A Shabbat Message from Debbie B. Lazarov: Who am I?

by JCPConnect-
By Debbie B. Lazarov

About three years ago, I was inspired by a younger woman who had recently returned from a Memphis Jewish Federation MOMentum Moms’ trip to Israel. She said it changed her life. Since I had retired ten years prior, I had been searching for something that would light that kind of passion within me.

I approached my friend and fellow Lion of Judah Laura Linder, who also happens to be President and CEO of Jewish Community Partners, and asked if it would be possible for women without children at home to take a similar trip to Israel. Much to my surprise, she said “sure.” She asked if I wanted to work on a committee to make it happen. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. 

A small group of women started meeting in 2018 to plan our women’s spiritual journey to Israel, which I hoped would spark a roadmap that could guide me for the rest of my life. One of the readings that we were assigned prior to the trip was Rabbi Naomi Levy’s book, Einstein and the Rabbi. In a chapter, Rabbi Levy wrote about undergoing surgeries for a nose reconstruction due to invasive skin cancer- the same surgeries that I was having myself at that time.

One of her doctors told her: “Make sure your surgeon knows who you are.” Rabbi Levy promised she would, but then thought, “Who am I?”

Well, that is the question I had been asking myself since I retired. My work defined my identity and self-worth – I used to know exactly who I was. But I spent the ten years after retirement feeling lost. Who am I? I didn’t know how to answer that question anymore.

Many of the women on our Women’s Spiritual Journey to Israel in 2019 had an adult B’nai Mitzvah near the end of our trip. In that week’s Torah portion, God said to Abraham, “go to the land I will show you, and you will be a blessing.” Lech Lecha literally translates to “Go for you.”
And as it turned out, the process of planning the trip and experiencing Israel with a wonderful, diverse group of about 40 women was the catalyst to become my best self.

Almost as a prediction of what was ahead for me, I concluded my Bat Mitzvah speech with the words, “Baruch atah Adonai, may this journey lead me to know who I am, and may this journey lead to a legacy that is meaningful for the generations to come.”

A few weeks after we returned from Israel, Shelley Robbins, Alla Lubin, and I met for lunch.  That day in January 2020, pre-pandemic, Shelley and I agreed to become the next co-chairs of our Federation’s Lion of Judah. Whereas my spiritual journey to Israel was where this story began, it was actually my active engagement with Lion of Judah that set me on the path to focus on setting higher priorities in my life, make space for deeper relationships, live more spiritually, realize my potential, and strengthen my identity as a Jew.  

In fact, this path had been there since I became a Lion in 2014, but I hadn’t the courage or motivation to take it. Most importantly, becoming involved with Lion of Judah answered my Bat Mitzvah prayer, “May this journey lead to a legacy that is meaningful for generations to come.”

I want to thank the Memphis Lions for showing me what it means to be a member of one of the largest groups of philanthropic women in the world. Our Lion of Judah gifts and those of every donor to the Annual Community Campaign reach across the globe, from Memphis to Israel, and anywhere there is a Jew in need. Our generosity makes a huge difference in the lives of Jews who need help the most.

Many of you already made your gift when you made a multi-year commitment last year. How wonderful to know that Federation has already raised nearly $2 million for this year’s campaign! But we will always need your continued support. Federation’s most pressing priorities in Memphis are fighting the rise in Antisemitism, building a pipeline of next-generation leaders, addressing mental wellness that has impacted so many due to the pandemic, and actively engaging members of our Jewish community. Despite the challenges, together we are up to the task because women like the Lions of Judah and other generous donors and volunteers give their resources, time, and talent.

Because of women like the Lions, women who help Jews in need, women who want to leave a legacy of philanthropy and strong values, women who give other women a purpose and a passion – because of my spiritual journey to Israel and my involvement with Lion of Judah, I am now able to answer the question, “Who am I?”
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