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June 30, 2016 – (Memphis, TENNESSEE) – In partnership with our friends and colleagues at Rhodes College, Jewish Community Partners is proud to announce the formation of a Hillel at Rhodes College, which will launch with the fall 2016 semester.

Around 70 Jewish students are enrolled at Rhodes, and while a Jewish Student Organization has had an established presence on campus for years, their ability to reach and engage students has been limited by an absence of dedicated staff and a shortage of resources.

Jewish Community Partners/Memphis Jewish Federation funding, along with some money directed from student activity fees, will provide for a Hillel director and robust programming, overseen by an advisory board of leaders from the Memphis Jewish community.

“We are honored to partner with Rhodes College to enhance the Jewish presence on campus,” said Laura Linder, JCP’s president and CEO. “JCP will bring all of the resources of the broader Memphis Jewish community to the partnership, enabling students to connect with Jewish life on campus and with our close knit Jewish community.”

“For a long time I have felt that since there’s a growing number of Jewish students at Rhodes College that we’re underserving them,” said Sherry Weinblatt, director of the Morris S. Fogelman Jewish Student Center at Hillel of

Rhodes College president Dr. William E. Troutt announced the formation of the Rhodes Hillel at our Annual Meeting earlier this year.

Rhodes College president Dr. William E. Troutt announced the formation of the Rhodes Hillel at our Annual Meeting earlier this year.

Memphis, on the University of Memphis campus. “There’s been a JSO there for a long time, but putting the name Hillel on it will be a very positive move in attracting more Jewish students. We feel that it is definitely a positive situation.”

Attracting young Jewish people to Memphis, and perhaps particularly to an undergraduate experience at Rhodes, has the potential to make a significant impact on Memphis’ Jewish community. At JCP’s recent Annual Meeting, Rhodes College president Dr. William Troutt was invited to the podium to announce the new Hillel. He also told the audience that 90% of his college’s students come from outside the Mid-South, and that 40% remain here after graduation.

The large number that stays here after college is no accident. Two years in a row, Rhodes was named America’s #1 Service-Oriented College by Newsweek magazine, a direct outcome of the college’s programmatic efforts to engage its student body in grassroots, community-focused activism and initiatives. Not surprisingly, the students build emotional and intellectual attachments to these causes, and a strong bond to the city is formed.

“We are very excited about the formation of the Hillel at Rhodes and are grateful for this opportunity to collaborate with Jewish Community Partners,” said Dr. Troutt. “Hillel will provide additional campus support for our current students and enhance our efforts to bring extremely talented students from across the country to Rhodes.”
Rhodes College, which sits on 100 acres in midtown Memphis, has been named to the Princeton Review’s inaugural lists of “Colleges That Create Futures” and “Colleges That Pay You Back.” The college also regularly garners accolades from U.S. News and World Report, Forbes and Fiske’s Guide to Colleges and is profiled in the prestigious book Colleges That Change Lives.
There’s an interesting Jewish history at Rhodes, as well. Abe Fortas, a prominent Jewish Memphian and who became a member of The Supreme Court in 1965, graduated from the college in 1930, when it was known as Southwestern.

“It is definitely important to me to have a place to be Jewish on my college campus,” said Zoë Feder, a young woman from Austin, Texas who will begin her freshman year at Rhodes in the fall. “Throughout high school, I was very involved in my youth group and I think it’s an important part of my Jewish faith to have some time to spend with other Jewish people. I think whenever a rhodes16person is looking to move to a new place it’s important for them to find a way to feel at home in the new location. Finding a religious organization can be a crucial part of that.”

Memphis is an attractive city for Jews and Jewish families. Last year, more than 40 Jewish individuals and families chose to relocate to our city, drawn by the many beautiful and dynamic synagogues, and one of North America’s finest Jewish community centers. The growing Jewish community is close-knit and civically involved in Memphis in many ways, and its many amenities will become a part of each Jewish student’s experience while at Rhodes.

Sweetening the pot, Rhodes has recently established a scholarship program for Jewish students, making it even easier for students to find a rich college experience in Memphis. Chances are, they’ll fall in love with our charms and stay a while.

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-by Joshua Katz

Around ten kids my age were sitting at the table, and the only other person I knew was my brother. As my first B’Nai Tzedek meeting started, we got a little background on what exactly it was that we were doing. They told us we had $10,000 to donate to Jewish organizations around Memphis. Everyone in the room was awestruck, “Ten thousand dollars, that’s so much!” We all thought it would be so easy to hand out such a large sum of money, until we got the proposals from the community. After adding up all the proposals, the amount needed was over $40,000.

Joshua Katz - B'Nail TzedakWe looked over each and every proposal carefully, scoring them on their relation to Judaism, how much the organization actually needed the money, and so on. It was amazing how fast we were getting to know each other from this. Despite our differences we worked together agreeing, disagreeing, and coming up with solutions of how to split the money. After, our first meeting of several hours, we had cut down the $40,000 significantly. We all came back into our next meeting as colleagues and friends working hard at bringing our total down, until we made it to $10,000.

Each year after my first, I have had more and more compassion for the recipients that were receiving our grants. We read over the details of their specific needs, and it has made me realize how thankful I am for what I have. It is an amazing feeling at the end of each year, getting up in front of all the organizations, and knowing that the grant you are about to give them is helping out our Memphis community. It allows organizations to keep improving their programs, add new ones, and most of all give back to the people of Memphis.

Being placed on this special board has given me a new eye for charity. It is amazing how much the people around us do for the better of everyone, and B’Nai Tzedek has taught me how important it is to give back. Whether it’s a few dollars or hundreds of thousands, I have learned that every donation helps these institutions. B’nai Tzedek has given me a foundation and a start with philanthropy, so later on I can be a leader in my community, and give back to them as well.

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-by Molly Rogers

My journey in Israel started with a four day stay in the Negev. Before this adventure in the desert, I thought: “Oh, I’m just with a group of normal Jewish teenagers. It’s not like this hike could be very strenuous.” Boy, was I wrong! Throughout my trip, I kept a journal. This is what I wrote during my last day in the Negev:

Teen Israel Experience - Molly Rogers“We woke up at 4 a.m. to hike one of the tallest mountains in Israel, Mount Shlomo. It was honestly so hard, like if you took a wrong step, you could have fallen to your death. However, the feeling we all had once we reached the top was so overwhelming and inspirational. I felt invincible!”

While I might have been exaggerating a bit describing the “fall to my death”, the part about feeling invincible was spot on. Gazing out over Israel from the top of the mountain, I felt so blessed and content. I thought about all of the things we are supposed to thank God for daily but too often neglect. I was grateful for all of the invaluable relationships I was forming. I was grateful for my family and my happiness. I was grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity. I was grateful to be standing in the Promised Land.

I stayed in a group with my new friends Leah and Annie and my counselor Mor during the entire hike. We never left each other’s side. Throughout the six hours on that mountain, Mor was constantly uplifting us. She would say: “Smile, girls. It makes you feel better,” or she would sing us Israeli lullabies to soothe our nerves.

One phrase Mor repeated to us that I will never forget is baktana. In her words, this phrase means, “For you, it is nothing.” The impact that Mor’s words had on me are lifelong. Baktana does not have to only be used when you are hiking a mountain in the middle of the desert in Eilat. I still use it whenever I am having a bad day. Now, I truly feel like I can do anything.

Who knew that one day on this mountain with this one person could change my life forever?


Molly Rogers, the daughter of Michelle and Jeff Rogers, is a junior at White Station High School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the costs of her NFTY summer program in Israel. All rising juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants of up to $2500 to attend a recognized teen summer program in Israel.

This year, JCP will supply 21 students a total of $52,500 for travel to Israel through the Teen Israel Program.

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-by Spencer Gruber

Similar to many people travelling to Israel for the first time, I was eager to learn the history behind the birthplace of our religion and people. I had heard many stories from other members of my Temple’s congregation, friends, and family members about their experiences in Israel, and one common sentiment that I inferred was the feeling of a “religious awakening”. Now, while I thought I knew every emotion one can experience as a 22 year-old, this was not one of them.

After enduring the flights from Memphis to Tel Aviv, one could expect to be fatigued. However, there’s no time for exhaustion because of the tight schedule throughout our trip.  From the streets of Tsfat to the heights of Mt. Gruber Greenstein Birthright ImageMasada, to the Dead Sea and Jerusalem, the country itself is magnificently beautiful, and can only be fully experienced firsthand. Attempting to describe the scenery would be doing any person who has never been a disservice.

While we had the opportunity to learn the antiquity behind each site we passed while travelling across the country via our tour guide, and also, learn from a well-versed instructor on the background and current events involving conflicts in Israel and the Middle East, our most important learning tool joined us a few days into our trip.

Americans on Birthright have the opportunity to interact with Israeli soldiers, who also chose to utilize this unique opportunity available to them. This presents a setting for similar, yet different, individuals to probe each other. We discussed everything ranging from hesitancies of meeting each other, to issues within our home-countries, to what we can do to grow our Jewish roots into the future. We even transgressed the deeper conversations, and many formed close relationships, with whom they would consider a “foreigner”, in a short period together.

Each person who visits makes the trip for their own set of reasons and has their unique individual experience. I think the reason many people feel a “religious awakening” after visiting, especially on their first trip, can be attributed to the people you meet, places you see, history learned, and experiences enjoyed that evoke a sense of pride for many from something new that they’ve ascertained.

Spencer Gruber, a senior at University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, participated in a Birthright Israel trip through Kesher, a project of Union for Reform Judaism, in December 2015-January 2016. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund supports Birthright Israel through an annual grant. To date, 424 Jewish young adults from Memphis have participated in a Birthright trip.
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Roger and Kathy Messigner live together inside Plough Towers, their walls covered with grandchildren’s art and math homework. Married since 2015, the two met at Plough, a place they deeply love.

“October will be 15 years. I moved in with my father as his caregiver. When he passed away, I was allowed to stay,” said Roger. “Both me and my father did volunteer work in the building. I’ve gotten involved that way.”

“He’s known as someone who took wonderful care of his father,” Kathy said. “He has that reputation. He’s a mensch.”

For the first of her seven years at Plough, she and Roger traded neighborly pleasantries in the halls. But at a funeral service for a mutual friend and Plough resident, their relationship evolved.

“The gravesite was far from the car. The grass and the ground is uneven, so Kathy asked if I could help her,” Roger said. “When she asked, I held her hand. We both felt the spark.”

They courted for a year, having meals together on and off campus, attending the symphony and theatre. At home, they bonded over Scrabble. One night, Roger prepared a special message on the Scrabble board.

Darling I love you so much

I want to spend the rest of my life with you

Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it

“I didn’t even know! Then he sat me in front of it,” Kathy said, beaming.

“Then I read it to her, and when we got to the word ring, I pulled the ring out.” Roger beamed back.

The couple has made a special life for themselves among their peers at Plough Towers, taking advantage of everything the facility offers and thriving in their time together.Messingers image

“We have one meal a day, lunch on weekdays, provided through MIFA and the Jewish Federation,” Kathy said. “The food used to be very bad. But it has definitely improved, within the last six months. Before, we wouldn’t go down, just have our lunch up here. Now, we go often, and it’s $1.55, that’s all we pay. Isn’t that something?”

They giggled through a list of other perks that bring joy and convenience into their lives, interrupting each other and finishing each other’s sentences. The beauty parlor; the computer lab and the courses it offers; the small library; the Plough Towers van.

“The van is very nice,” Kathy said. “They take people to the grocery store, take them to activities, shopping, to the synagogue.”

“There’s people who use the bus regularly to go to synagogue for Sabbath and Jewish holidays,” Roger said.

“Another nice thing that is wonderful is on Fridays once a month, we have one of the rabbis from the city come and give a Shabbat service,” Kathy said. “The cantor from Anshei Sphard Beth El Emeth, he came last week. We have challah and grape juice or wine and it’s lovely.”

Their list continued to grow. A modern television livestreaming Temple Israel services into the Plough common space; lectures and classes led by clergy and special guests from Israel; subsidized housekeeping; seasonal celebrations and holiday gifts.

“The kindergarteners and kids from the Jewish Community Center provide us with cards for the holidays,” said Roger “For Purim they might make us groggers or little cards.”

“I’ve had more interaction with the Jewish community and with Judaism since living here than I ever had before. Far more than I ever had, anywhere. Anywhere,” she said.

Last year, JCP provided more than $30,000 to subsidize senior and disabled adult housing with activities and housekeeping at Plough Towers, with additional funding going toward the Scheidt-Hohenberg Kosher Hot Meals Program. 

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