The Jewish High Holidays are quickly approaching (early Sept!). We are fortunate to have a wide array of synagogues and congregations in our community. Please view a list of High Holiday services – and, if interested in attending, please contact the synagogue directly.Earlier this week I returned from a family vacation to Iowa. Yes, my wife’s parents and brother moved 18+ years ago to a small town some 30 miles from Omaha, Nebraska across the river in Iowa. It was the first time in many years that we visited during the summer. All I can tell you is that seeing America’s heartland in “full bloom” is beautiful with (literally) thousands and thousands of acres of corn and soybeans growing all around you. I can only imagine how much gets harvested each year. Plus while there we got to enjoy the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines two hours away -- who knew pigs could grow to be so large and goats get groomed for showing?
Omaha is one of the most exceptional Jewish communities in all of North America. Jews first arrived there in the mid-1850s and were instrumental in the development of the city. Aaron Cahn and Meyer Hellman were the first Jews to arrive in Nebraska, crossing the river on September 7, 1856. With Omaha serving as the last point on the Oregon Trail for travelers headed across the plains, Cahn and Hellman opened a very successful clothing business.
Between 1901 and 1913, over 2,000 Jews arrived with the help of the Jewish Agricultural Industrial Aid Society and the Jewish Colonization Office. During the first quarter of the 20th century, community activism led to the establishment of a number of organizations, including some of the first chapters of the National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah, B’nai B’rith and Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA), the national Jewish teen youth group for boys. Mother Chapter AZA #1 still convenes to this day at their Jewish Community Center.
In 1903, the Association Charities was formed, one of the first three in the United States. This organization was later named The Jewish Welfare Fund and eventually became the Jewish Federation of Omaha.
Today, there are some 6,000 Jews who live in Omaha and the surrounding area. It is a phenomenal community with great leadership and a large philanthropic heart. In addition, one of the community’s hallmarks is its centralized organizational focus where the whole Jewish communal system works collaboratively.
While away, two wonderful things happened that made me proud of the work I do. In fact, our community makes great things happen each and every day. Some stories you hear about, and others you do not.
A week ago, a call came to the Federation office from a distraught woman. She and her husband were visiting Portland when the husband had a stroke. While the husband will have an extended stay in the hospital here, the family was concerned about the cost of staying in a hotel for thirty days or more.
Through the efforts of the Jewish Federation, Jewish Family and Child Service, and Cedar Sinai Park, I am delighted to share that the wife and sister-in-law are staying in an apartment at the Rose Schnitzer Manor. Cedar Sinai Park could not have been more resourceful and helpful. All of this was made possible in less than two hours – it shows just what our community can do when we all work together.
On an international level, this week the Jewish Agency for Israel, supported by funds from the Federation’s Annual Campaign, helped a group of 17 Jews move to Israel from Yemen in a covert maneuver reminiscent of 1949-50’s Operation Magic Carpet, the first mass aliyah (immigration) after the founding of the state.
Due to heightened security concerns and increasing tensions in Yemen, two sets of parents were brought directly to Israel, along with 10 of their children who had been living in Argentina. The members of the family had attempted to enter the United Kingdom with the hope of obtaining refugee status. However, after leaving Yemen, they learned that they were denied entry to the UK and would be brought to Argentina instead.
Recently, Yemenite Jews have been targets of threats by Islamists, including those who identify with al-Qaida. Anti-Semitic threats and attacks in Yemen have been on the rise since 2008, when schoolteacher Moshe Nahari was killed. Anti-Semitic incidents spiked in 2010 when community leader Aaron Zindani was stabbed to death in a market. Things worsened again in 2012 after the ouster of Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. As a consequence, 151 Yemenite Jews (including 45 just this year) have immigrated to Israel since 2009.
An estimated 90 Jews remain in Yemen. Half reside in a guarded structure in the capital Sanaa, while the rest are in Omran province’s city of Rida. Through our global efforts and partners, we have helped bring the vast majority of Yemenite Jews to safety in Israel, and are prepared to bring those remaining to Israel, as well.
It always amazes me what the organized Jewish community can make happen. Whether in a Jewish community the size of Omaha (6,000) or Portland (45,000), we should take great pride in all that we have built and accomplished. As the small sign in my office says – Success is knowing you make a difference each and every day.
We certainly do!
PS – The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland is once again sponsoring a team for the upcoming Hood to Coast Race. We have an incredible group of runners along with several wonderful volunteers. We, however, still need one more volunteer for Friday, August 23 from 9:15am-2pm at exchange #5 just outside of Sandy. If interested, please just reply to this email and let me know. Good luck to the team!