A community-wide memorial service for Charlie Schiffman is scheduled for Wednesday, August 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center. The entire Jewish community is invited to join us that evening. Special thanks to Rabbis Motti Wilhelm and Joshua Stampfer, along with the Schiffman Family, for their help and support in putting this together.
Yesterday I received an email from a community member with the subject line, “Friday!” The email read, “I’m looking forward to reading your column tomorrow.” I knew exactly what he was talking about – would I address the Iran issue? How could I avoid writing about it? It is at the center of our country’s discourse, and especially heated within the Jewish community. I told him I would be writing about the issue and he responded with a Top 10 list of reasons not to. I greatly appreciated his creativity. In fact, #2 on his list was my favorite – “Captain Kirk is coming (William Shatner is speaking at the Jewish Federation’s Campaign Event on November 14), and he has much more experience negotiating treaties with far off places.”
In all seriousness, the Iran nuclear deal is of great importance and concern for Israel, the worldwide Jewish community and nations around the globe. National Jewish organizations like AIPAC, ADL and J Street have made their positions quite clear. There are questions (nationally) about what role Jewish Federations should play in this debate. Several have come out clearly and forcefully telling their communities to stand against the agreement (Miami, Boston, Los Angeles). Most, like ours, have not taken a position “for or against,” and instead are engaged in thoughtful examination of the deal and respectfully expressing concern about the potential shortcomings of the agreement.
Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, wrote an article that resonated with me. He stated:
The organizations that have organizing at their core and clear political identities can and should pursue those political agendas. Not playing in this market – and yielding some terrain – to these political entities may initially threaten our big organizations by asking them to share some of what they think is their core functionality, but in the long term, I think we will be better.
The majority of central organizations – federations, rabbinic and synagogue organizations, community relations councils – should focus their work in sustaining a communal consensus and in exercising leadership in its most challenging form: in pushing people to grow by presenting a wide spectrum of ideas, and by forcing people to learn and to make their best informed choices. This should include serious, non-partisan (or bipartisan, or multi-partisan) non-contentious dialogues and discussions which remind us that we have to stay in the game and care about the issue, in spite of the cacophony. Apathy about this issue threatens both supporters and opponents of the Iran deal, and harsh rhetoric drives the majority of potential stakeholders out of the community. Let’s allow for a slowdown of the pace of news releases and press statements in order to be more reflective; let’s guide rabbis and local leaders with resources, instead of captaining them as if it were Color War.
I think it is important to say that the prospect of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons is a matter of great concern and utmost urgency. There are tremendous reservations about Iran maintaining the standards of the agreement. It is imperative that the long-term safety and security of Israel be of highest priority. We look to Congress to do its due diligence and undertake a nonpartisan, vigorous review of the deal over the next 55 days.
The Jewish Federation, along with Jewish communal partners, will continue to review the proposed agreement. Here are several steps the national Jewish Federation system and our Jewish Federation can take:
- Educate the community about the potential pros and cons of the agreement and encourage civil discourse on the subject;
- Encourage you, our community members, to express your views to members of Congress - whether you support or oppose the deal - while at the same time underscoring that Israel’s concerns are real, legitimate (expressed by both the ruling coalition and the opposition in Israel), and important;
- Prepare college students as they head back to school this fall with information on the issue;
- Maintain strong public pressure on Iran for its role in fomenting state-sponsored terrorism and to ensure compliance with the terms of the agreement;
- Mobilize our community against the delegitimization (BDS) movement which has not dissipated during the Iran debate;
- Work actively to strengthen bipartisan governmental support for Israel, which is critically important for long-term Israel-American relations.
These next eight weeks are quite critical as this agreement is vetted by our elected officials. I have my personal views and I contacted my elected officials and shared my opinions with them. I encourage you to do the same.
Finally, recognizing that Saturday night/Sunday is the sobering observance of Tisha B’Av, we welcome the community to look for the Jewish Federation information booth at Northeast Portland Sunday Parkways as part of our ongoing outreach efforts. We hope to see you there.