Arts & Culture

Excitement is in the air as plans are underway for Memphis Jewish Federation’s Women’s Impact Luncheon featuring OPI Nail Lacquer co-founder and brand ambassador Suzi Weiss-Fischmann.

Learn more and buy tickets.

This donor appreciation event comes on the heels of two recent Memphis Jewish Federation (MJF) women’s mission trips to Israel. These emotionally fulfilling trips inspired lay leaders and staff to think of ways to connect more intimately with all women in our community and bring meaningful programs to connect them with the Memphis and global Jewish community.

Twenty-three-plus host committee members are in the midst of planning this inspiring Women’s IMPACT luncheon, which will be hosted by MJF on January 16, 2020, in the MJCC Belz Social Hall. Sponsors include Goulds Salon • SPA, Robert Irwin Jewelers, and Roadshow BMW.

“Forty-five women representing a cross-section of the Memphis Jewish community recently participated in an emotionally fulfilling women’s spiritual journey to Israel, and another 13 in a MOMentum mission for mom’s whose children under the age of 18 are still living at home,” said Laura Linder, Jewish Community Partner (JCP) President and CEO. JCP is the operating organization of Memphis Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Memphis.

“Memphis women of all ages are seeking meaningful involvement with organizations that share their values.” said Cindy Finestone, Memphis Jewish Federation chair and event co-chair alongside Jill Steinberg. “Federation provides many opportunities for that interaction. With the powerful and meaningful story of Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, Federation’s Women’s Impact Luncheon will be the place to be on January 16.”

The committee members who have begun setting the stage for an impactful event include: Deena Arnold, Hallie Charney, Erin Dragutsky, Janis Finan, Cindy Finestone, Karen Franklin, Shayna Giles, Margo Gruen, Laurie Karchmer, Karen Karmel, Barb Lansky, Jami Lazarov, Sharon Lubin, Jaclyn Marshall, Jeri Moskovitz, Brooke Ortman, Stephanie Petersen, Shelley Robbins, Debbie Rosenthal, Jody Shutzberg, Stacy Siegler, Lisa Silver, Jill Steinberg, Jana Weiskopf, and Shaina Zakalik.

“Suzi Weiss-Fischmann has such an incredible story about her parents being Holocaust survivors, escaping Communist Hungary, and building a fashion empire,” said Abbey Cowens, Memphis Jewish Federation Manager, Campaign & Corporate Development. “She is also very passionate about empowering young Jewish professional women.”

In addition to the luncheon, which is open to all women donors who make a minimum household gift of $180 to Federation’s 2020 Annual Community Campaign, young women professionals will have an opportunity to meet with Suzi for a closed-door session about the importance of having vision and perseverance in business.

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One of the many ways we help the Memphis Jewish community thrive is by creating opportunities for community members to find meaningful involvement in Jewish experiences. In 2016, we helped launch a program designed to help engage college students, the Jewish Community Fellowship at Rhodes College.    

In support of strengthening both Jewish campus life in Memphis and the greater Memphis Jewish community, a prestigious college fellowship opportunity is available for students participating in Jewish life in their communities who elect to attend Rhodes College.

The Jewish Community Fellowship created by Rhodes College has made available five $10,000 merit-based fellowships, each renewable for 3 years for a total of $40,000 per student.

“Students come to Rhodes from all over the world. Some are here for those four years before embarking on their careers or graduate programs elsewhere, while others choose to make Memphis their home. Some have lived in Memphis their whole lives. But whether they are here for a short period or are permanent Memphians, Jewish Rhodes students should feel like they are part of our Memphis Jewish community,” said Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein, Chief Strategy Officer at Jewish Community Partners (JCP).

“These fellowships are the beginning of the process of connecting Jewish students to the Memphis community,” said Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein. “Once they have been awarded the fellowship, we expect them to become involved in the Rhodes Hillel’s leadership, we invite them to interact with community leaders, and offer other meaningful ways for them to become woven into the fabric of Jewish Memphis.”

Read about past fellowship recipients here, in their own words.

Students must apply to Rhodes College as either Early Decision or Early Action applicants by November 15, or as Regular Decision Applicants by January 15. Students must then be offered admission for the Fall 2020 semester, and choose to enroll at Rhodes. Details on the application process can be found in the Fact Sheet below.

An evaluation committee for the Fellowship, established by JCP, will review all applications and make recommendations to Rhodes. Recommended students will be considered for admission and the fellowship by Rhodes on a competitive basis. Students winning recognition will receive a Jewish Community Fellowship from Rhodes of $10,000, renewable for up to three years.

Rhodes may award competitive students an academic scholarship in a larger amount. In that case, the scholarships may not be combined and the larger scholarship will be awarded. However, students will still receive the other benefits of being named a Rhodes Jewish Community Fellow.

The fellowship application can be found here.

For additional information, contact Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein at 901-767-7100 or

Rhodes College Jewish Community Fellowship-2020-2021

Fact Sheet

Deadline to apply for admission for Fall 2020 semester
Early Decision: November 1, 2019
Early Action: November 15, 2019
Regular Decision: January 15, 2020

Deadline to apply for Fellowship
For Early Decision and Early Action Applicants: November 15, 2019
For Regular Decision Applicants: January 15, 2020

Scholarship description and requirements

Rhodes College is pleased to make available five $10,000 merit scholarships to students who participate in Jewish life in their communities across the United States. Eligible students must apply for admission to Rhodes by January 15th for the Fall 2020 semester, be offered admission and choose to enroll at Rhodes. Fellowship applications will be reviewed by Memphis Jewish Federation (MJF) and MJF will recommend applicants to Rhodes. A complete application includes a cover letter, a resume of current participation in Jewish life, and a 500-word essay. The essay prompt can be found below.

Fellowship awardees are expected to become active in Jewish life at Rhodes and to fulfill the following requirements:

Attend a minimum of 10 Rhodes Hillel events/programs each school year;

Plan one Rhodes Hillel event/program per year;

Attend monthly leadership meetings with other Fellows and Rhodes Hillel Director;

Write an article about Jewish life at Rhodes for print and electronic distribution;

Make a presentation about Jewish life at Rhodes at a Memphis Jewish Federation board meeting;

Complete an annual Fellowship Recertification Form.

In addition, Fellows are strongly encouraged to consider an elected leadership position on the Rhodes Hillel Student Board.

Essay prompt

We live in an increasingly complicated world. How does your involvement in Jewish life influence the way you foresee accomplishing Rhodes’ vision of “graduating students with a life-long passion for learning, a compassion for others, and the ability to translate academic study and personal concern into effective leadership and action in their communities and the world?”

Please apply here:

Background on Hillels of Memphis

Hillels of Memphis serves Jewish students throughout the Memphis community, from all Memphis campuses. The Rhodes College chapter was launched in 2017, building on the previous work of the Jewish Student Union. Rhodes Hillel is operated by a student board in cooperation with Hillels of Memphis Director Sophie Bloch and a lay-led Advisory Council. Rhodes Hillel focuses on cultural, religious, educational, and social programming and is open to all students regardless of background. Rhodes Hillel is operated by Memphis Jewish Federation and endowed through the generosity of an anonymous donor.

Background on Memphis Jewish Community

The Memphis Jewish community is a full-service, vibrant community with seven synagogues, a beautiful and first-rate Jewish Community Center, engaging programming for youth and young adults, outstanding Jewish preschools, day schools and religious schools, an active Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation, kosher food options, award-winning residential nursing home and rehabilitation facility and more.  For more information about Jewish life in Memphis, please go to

Questions/Additional information

At Rhodes College, please contact Ali Hamilton, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions: 901-843-3706/

At Rhodes Hillel, please contact Sophie Bloch, Campus Director: 901-452-2453/

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Part of Memphis Jewish Federation’s ongoing efforts to connect Memphis and Israel, the 70 Faces of Memphis and Shoham project was designed to form real connections between the people of Jewish Memphis and the people of Shoham, Israel, Memphis’s partner city through the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership 2Gether program. The project serves as a way to connect Jewish Memphians to each other by showcasing their unique character and contributions to the community.

By Lynnie Mirvis

“When my son was very young, I wove my first prayer shawl in anticipation of his Bar Mitzvah. After my husband and I moved to Memphis in 2000, we discovered Temple Israel. I studied with (Rabbi) Micah and converted; I taught Sunday School and made a prayer for shawl for everyone in the family but me, and then after my daughter’s Bat mitzvah, she said to me, ‘You’re the only person in the family who has not had a Bar or Bat mitzvah.’ So Micah got together a B’nei Mitzvah class for adults. We bonded and learned together—it was a great experience, and we had an actual ceremony. I was so happy I did that. I had a commission and made prayer shawls for Micah and all the clergy.”

Felicitas means happiness in Latin, a name her mother gave her after they arrived in the Netherlands where she was born. “They were able to be free after such difficult times.” Her parents were World War II refugees from the Dutch East Indies, which is now Indonesia. Her mother went into hiding during the Japanese occupation there, and her father was an allied Dutch soldier and later a Prisoner of War.  “They lost everything. It was a difficult time, and in Indonesia after the war, the people wanted to get rid of everyone who was Dutch.”

The family eventually immigrated to America and Felicitas grew up in Boston. She took a weaving class when she studied occupational therapy. “I loved it, and after my first show, I was weaving, showing, selling and teaching ever since, for the last 40 years.”

Her prayer shawls have been exhibited nationally and have been featured in publications on Jewish textiles. “Weaving is a metaphor for me, and has helped connect different parts of my life. I love to use traditional fabrics like batik that reflect where I am from. Textiles live forever.”

“In worship, there is the concept of hiddur mitzvah – it needs to be beautiful. Having a beautiful piece is to channel that beauty to our connection to God. It’s part of my legacy.” And she’s thinking about making her own prayer shawl soon.

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Part of Memphis Jewish Federation’s ongoing efforts to connect Memphis and Israel, the 70 Faces of Memphis and Shoham project was designed to form real connections between the people of Jewish Memphis and the people of Shoham, Israel, Memphis’s partner city through the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership 2Gether program. The project serves as a way to connect Jewish Memphians to each other by showcasing their unique character and contributions to the community.

By Chany Fleischhacker

Dorothy Goldwin began the “holocaust lecture circuit” with her mother, Paula Beranstadt Kelman, who was a survivor that spoke at many venues, including high schools, to ensure that what happened is not forgotten and must be prevented from happening again. She remembers her mother as a wonderful and highly positive person who always wore red lipstick.

Leo was given to her by a friend. As soon as she met him, she knew that his sweet, gentle and patient nature would lend itself for pet therapy. After intense training, they regularly visit Le Bonheur and the West Clinic, where patients look forward to his visits with great anticipation.

When her mother passed away, Dorothy began and continues to spread her mother’s message. Dorothy still has her mother’s lipstick collection, and a framed note written in her mother’s handwriting that says, “Do not hate. It will destroy you. You must live together in peace.”

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By Aaron Salomon

Through your donations to our Annual Community Campaign, Memphis Jewish Federation provides scholarships and other support to Jewish summer camps, Jewish schools, and MJCC’s day camp for hundreds of young Jewish Memphians each year, connecting our next generation to meaningful Jewish experiences that shape their future.

Aaron is our summer marketing intern. Learn more about him here, and enjoy his Polaroids featuring his and his fellow counselors’ summer camp shenanigans, published in this piece.

In the summer of 2009, my parents finally caved and let me go to sleepaway camp for the first time. I was eleven years old, and I was in awe of everything around me. I have spent at least part of every single summer since then at camp, as a camper until I was 16, then as a CIT, and as a counselor in later years.

I could not have understood at eleven years old how important camp was going to become for me or the reasons that it would become so important in the first place, but over the course of the past ten years I have begun to understand. 

When approaching the topic of summer camp, it is easy to think of long-lost twins or slasher films, and be done with it. When looking at the public perception of summer camp, this is understandable. When this is your starting point it is easy to see why the next logical question would be, “What’s the point of this? Why do we keep doing this?”

The Jewish summer camp experience is recreated and improved every year with no small amount of effort expended. With a growing southern Jewish community it only follows that the growing number of Jewish youth need a growing and developing community to keep themselves plugged into.

Growing up in Memphis, TN, it was easy for me to completely gloss over the fact that many southern cities in America do not have such an abundant Jewish community as Memphis. Whereas Memphis has enough synagogues that it is easy to accidentally forget one off the top of your head, there are many smaller towns and cities nearby with only a single synagogue or none at all.

When the children from these single-synagogue towns arrive at camp for the first time there is every possibility that they are walking into the largest Jewish community that they have ever had the chance to be a part of. All of the sudden, the camp has become more than a camp. It is a petri dish that just so happens to be shaping the region’s Jewish community for the next few decades.

Seen this way, these summer programs become much more crucial in a sense. How do we impress the values of our community upon campers and share the knowledge that is traditionally passed down from one generation to the next before the session is over? 

The knowledge that staff at Jewish summer camps have the power and responsibility to shape the minds of younger generations results in two main conclusions:

  • All of the sudden, the Jewish education and community that these staff members had access to as children becomes very relevant and can become evident through their work ethic and skill sets as a Jewish camp counselor.
  • The work ethic and quality of the current counselors are going to directly affect the work ethic and quality of the future counselors, who are often the very campers that the current counselors are supervising. (L’dor vador)

With so much potential and responsibility resting on the shoulders of – let’s face it – camp directors and their loyal armies of college-aged counselors, what are the winning results that we are hoping for? Are we hoping that for every camper that comes through a Jewish summer camp there is another Jewish young adult who will begin attending Shabbat services every Saturday morning? Are we trying to ensure that future Jewish community members will speak fluent Hebrew? Or are we trying to ensure the existence of our future Jewish community?

Maybe it’s all of these or maybe it’s only a handful of these reasons for any given camper who finds themselves at camp.

When you walk into a Jewish summer camp, the sense of community can be overwhelming. The sense of community may even overlap and confuse your understanding of the differences between community and family. With such sparse and remote Jewish populations spread so widely around the South, it becomes more important than ever that the communities that are developed and grown in this area be maintained and nurtured.

The campers arriving through the gates during the summer of 2019 definitely look, talk, and act a lot differently from the campers who arrived at camp during the summer of 1970. However, this is not the only change; camp itself has developed and grown, as well as its staff members. It is the responsibility of camp to maintain this steady growth in order to provide campers with a modern framework of Judaism for them to see themselves inside of and begin to live within.

It is for this reason that even the educational content presented by these camps has changed quite a bit. During recent summers, many Jewish summer camps have shifted focus towards the many aspects of social justice and social action. 

Jewish topics of conversation can include the conflicts occuring in Israel, the growing LGBTQIA+ populations within Jewish youth, gun control, the prevalence of drugs and alcohol in younger and younger social circles, environmental issues, etc. 

Kids taking a break from cell phones and technology for the sake of participating in camp are unable to completely erase their knowledge of the outside world; instead, they are able to use their social and societal context to participate in the programming developed by camp staff members. They are taught to form their own opinions and participate in discussions about topics that many adults might be nervous to breach with them in a more formal setting.

The community that is grown at camp is taught to take care of itself. Campers learn to talk with each other, live with each other, love each other, and take care of each other. In the process, they are given the opportunity to learn about the Torah, to meet Israeli staff members who bring the beauty of Israel to camp with them, to look at the normal summer activities they are a part of through a Jewish lens, and to meet new people their age who are going through the same experiences.

Aaron Salomon, 20, is a rising Junior at the University of Alabama. He is a Creative Advertising major in the College of Communications. This summer he is interning at Jewish Community Partners, contribution articles for the JCPConnect blog. He spends most of his free time reading, drawing, and listening to music. He’s a certified lifeguard, his favorite color is blue, and he’s read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 32 times.

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Part of Memphis Jewish Federation’s ongoing efforts to connect Memphis and Israel, the 70 Faces of Memphis and Shoham project was designed to form real connections between the people of Jewish Memphis and the people of Shoham, Israel, Memphis’s partner city through the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership 2Gether program. The project serves as a way to connect Jewish Memphians to each other by showcasing their unique character and contributions to the community.

By Gali Du

Dessie grew up in the small community of Cager Island, Missouri and attended Washington University. A friend in her dorm room introduced her to Lester Sewell, and they married a year later on June 19, 1949. After graduating, the two moved to Memphis, TN. “I’ve been here going on 67 years.”

In July 2018, Dessie celebrated her 89th birthday, but her age does not keep her from being an active member of the community!

“I am a joiner, an attender and a supporter to the best of my ability.”

She goes to Baron Hirsh most every Saturday and attends the Torah Portion class weekly. She is still an active supporter of both the Federation and Hadassah. “I began supporting the United Jewish Appeal Women’s Division (Federation) during college in 1946. I remember taking from my allowance— it was $25 for a year.”

In the 60s, she was the vice chairman for the Federation. “I called people and visited people at their homes to collect money. My mother-in-law was national vice president, and my daughter just finished serving as regional president.” She is a part of the Hadassah book club, in which the members select books to read and meet monthly to discuss their thoughts. Another group that she supports is Soul to Sole for Breast Cancer. “I try to support most everything.”

At Baron Hirsch, she was awarded the Louis Turetsky Chesed Award in recognition of her achievements and dedication to chesed (acts of kindness) in our community.

“This is what you do, you help other Jewish people.”

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By Gila Golder

Despair and depression hang on the guarded gates, while the beating wind often knocks the people down into the muddied waters of tears.

More people should have helped fight for the Jews’ freedom.

These impassioned words are taken from poems written by young students in Memphis who learned about the Holocaust in school— and from someone who experienced the atrocities firsthand.

Karen Cooperman, a teacher at Riverwood Elementary, reached out to Jewish Community Partners for help connecting with a Holocaust survivor who could speak to her students. We arranged for 99-year-old survivor Sam Weinreich to come to the school to share his story.

“Sam Weinreich at 99 touched the souls of 10 and 11 year olds in a way that they will never forget,” said Ms. Cooperman. “He inspired deep thoughts about the true meaning of the Holocaust and the mark that it left on our world.”

The impact of Sam’s personal interaction with the students can be seen from the poetry they chose to write in response, as they struggled to make sense of the tragedy of the Holocaust.

It makes me feel like my life’s lowest times cannot compare to this unthinkable memory.

The students illustrated their poems with poignant imagery, including fire, smoke, and ash; tombstones; and yellow stars.

More student artwork was on display last week at the MJCC in advance of Memphis Jewish Federation’s 57th Annual Yom HaShoah Commemoration. MJF’s annual Holocaust Art and Essay Competition drew entries from a diverse array of schools in the Mid-South. Students responded to the theme “Sustaining Culture and Community: The Many Faces of Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto,” drawing from historical source materials to create thoughtful, evocative artwork and essays. Over 500 people viewed the art exhibit, heard 12th grade Nashville student Jake Bengelsdorf read his first-place essay, and listened to the firsthand story of another survivor, 86-year-old Rachel Goldman Miller, who came in from St. Louis for the observance.

JCP has organized speaking engagements like the one at Riverwood for other schools in the past, and continues to serve as a resource for local teachers interested in bringing Holocaust education to their students in a dynamic way. Survivors and second-generation survivors are available to speak; in one instance, JCP arranged for a second-generation survivor to speak over Skype to students in a Gulf Coast area school. The annual Holocaust Art and Essay Competition is another way for teachers to engage students in intensive study of the Holocaust.

“I find this contest such a great teaching opportunity,” enthused Hal Harmon, a teacher at Snowden School whose students participate in the contest annually. “I am honored to know we have had winners for the past two years!” This year, one of his 8th graders, London Ibrahim, took home the 3rd place award for her painting, while Snowden student Noah Broadway won 1st place in last year’s contest.

For more information about the Holocaust Art and Essay Contest, or to arrange for a survivor to speak to students about the Holocaust, contact Gila Golder at

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By Laura Linder and Larry Skolnick

Pictured above: Jewish Family Service staff members Mary Elizabeth Jones, Bill Monroe, Teresa Hughes, Audrey May, Rashki Osina, Miriam Cauley-Crisp, and Dale Steele pose for a photo in the JFS Kosher Food Pantry. With the MJCC managing JFS and Memphis Jewish Federation securing the funding through donations from community members, JFS staff can focus on meeting needs in the Memphis Jewish community.

This is a story about a partnership that may not exist in any other community. It’s about two agencies coming together to solve problems that no single agency could tackle alone.

This story isn’t only about Memphis Jewish Federation (MJF) fundraising or a vital service provided by the Memphis Jewish Community Center (MJCC). It’s about a commitment that the two largest agencies in our Jewish community made together five and a half years ago to serve the most vulnerable people in our community.

It’s the story of the new Jewish Family Service (JFS).

Memphis Jewish Federation’s (MJF) 2014 Needs Assessment Study was an eye-opener, revealing realities across our community that have led to important changes across multiple agencies. One stark fact emerged about JFS: the needs of the Jewish community weren’t being fully met. More families were living in poverty than we knew. Food insecurity was more significant than we thought. Jewish families didn’t know where to turn for help, special needs families had no services. We had underestimated the extent of the need.

When JFS approached our organizations looking to partner on solutions we acted quickly, assembling a task force from professional and lay leadership at the MJCC, MJF, and JFS. A core partnership coalesced and a new operating model was hatched. MJCC would operate JFS, and Federation would provide the funding.

We started rebuilding JFS from scratch, and in year one served 450 Jewish clients. Four years into the partnership we’ve seen remarkable successes, with record numbers of Jewish families being served. Now, as JFS evolves to stay ahead of changing needs in a changing community it’s vital that we rally the Memphis Jewish community to ensure the organization has the resources it needs to serve families for generations to come.

JFS must find a way to be self-sustainable while remaining positioned to adapt to shifting needs. We think often of the next generation of seniors. Today we serve most clients in partnership with local family members but data hints that in 15 years a disproportionate number of seniors without local caregivers will rely on the safety net JFS provides on a daily basis. Special needs adults are also at risk as their parents and siblings age and lose the ability to provide care. These vulnerable members of our community can’t be set adrift.

Through our partnership, we can help the community live up to our obligation as Jews to take care of the needy among us. Because of MJCC’s management and MJF’s fundraising, 100% of JFS staff is focused on delivering services. They don’t worry about accounting, HR, marketing, keeping the lights on. We took all of that out so the team can laser-focus on what they excel at and are passionate about, which is making sure our Jewish community gets the care that’s needed.

Because of the careful structure of this partnership, overhead costs are exceptionally low allowing our senior administrative professional, Mary Elizabeth Jones, to be hands-on, doing what she does best. As the Director of JFS, Mary Elizabeth is fully integrated into the senior management team at the MJCC. Because of this integration we now have eyes and ears with access to an entire community through the microcosm of the Center and are better able to offer early interventions to people, preventing small problems from becoming big crises. It’s now a matter of a phone call and in five minutes someone from JFS is helping that family.

Our Jewish values teach us that people shouldn’t have to come and ask for help. Help should be given without having to ask for it. The talented staff hired to run the new JFS keeps client self-respect at the forefront. It’s a group of professionals that represent our Jewish community values, and the spirit of who they are and how they work shows through.

Going forward the key is to position JFS to be self-sufficient, ensuring that we are able to evolve as the needs of the community evolve. We worked hard together to carefully craft a plan that works. We’ll continue to leverage the deep talent at both the MJCC and MJF to empower the expert JFS team to help every Jewish need be met.

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This year’s winning entry in Memphis Jewish Federation’s 10th Annual Holocaust Essay contest was written by Nashville resident and Franklin High School 12th Grader Jake Bengelsdorf. He traveled to Memphis to read this essay at Yom HaShoah, which took place Thursday evening.

There is one course of action so powerful that it can defeat any aggressor. Stronger than hatred, and stronger than violence. Stronger than all the hostility and egregious acts the world has to offer. Stronger than the Schutzstaffel, stronger than the Einsatzgruppen. Stronger than the 2100 soldiers, 13 heavy machine guns, 69 handheld machine guns, 135 submachine guns, multiple howitzers, and 1,358 rifles used to destroy the Warsaw Ghetto.

It provides a key to hope and to life in one of the most destitute and savage places on Earth, the Warsaw Ghetto. It sparks hope in the masses and strikes fear in the oppressor. While barrages of Nazi bullets may rain down on the remaining Jewish citizens of the Warsaw Ghetto, their one secret weapon is in their indomitable and inviolable power of resistance. Resistance was not death – but a choice of how to live in the moments before one died.

Resistance had a myriad of faces in the ghetto, constituting not only of those who fought but those who inspired others to do the same. While the Warsaw sky burned red, underneath the rubble the nascent Jewish Combat Organization was born into the most gruesome conditions imaginable. The fighters, led by commander Mordecai Anielwicz, took out 12 Nazi soldiers, initiating the largest and first urban uprising in German-occupied Europe by the most poor, barren, unequipped, emaciated, and bereft populace in Warsaw – David had defeated Goliath once again. These actions inspired Jews in more than 100 ghettos to form underground movements with the goal of escaping the ghetto and revolting. A spark of hope spread like wildfire, a veritable Ner Tamid for the Jewish people in their darkest hour.

When the Nazis seemed resolute in killing the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Jews fought back in resistance. After weeks of onslaught and aggression, the Jews still fought back in resistance. And when the Nazis wanted to rid the world of the Jewish religion, the Jews defied them and celebrated life and tradition in resistance and resilience. The face of resistance can come from the rugged countenance of a ZOB fighter, or the gaunt profile of a child studying Torah underground. In spite of the Nazi’s, Jews taught children, had seders, used raisins and beets to make wine, and kept kashrut. The practicing Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto were clinging onto their heritage as tightly as they could, and in doing so, resisted the Final Solution with bravery and fervor.

Seventy-five years later, on a Poland trip with my summer camp, I was reminded of the Warsaw Ghetto’s unexplainable vigor at Shabbat services in Warsaw’s Nożyk synagogue, the only surviving prewar shul in the city. As I took my seat, an aging but spry man with a thick New York accent sat next to me and asked for a siddur – he was a Warsaw Ghetto survivor who escaped as a child to the Aryan side of the city. I sat in awe as he got up later to lead Musaf with a profound energy that could have come from an Olympic athlete. His kavanah and ruach dumbfounded me, as I knew he was praying for every one of his peers who didn’t get the chance to pray. Praying for the souls that were lost on this very ground. Praying, in resistance.

To understand the Holocaust, to understand the survivors, and to understand their memories carried on by this man, one must not only analyze the tribulations of the Jewish people – but how they resisted, and how they lived with vitality in the moments before they died.

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95-year-old Warren Kramer, pictured above in his youth with his parents and grandparents, spends the colder half of each year in Memphis with his daughter, Adina Samberg, and her family, living in New York City with his other daughter Evelyn Moskowitz for the spring and summer months.

Jewish Community Partners recently had the privilege to sit with Warren and his friends in the Senior Lunch Bunch, who gather on weekdays at the Memphis Jewish Community Center for the Memphis Jewish Federation-funded Scheidt-Hohenberg Hot Meal Program.

With Federation’s Yom HaShoah Commemoration coming up on May 2, we wanted to talk with Warren before he left Memphis for New York, to hear first-hand his story that begins with escaping the Holocaust by way of the Kindertransport. Here is his story in his words.

I was born in Nuremberg, Germany June 9, 1924. Luckily, I got out on the Kindertransport, to England five weeks before the war. When I got to England, I didn’t know where to go. I had two years of high school English and I had a pocket dictionary. Any word I didn’t know I would look up.

There was a refugee committee representative at the railroad station who called a cab from a cabstand, put a tag on me, and told the driver “take this boy to this address. The lady there will pay his fare.”

I didn’t know the people, a Jewish family. I was 15. This was five weeks before the war and two days before Germany invaded Poland. Soon, all the schools were evacuated from London. They expected bombing. So all the schools closed, and I was evacuated again.

It was English kids too, not just refugees. So, we went to the countryside, didn’t know where we were going, on a train. They took about a million and a half children that day. All the cities, big cities, a big operation. The train station was full of parents and kids, like summer camp.

We ended up in a place called Ealy, fifteen miles from Cambridge. They took us around the little town of 10,000. No Jews living there. When I got to the house, I remember it was a Friday, I said right away to the lady of the house: “I want you to know I’m Jewish.” I knew nobody was Jewish living there. She said: “As long as you believe in God, I have no problem.” Wonderful people.

They were very poor. They were very kind. So, they were my family. After the war we stayed in touch. My wife and I visited their children, because the parents passed away. But they took care of me. One of their daughters wrote my parents a letter. She said she considered me like their brother. I was accepted in the family. I stayed in England 8 years, without my parents.

I learned printing at the school there, and when I learned that I liked that, it became my occupation. I got a job in Cambridge, for two years I worked in the printing press. First I commuted by train, a twenty minute train ride. Then I wanted to take some night classes in Cambridge so I moved there, staying with a man and wife. That was okay, but my English family was still back in Ealy. So, sometimes weekends I would go and spend with them. That was my family.

Then after working two years I joined the British Army, in 1943. I was 19 years old. As I was still a German citizen, the British Army did not make us citizens. They did not send me out of England, because I was a danger, I was still a German citizen.

I was in the English Army four years. For two years, I worked in vehicle maintenance. When they came from the factory they were stored in a big park, 2,000 vehicles, all kinds of makes. They would requisition fifteen of these trucks, they needed this or that. Before they went out, my job was to change the oil, check the tires.

In October, we had to go around and drain the water from the radiators, so they wouldn’t freeze. Some of the taps had rusted and water wouldn’t come out, so we had to poke a wire. And then in the spring, we had to fill them up again. I did that for two years.

Then for two years I worked in the office and did the payroll. Three hundred men I had to pay every week in cash. It felt good to contribute to the war effort. That’s all I wanted to do.

The war ended in 1945 but we weren’t discharged at the same time. They went according to two criteria; age and service. The older ones got out first, and the ones who served the longest got out. I had to stay two more years. In the meantime the war ended, my parents were released and they wanted to come to America.

My parents had been sent to Theresienstadt, in Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) which wasn’t an extermination camp. It was like a work camp. My grandmother went with them and she was too old to work and was sent to Auschwitz. My father worked in the office, my mother in the kitchen.

When they were released, there were 37 survivors from Nuremberg in that camp. A friend of mine that was there got himself to Nuremberg where we used to live and he arranged for a Jewish nursing home there to be made into apartments for those survivors. My parents lived there for about a year. They had their own apartment, their home. It was not bad, but it wasn’t great.

My father had an interesting job in the American Zone for an organization that was called Denazification. Any German that wanted to work for the Americans, they investigated their background to see how bad they were and if they were bad they were rejected because the Americans didn’t want them.

Meanwhile, somebody from headquarters came to inspect my books and said I was doing a good job and asked if I would consider staying in the army. I applied for British citizenship, but never heard anything and forgot about it. All of a sudden they said: “We want you in London about your citizenship.” I didn’t want it anymore.

I got there, and met five or six guys, all officers sitting and dressed properly, very official. And I wanted to tell them before they started that I don’t want it anymore, I want to go to America. So I said: “May I say something?”

“You speak when we tell you to speak!” That’s the army. Okay, whatever. So they went through the whole thing and they said: “Do you promise to stay in the country with all your possessions for at least six months” and I said no. “We worked so hard. We invested in your background for months,” and everything. They really got mad.

A stock photo of typical British Army officers of the era.

I was in touch with my parents who had come to America already, and when I was discharged from the army in 1947, I went to America. New York.

The British government had a policy. Any non-citizen who serves in the military, they arrange free transportation to any country they want to go to. Not only was it free, it was arranged. I got a letter I have to report to a boat near London in uniform. Upstairs was first class, downstairs we slept in hammocks. There were a lot of Canadians, going back home. This boat went to Halifax, Nova Scotia. It took five days. A British Army officer came on board and handed me a railroad ticket to New York. Arranged, paid for, and everything.

I reunited with my family in New York, and as my parents were talking to me they thought I was still 15, because of the years that had passed. As we’re talking, I say “I’m not 15 anymore.”

So, we live there for seven years and then at age 30 I get married and my wife and I live in New York. I got a job in printing in New York. Incidentally, because of working in Cambridge for two years, I get a pension from them. A government pension. I still get it, with a cost of living increase. Not that much.

Warren married Elsbeth seven years after arriving in New York.

I live in Memphis only six months out of the year. Eight or nine years ago I started coming to Memphis for six months. I like the JCC very much here. The lunches, the people. In New York, completely different. No JCC I go to. But, I like in New York getting around by public transportation. Visit my friends. I don’t have that in Memphis. Here, they don’t walk. They walk to the car here.

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