Reflecting on Elul and the Days of Awe with Alumni Sara Figueroa

Sara Figueroa (she/her) guides us into the Days of Awe as she shares about her journey, learnings, and thoughts on Elul.

Sara has been with Tisch from the beginning, and has supported Portland’s Jewish community in countless ways. Inspired by Rabbi Allan Lew’s book “This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared”, she has stepped into regularly guiding fellow Jews through the month of Elul and into the Days of Awe and leading High Holiday experiences.

On Spirituality & Community

I have always been a spiritual seeker and experimenter. In my early 20s, I spent time with the Romemu community (a jewish renewal synagogue) and a meditation community founded in India. Both primed me to ask the question: what do I want for myself when in community?

One of the answers I knew when I arrived in Portland was – I wanted something different than what I grew up with (a Conservative Movement Synagogue experience – it had it’s good things!) But I still struggled to articulate what I wanted. That didn’t make me feel shy about visiting various synagogues, joining various Jewish orgs looking for community. I was looking for my peeps and I found them! 

Becoming part of the Alberta Shul and TischPDX helped me realize that I was looking for an inclusive, experimental, creative space to be Jewish and Jew-ish. I wanted to know what other people wanted and were also doing so that I could evolve too. I am so honored to have collaborated and learned from fellow Tisch cohort members. It has been magical to see them create amazing spaces, events, experiences and rituals as facilitator and teachers.

What She’s Learned On Her Journey

For formal workshops: Prep, get feedback, prep again, get feedback again and practice and then practice again!

For informal workshops: Less is more! I really felt this year (in my Elul workshops) that having more space and talking more time for activities made the whole experience so much more meaningful. I learned some deep truths about myself, and learned some profound things from participants that you can’t hear in any other context.

Her Current Interests

Food! I am beginning a journey with cooking all non-Ashkenazi holiday food so I am looking for Mexican and Puerto Rican dishes I can make at various jewish holidays that reflect my Latinx heritage.

Her Hopes & Dreams

Next year to do a backyard Tisha B’Av experience – it is so powerful working with grief as a catalyst for healing and transformation.  And I would love to think about some kind of summer retreat experience that includes this and maybe mixing in camping since everyone wants to get out of town 🙂 

Reflections on Elul

For me Elul is a time for re-prioritizing, making space and re-reading “This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared” by Rabbi Alan Lew. Relying on the same text (regardless of the book’s and writer’s limitations) provides a pivot point for turning into a new spiritual year and being renewed.

I ask of the book’s spiritual messages: what am I seeking that is missing in this book? And what is still here that I am not doing that will make a difference? 

While imperfect, the profound spiritual seeking, questioning and evaluation of Rabbi Lew and the lessons he gleaned from his life and pulpit, for me provide a starting point to delving deeper in all I do during the high holidays. He says of Elul that it is “a time to gaze upon our inner mountains, to devote serious attention to bringing our lives into focus; a time to clarify the distinction between the will of God and our own willfulness, to identify that in us which yearns for life and that which clings to death, that which seeks good and that which is fatally attracted to the perverse, to find out who we are and where we are going.” And the tool during this time is cheshbon-ha-nefesh, literally a spiritual accounting or soul/spirit accounting (nefesh is spirit/soul in Hebrew).

My wish for you is that you find a path for you as you make your way toward the high holidays, in whatever form feeds your Jewish and/or spiritual transformation.

TischPDX chosen as an SRE Network Grantee

We’re grateful to be chosen as an SRE Network 2022 Spring Open Grant recipient! In Spring 2022, SRE Network awarded a total of $300,000 in two-year, $50,000 grants to six organizations to support the areas of gender justice with an intersectional lens. We are one of those six out of 35 that applied.

Find out more about SRE Network and the other awardees.

About SRE Network

In 2006, the “Me Too” movement was founded by a survivor and activist, Tarana Burke. In 2017, #MeToo went viral, and a global movement around sexual violence emerged. It was in the context of Jewish women coming forward privately and publicly, sharing their stories of gender-based abuse, harassment, and discrimination by colleagues and leaders in Jewish workplaces and communal spaces, that SRE Network (then SafetyRespectEquity Coalition) was launched in 2018. With support from Jewish foundations across the United States, our early investments focused on documenting their testimonies, developing robust organizational policies for Jewish institutions, supporting respectful workplace training, improving hiring and advancement practices, and furthering gender equity in the rabbinate. Since that time, SRE Network has invested over $3.75M in efforts to advance gender equity in Jewish spaces, published groundbreaking research, and our Standards for Safe, Respectful, Equitable Workplaces, adopted by over 150 member organizations, provides a roadmap toward making lasting change.

A place at the table – A report from TischPDX: Unaffiliated Jewish Leadership Incubator

ENGAGING THE MARGINALIZED
A place at the table –
A report from TischPDX: Unaffiliated Jewish Leadership Incubator

EJewish Philanthropy | By Eleyna Fugman

The What and the Why:

In May of 2018, Rabbi Ariel Stone, Kalyn Culler Cohen and I met to discuss a local phenomenon in our hometown of Portland, Ore.: the abundance of young Jewish organizers, activists and individuals creating Jewish programming and hubs of community outside of our Jewish institutions. The problem was that while these were thoughtful efforts and well-tuned to the organizers’ peer groups, they would spark and then quickly fade.

Many of these Jewish event planners, hosts and organizers, including myself, were younger — 20s and 30s, mainly queer-identified, and a significant number raised outside of organized Jewish community. What we had in common was that we were actively seeking places where we could be Jewish in ways that felt authentic to our experiences. For many of us, traditional Jewish environments such as synagogues and Jewish Community Centers did not offer spaces where we felt invited to show ourselves fully — even in programs and organizations that were targeted to younger adults. When we tried to enter these spaces, we had the sense of feeling unseen as young Jews, queer and trans Jews, multiracial Jews — or we would struggle with feeling like we did not know enough, having grown up in interfaith families or raised outside of Jewish homes or communities. We sought places where we could bring our whole selves, and the solution seemed to be that we needed to build those spaces for ourselves.

Read the full article here.

Why Jewish Innovation Matters Now More Than Ever

Recently published article by Hey, Alma. View the full article here.

Article segment:

“These organizations from Slingshot’s “10 to Watch” list are responding to critical needs in the Jewish world and beyond.

This article was sponsored by Slingshot.

When I started college in 2007, I decided I wasn’t going to be Jewish anymore. Burnt out from my youth group and captivated by new interests, Jewish activities no longer mattered to me. That quickly changed when I saw a poster in the college dining hall about a chance to travel to Honduras to learn about justice with a Jewish lens. Suddenly, students like me who thought they were “over” being Jewish had found something new, something different.

It wasn’t long before exploring new expressions of Jewish life led me to ask big questions: What would it look like to create new avenues for Jewish engagement, especially for people seeking to find their place in a community that no longer met their needs? How could Jewish life be more inclusive of young people on the margins, including women, Jews of ColorLGBTQ Jews, and Jews in low-income communities?

Fast forward 14 years, and I’m now the Chief Program Officer of Slingshot, an organization that engages young Jewish philanthropists to make a lasting impact on the Jewish world and beyond. It’s clear that the Jewish world in North America is changing. Over the next five to seven years, 75% of senior leaders in American Jewish nonprofits will likely retire or leave their positions. And new, young philanthropists are beginning to think differently about their investments.”

Read more here.

2020 Annual Report

Check out the Annual Report here.

On behalf of the staff and board at TischPDX, we hope that you and your families are safe and healthy in these times. We are delighted to share with you the Annual Report of TischPDX: Unaffiliated Jewish Leadership Incubator, documenting the successes and challenges of this past year.

5780 has been a remarkable, brutal, enlightening and invigorating year. We are proud to say that TischPDX has been able to adapt gracefully to each new situation.

At the heart of our program are our fellows, or, in Hebrew, our “amitim.” In September, 2019, the beginning of the Jewish year 5780, TischPDX welcomed a new cohort: six young, enthusiastic Jews who live and work with other young Jews on Portland’s east side. Each one has brought their passions, insights and knowledge to bear in our time together. One of our new cohort members is teaching the Alef-Bet to her/their peers through a weekly session that includes snacks, Kabbalistic stories, midrash and art. Another is leading a monthly Shabbat book club with a racial justice focus. During the high holidays we held a weekend long retreat on Reed’s campus for our first and second cohorts to meet one another and learn together. Another innovation from our first year was the decision to extend the length of the program from 10 months to 16 months. This meant that our 1st and 2nd year cohort members overlapped from September through December.

This allowed for greater networking possibilities,robust conversations and for the 1st cohort to takemore leadership with their peers in the 2nd cohort.

In December, we graduated our first group of amitim. In their exit interviews, our amitim told us that after their 16 months in TischPDX they: 1) felt more comfortable in traditional or mainstreamJewish environments, 2) have learned more aboutJewish life in Portland and 3) feel more connected to the Jewish yearly cycle and Jewish holidays. Wewere delighted with this feedback and are now working on building an alumni engagement program to keep these first cohort members engaged with TischPDX.

In the past year, we have been working to raise the profile of TischPDX on the national stage. In March, we received word that TischPDX had been accepted into a highly competitive national “EntrepreneurSprints Program,” hosted by the national Jewish creativity incubator Upstart, which is providing coaching, networking and financial support to TischPDX through November 2020. We are delighted to have received this honor and are looking forward to their support in our next stage of growth. With their support, we are actively working on messaging, staffing, board development and looking at ways we can replicate the TischPDX model nationally. Thank you in advance for your interest in TischPDX and for reading this report.