforts? Technology makes this easier (look at how Virginia Tech University was able to immediately text the entire student body when a gun man was on their campus), yet it will be useless if there is no power or the cell towers are not working. These are just a few questions off the top of my head, which emphasizes the fact that there must be a plan.
I am pleased to report that this topic has been previously discussed here in Portland, yet no formalized community plan has been developed. With the “happenings” in the world (even Richmond, Virginia experienced a recent earthquake), we recognize even more that we must be prepared for any type of disaster. Federation has contacted the Jewish Federations of North America to utilize their expertise in developing a functional written plan based on their experiences in New Orleans, Miami and New York (in partnership with local and federal government agencies). In fact, we plan to draw communities from San Francisco to Seattle into the conversation to enhance our efforts.
In no way am I trying to scare anyone, but this is a real issue – one I hope we never confront. Yet, as the Boy Scouts say… Be Prepared. Our community will be -- by creating a Jewish response to natural disasters and terrorist attacks that include your support, cooperation, and input.
As the Jewish New Year approaches and we commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11, let’s pray that we never have a tragedy of similar magnitude here in Portland. For the first time in my professional life, I look forward to developing an incredible plan that just sits on the shelf.