This past week, our community lost a wonderful gentleman, Harold (Hal) Saltzman. A loving family man, incredible athlete, successful businessman, and Jewish communal leader, including serving as President of the Jewish Federation during the 1967 Six-Day War. Hal and I were developing a very warm relationship as he mentored me during my transition to my new role at Federation. Our deepest sympathies go out to the entire Saltzman Family – may his memory be a blessing.
I promised myself when I decided to write this weekly email that I would not write about the Torah portion for the week. I worried that one of the rabbis or someone in our community would write and correct me in my interpretation or ideas. But this week is special – it is parasha Yitro (Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law) where in the Torah God “delivers” the 10 commandments to Moses. I know, I know...the first vision in your mind is Charlton Heston while your second thought is, “these 15, whoops…10 commandments” from the Mel Brooks' History of the World Part One movie (I assure you according to the Torah there were only ten.)
These initial commandments seem quite basic, yet interestingly the majority are spoken in the negative -- things we are told NOT to do (no other gods/idols, not use the Lord’s name in vain, not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not bear false witness, and not covet anything that someone else has). One interpretation is that these laws were needed because these types of activities were actually happening. The remaining three are actually quite positive (“I am the Lord your God”, remember Shabbat and keep it holy, and of course, honor thy mother and father).
Personally, I respond much better to the positives in life (I am a very upbeat and optimistic person) and thought I would share my own "ten commandments" for our Jewish future. To create this list, I went to my own wise Sages, my 9 year-old daughter and 8 year-old son, and asked them what they would include. So, here goes (in no particular order)....
1. Be a cheerleader for Jewish life and Judaism. Stand up and proudly share with others the beauty of our people, our heritage, our religion, our traditions, and our community.
2. Extend an invitation. In the Jewish community one always questions whether we are "welcoming enough" to newcomers, outsiders, or even people who have been around for a very long time. But before we can "welcome" someone, we need to invite them to participate. Invite your family members, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and even new acquaintances to join you to do something Jewish. That is how we can truly expand our community's involvement.
3. Read Jewish. Read newspapers, magazines, books, websites, etc. on a regular basis about anything Jewish. Learn what is happening in our Jewish (and non-Jewish) world to be better informed. It amazes me all the incredible things happening in Jewish life today and being done by Jewish people -- let's learn about it, understand it, and oftentimes celebrate it. (If you would like suggestions, please let me know. )
4. Educate yourself about the State of Israel -- Go there! Walk the land. Meet the people. See the sites. Experience firsthand what you have "learned" about Israel so you can enjoy her incredible achievements and make your own informed decisions.
5. Enroll Children in Jewish-identity building programs. Consider sending your child to: Jewish pre-school, Jewish day school, Jewish supplementary school, Jewish summer camp, Jewish youth group, Israel travel experience. Yes, I can hear you already -- these programs are expensive. Despite the initial "sticker shock," you will not regret any of these decisions. Over time our community will find ways to break down the barrier of cost. To enhance our Jewish future, we must enrich Jewish lives starting at a young age. And, you, as a parent (and grandpaprent) will share in those rewards.
6. Support Jewish causes through your personal financial and human resources. Yes, our community requires money to turn on the lights, maintain facilities, pay salaries, and to create the programs we want. Fees for service and philanthropy will always be part of the equation. At the same time, Jewish organizations need your expertise, intellect, and creativity to move forward into the future.
7. Explore your own Judaism. Join a synagogue. Celebrate Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. Take Jewish study classes. Experience Jewish culture. Eat Jewish foods (my father owned a Jewish deli during my childhood so I had to include that). Try new Jewish experiences. Today, there is no one way to define what it means to be a Jew. Seek, search, find, and create a Jewish journey that is right for you.
8. Be tolerant of others. (Funny, when my daughter mentioned this, I believe she was thinking more about not hitting her brother when he bothers her.) I wrote about this issue last week. How open are we to different points of view, ways to express one's Judaism, and various lifestyles? The greater Portland Jewish community is really a "community of communities." I am unsure if we will ever go back to the days of "We are One," yet civility and mutual respect for all things Jewish is key.
9. Take risks – succeed or fail – learn - repeat. As I have said many times before, the world around us is changing faster than our Jewish community. Our community must make strategic investments in new ideas, new models, and emerging leaders -- not just maintain the status quo. Let's be bold! Every new idea may not work, but if we do not try we will never know. As hockey great Wayne Gretzky said, "you miss 100% of the shots you do not take."
10."Life's like a movie, write your own ending." A friend reminded me of this line from the first Muppet (remember them?) movie. Our Jewish community has the ability to dream the dream and make the impossible a reality. Imagining our community (and your own personal Jewish journey) for the next 10 years, 20 years, and even 30 years is our (your) opportunity to think and be different. Let's take control and make the most out of our collective wisdom and imagination.
Well, those are the thoughts of 3/4s of the Blattner Family (while writing this last evening, my wife was at her first Trail Blazers game rooting for our new home team). What do you think of this list? What would you add?
PS – Do not forget to enter your thoughts and ideas in the “Next Great Jewish Idea” contest. I am so excited by the creative ideas that have already been submitted. Please click here and share your brilliant ideas prior to February 15.