Earlier this week I was in Washington, DC for the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly. This annual conference brings Federation representatives and leaders from Jewish communal organizations around the world together to discuss current challenges facing the Jewish community and opportunities for the future. I am delighted four representatives from Portland attended the conference.
One of the things you learn from “trade conferences” like this is that the important work is often done in hallway conversations, not the large plenary sessions. Thus, I spent most of my time meeting with Jewish communal leaders who either wanted to learn more about what we are doing in Portland, or connecting with current and potential program providers for Portland.
Here are some potential new initiatives I discussed:
• One Table - A national organization helping 20- and 30-somethings find, enjoy, and share Shabbat dinners to make the most of Friday night. We are in active conversations about bringing the program to our Jewish community.
• Honeymoon Israel (HMI) - A new national initiative which we hope to bring to Portland in 2018 that provides subsidized, immersive trips to Israel for couples with at least one Jewish partner. HMI trips and follow-up programming are designed to create communities of couples who are committed to exploring raising Jewish families.
• NewCAJE - Originally founded in 1976 as CAJE, NewCAJE is a pluralistic organization which brings together all settings of Jewish education: day schools, complementary schools, camps, JCC’s, independent schools and afterschool programs, online programs – just to name a few. NewCAJE holds an annual conference emphasizing the sharing of information, techniques and strategies for a new generation of teachers and learners. Eventually, we would like their national conference to be held here.
• Rabbi Gilad Kariv, both a lawyer and rabbi, is currently head of the Reform Movement in Israel. His work is to expand the Reform movement, advance its stance among the Israeli public, establish new Reform congregations throughout Israel, and obtain government recognition of the Movement’s activities. He was interested in learning more about Jewish Portland and its understanding of the challenges of religious pluralism in Israel. We invited him to Portland to have that very conversation. (Unfortunately Yizhar Hess, CEO and Executive Dirfector of the Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel was unable to join us at the last minute).
We also had the honor of hearing from the “Notorious RBG,” better known as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was fantastic! She talked about growing up in Brooklyn, her family life and connections to Judaism and Israel.
Her first inkling to study law happened while in college during the Joseph McCarthy era. A professor made her aware that people were losing their civil liberties and they needed lawyers to stand up for their rights. Although her family had misgivings about her studying law (her parents wondered who would hire a female, Jewish attorney?), they recognized (and these were her words) “if she never got a job as a lawyer she would marry someone and she could then be a good wife.”
Her only “political comments” were the following:
• The Supreme Court needs nine members to truly be effective, although since it has been 8 justices only three cases had tied rulings.
• Congress needs to remove the “gridlock” and enact legislation so the Court can do its work.
• In response to the recent election, “Anger is not a healthy emotion. Go do something that will truly make the world a better place.”
One of the major topics of conversation at the conference was the Jewish community’s response to the recent appointment of Stephen Bannon as special advisor to President-Elect Donald Trump.
Here is a thoughtful analysis from the Washington Post capturing the dilemma facing Jewish groups – what to do or say about the appointment of Stephen Bannon. I have received several emails and phone calls from people about the issue. Most Jewish Federations and even the Jewish Federations of North America have made no statement. Our responsibility is to remain thoughtful and measured as our community works through these post-election tensions and differences.
The Jewish Federation and its Jewish Community Relations Council share the unease of many in our community about the appointment of Stephen Bannon as President-Elect Trump’s chief strategist and senior advisor. Our concern stems from Bannon’s well-documented association with a news platform used to spread racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic views. The President-Elect has stated that he will focus on unifying the country after a polarizing campaign, yet this appointment runs counter to that important goal. We will vigilantly monitor the policies of the new administration, looking for signs of healing and reconciliation rather than further divisiveness, and respond accordingly.
In closing, here is a beautiful article about the power of Shabbat during this time. I was particularly touched by the following comment:
“Shabbat is a weekly beacon of empathy and understanding, and a place in time where those conversations that cannot find a home any other time of the week can finally find a place to be held. Even if it is not harmonious (and far too few conversations these days are), the very idea of gathering around a table to both engage in new ideas and reconcile our frayed nerves and nation is critical. When civic spaces become too overloaded with anger, it is the sacred spaces that must carry the burden.”