As I write this week, I wish everyone only good health. I know far too many people (adults and children) who have tested positive for Covid.
I am excited to share two new important programs available to our Jewish community.
Project EM: The Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies (NJHSA), in partnership with Jewish Federations of North America and our Jewish Federation, recently launched Project EM: Empowering and Employing our Community. This nationwide network provides jobseekers with all the assistance, resources, and tools they need to find work. The goal of Project EM is to ensure that no matter where someone is on their career path or where they are located geographically, they can get the support they require to get a job -- or a better job -- free of charge. Support includes interactive workshops, technical skills training, resume writing assistance, financial literacy, stress reduction classes, and more. You also have access to a career consultant who will assist you in navigating the job search process by offering individualized career counseling and tailored support along your journey. While administered by Jewish organizations, it is open to anyone and everyone.
Project EM was created to help people get the coaching, training, skill building, and support to find good jobs, jobs that pay a living wage and allow them to provide for themselves and their families. And to have this available on a national level ensures everyone has the resources needed to support job seekers.
At a time when people are dealing with the pandemic, inflation, and extra childcare needs, every bit of support can be a lifeline. Project EM will provide that support, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland is proud to partner in this effort.
Megilla. No, not the one we read on Purim. Instead, Megilla is a streamlined approach to create, collect, and share video stories. It is an opportunity for you to share your own personal testimonial on your Jewish connections, traditions, and family history. And you can do it from your own home. More about the versatility and utility of this new initiative in the future.
For now, to test out this new video service, we ask you to click here and respond to this question:
What are your dreams for the Jewish community in 2022?
The recording is simple to do and we will compile the responses. We hope to hear from you.
The holiday of Tu b’Shevat (15th day of the month of Shevat on the Hebrew calendar), known as the New Year for Trees, begins Sunday evening and continues the following day. In contemporary Israel, the day is celebrated as an ecological awareness day and is also commonly called Israeli Arbor Day. Another observance is the Tu b’Shevat seder, a meal that honors the seven agricultural species of Israel singled out in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:8): wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives, and dates. These seven species were the staple foods consumed by the Jewish people in the land of Israel during Biblical times.
According to sources, these seven species have special significance and Kabbalist (Jewish mystic) Rabbi Isaac Luria attributed meaningful characteristics to each fruit:
Wheat corresponds to chesed (kindness). The characteristic of chesed is expansion, to reach out and extend oneself toward others. Wheat likewise reflects the nourishing food of kindness and to this day remains our main sustaining food staple.
Barley corresponds to gevura (restraint). Its characteristic is contraction, reduction, and setting boundaries. This is reflected by each barley seed being enclosed in a strong hull (boundary) which remains intact even during threshing.
Grapes grow in beautiful clusters and correspond to tiferet (beauty). This trait is characterized by the balance between its different and sometimes contrary components. Since tiferet is the perfect balance between chesed and gevura, grapes include both nourishing and eliminating qualities.
Figs correspond to netzach (endurance), which engenders longevity. The fig tree reflects everlasting fruitfulness as it has one of the longest periods of ripening, spanning more than three months.
Pomegranate, an incredibly beautiful and majestic fruit, even has a crown. It corresponds to hod, which means majesty and glory. Hod is also related to the Hebrew word todah, which means thanks and recognition.
Olive oil corresponds to yesod (foundation). Olive oil is the foundation of most Mediterranean foods and has many health-related qualities.
Dates correspond to malchut (kingdom). Malchut is the channel that allows everything to manifest below.
This year is also a year of shmita, the sabbatical year of the seven-year cycle mandated by the Torah for all agricultural produce grown in Israel. During shmita, the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity, including plowing, planting, pruning and harvesting, is forbidden by Jewish law. Other cultivation techniques (such as watering, fertilizing, weeding, spraying, trimming and mowing) may be performed as a preventative measure only -- not to improve the growth of trees or other plants. Additionally, any fruits which grow of their own accord are deemed hefker (ownerless) and may be picked by anyone.
On Monday, we will observe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national tribute to an incredible leader and visionary. His memory and words should be an inspiration for our country today. Dr. King was a remarkable man who wanted our country and our world to understand the beauty of diversity and the importance of tolerance. Let us all continue to work to achieve his vision.
Finally, an important public service announcement. During the pandemic, the number of people donating blood dropped 10% nationally, and school/college blood drives dropped 62%. This has led to the worst blood shortage in at least 10 years with as much as a quarter of hospital needs nationwide not being met. Please sign up to donate blood by clicking here or call 1-800-733-2767.
Shabbat shalom and please record your short Megilla video.