HUMAN RELATIONS DINNER

NOVEMBER 5 2009

 

Introduction of Neil Port

 

It is a special treat for me to introduce Neil this evening. Those of us who knew and worked with John Riley know that he would have been proud to have Neil be the recipient. When you review the list of prior awardees you can see the interrelatedness of the group. How appropriate it is to give this award to Neil. It recognizes “personal efforts to enhance the worth and dignity of the citizens of our community.” We who know Neil certainly realize his commitment to social justice for people, and we also realize that this commitment extends to more than one community.

 

It certainly includes the Altoona/Blair County community- that is his home. It also includes our local Jewish community- his heart is there too.

 

In addition, Neil’s commitment to people and justice extends way beyond these borders. His support of United Jewish Communities helps Jews in need all over the world. His concern and support includes help for the women and children in the Congo and Darfur.

 

This commitment took Neil and Mickey to Louisiana to help the homeless after the ravages of Katrina. They lived in a shelter and were Red Cross volunteers.

 

Neil has demonstrated a commitment to communities throughout the world.

 

Where did this sense of social responsibility originate?  All of us who knew his parents, Rose and Sam Port, know where this commitment was nourished. They were both trained social workers and observant Jews who set the standard for their sons—Steve, Neil and Marty. We have already heard some of the contributions of Sam including his efforts with the Community Action Program. He also was one of the creators of Big Brothers and Senior Services. I’d also like to say a few words about Rose Port, who worked for many years at Family and Children’s Service and was a leader along with Gwen and some of your other recipients in advocating for the rights of women and minorities in our community.

 In one of our Jewish daily prayers, we use the phrase l’dor v’dor—from generation to generation. It certainly refers to the continuity of the Jewish family and Jewish religion; but more importantly to the continuity of Jewish and family values and of deeds of loving kindness and social responsibility.

 

Recently the Blair Chamber honored a business begun by the family in the 1940s, with the Heritage Award. In accepting the award, Neil’s brother, Steve, expanded the meaning of heritage to include, “work ethic, energy, commitment and an innovative approach to life.” In the Port/Sky family, the “commitment” clearly includes improving the lives of others in the various communities of which you are a member.

 

Each generation adds its own unique quality or stamp to their heritage. Those of us familiar with Neil realize that his most unique and best addition is his wife and partner, Mickey, who continues to seek out people and programs that require their assistance and support. None of us really know all of the individuals or groups that they have helped because it’s usually quietly and confidentially handled. But here is a sampling of some that I am aware of.

 

From founding a block parents program in their neighborhood in the 1960s, through leading the United Way’s first million dollar campaign, to their wonderful support of Penn State Altoona, to leadership in their synagogue and our local Jewish Federation.

 

Add in that Neil works with Altoona Hospital on various boards and is especially active on the one that created the free medical and dental clinics for our community. He coordinates the B’nai B’rith college scholarships for low income, high achieving local students and has established scholarships at Penn State Altoona. These are but a few examples. Notice that their community service began in the 1960’s and continues as strongly as ever.

 

Earlier I mentioned extending the commitment of social justice “from generation to generation.” Neil and Steve have established the Rose and Sam Port Advised Philanthropic Fund, an endowment that assists not for profit programs annually and will continue long into the future.. Neil and Mickey have established the Port Family Foundation, where they and their children, Lisa, Sue, and Larry, allocate money annually to community services especially important to them. They have assured that the next generation will continue their work.

 

As I was thinking about how to introduce Neil, a poem I learned years ago came into my mind. It was written in the 1830s by a Christian, Leigh Hunt, about a Muslim, and it expresses basic Jewish values. Maybe some of you know it.

 

Abou Ben Adhem

 

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)

Awoke one night from a dream of peace,

And saw, within the moonlight in his room,

Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,

An angel writing in a book of gold:--

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,

And to the Presence in the room he said

“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,

And with a look made of all sweet accord,

Answered “The names of those who love the Lord.”

“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”

Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,

But cheerily still, and said “I pray thee, then,

Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”

 

The angel wrote and vanished. The next night

It came again with a great wakening light,

And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,

And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

 

 

Each year at our High Holy Days, Jews think about God’s book of life and blessing and if we could actually see it, I think that we would see that- Neil Port’s name led all the rest.

 

Let’s welcome Neil to the podium for a few remarks.