One week ago, Bob Horenstein, the Jewish Federation’s Community Relations Committee and Allocations Director, and I had the opportunity to meet with leaders from the Mormon community. Elder Jeffrey Holland, former President of Brigham Young University and an ordained member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints along with Arlene and Eugene Platt, Representatives for the LDS Portland Multistake Public Affairs Council, came to discuss ways our communities can possibly work together.
During our discussion about social policy issues, I also was able to learn more about the LDS community. A few interesting tidbits:
There are approximately 138,000 Mormons living in western Oregon. This is roughly three times the numbers of Jews.
Where Mormons worship is called a ward, which is the larger of two types of local congregations (the smaller being a branch). A ward is presided over by a bishop, the equivalent of a pastor in many other Christian denominations. As with all church leadership, the bishop is considered lay clergy and as such is not paid. Two counselors serve with the bishop to help with administrative and spiritual duties of the ward and to preside in the absence of the bishop. Unlike choice in synagogues, Mormons are actually assigned a ward based on where they live.
As you probably know, Mormons following high school have the opportunity to go on a mission for 24 months for boys and 18 months for girls. These young people get sent out around the world as volunteer representatives of the LDS Church and engage in church service, humanitarian aid, and community service. The mission assignment can be to any one of the 405 missions organized worldwide, with the young people having no choice in where they go. There are currently over 75,000 missionaries world-wide, with each individual paying his/her own costs.
Beyond the introductions and learning about one another’s communities, we discussed ways we may be able to work together on issues of joint concern (i.e. hunger), understanding there will be times we cannot. I am grateful to the Elder Holland and the Platts for reaching out to our community.
This weekend, Portland’s Kol Shalom - Community for Humanistic Judaism, will be hosting the fifth annual J-West Conference here in Portland. This is a west coast gathering of cultural, humanist, and secular Jews and serves as a forum for secular Jewish organizations to come together and share resources, ideas, and inspiration for sustaining and promoting Jewish culture and history. I have the honor of being the Keynote Speaker at the conference to share my thoughts about the future of the American Jewish community.
The Society for Humanistic Judaism was formalized in 1969 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine in Detroit, Michigan. The humanist movement within Judaism emphasizes secular Jewish culture and Jewish history rather than belief in God as sources of Jewish identity. “While respecting all of the other denominations of Judaism and their beliefs, Humanistic Judaism offers an alternative for those who are not comfortable with traditional God-centered worship services, but who seek a community or congregation in which they can celebrate their Jewish identity.”
Yes, Portland is a very diverse Jewish community in regard to beliefs and expressions of worship. We are a community that has a place for everyone. And the Jewish Federation is working hard, in conjunction with our community partners, to expose more people to Jewish life and Jewish experiences. This includes the welcoming of dozens of newcomers to Portland just this summer as we work to connect and engage them in their new community. Our community has a wonderful history with multi-generational Oregonian families. At the same time, each and every year our community grows as newcomers move to our great city.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I encourage you to come together with others (including those new to Portland), participate in synagogue services, or find your own way to mark the holidays. The ultimate goal is for everyone to connect to their own personal Judaism and to find their own meaningful connections.
Shabbat shalom and have an enjoyable and safe Labor Day weekend.
PS – Sign up now to join the Jewish Federation for its Campaign Kick-Off Event on October 3. Dan Pallotta is an incredible speaker with an inspiring and impactful message. Plus, it will be a wonderful evening with fun, kosher food, and socializing as our community comes together.