“I think it would be a surprise to get a Chanukah present you didn’t know you were going to get. And happy. You would have something to play with. I didn’t think there would be very much kids who didn’t get Chanukah presents, but there are some. If we have too many toys, and there are others who didn’t have any toys, I think they would need one. Or if there were enough, they could have even more.”

Six year old Celia Lubin sat in the Memphis Jewish Community Center lobby early Wednesday morning with her mom Brooke, explaining why they approached Memphis Jewish Federation and PJ Library of Memphis with the seed of an idea that grew into the heartwarmingly successful PJ Library Chanukah Miracle Project. This first-time Chanukah toy drive for Memphis-area Jewish children was held early this month, filling box after box with donations for less fortunate families.

In the pure way that only children can, she perfectly described why it matters so much, and why it feels so good, to be a giver.

“I want to make sure everybody in the community, all the kids, I want them to feel good, and be happy. I want everybody to feel happy since the kids that won’t have toys probably aren’t very happy. But if you give them toys, they can play so they don’t have to be bored,” Celia said.

The Lubins have made a December tradition out of participating in the Salvation Army’s annual Angel Tree program, which provides Christmas gifts for more than 5,000 Memphis area children and seniors. It’s a wonderful program that brings pure joy to many, many hearts. But little Celia noticed this year that people were being left out- her own people.

“So, Mommy was talking about doing the Angel Tree and I said: ‘What about kids that don’t get Chanukah presents?’”, said Celia.

“I wasn’t surprised when she came to me with the idea,” her mother Brooke said, beaming at her daughter. “We’ve done Angel Tree in the past. And with Chanukah we always try to give before we get. So we give up toys, or we go buy new toys. So, when she said it, I was like: ‘well, we need to do something about that. What could we do?’”

“So My Mom called Stacy,” said Celia.

That would be Stacy Wagerman, JCP’s development and engagement manager, who oversees the local PJ LIbrary program.

“Brooke Lubin called me and said Celia had a question for me, so she put Celia on the phone,” Stacy said. “Celia said she wanted to do something to help Jewish kids celebrate Chanukah. She wanted to be sure all Jewish kids were going to get Chanukah presents. I said ‘that’s a great idea, let me see what I can do.’”

She was able to do a lot, and it all started with a party at MJCC’s Indoor Playground. An event was quickly organized around PJ Library and Jewish Family Service, inviting community members to bring unwrapped toys, games, art supplies and books to the Indoor Playground for a Chanukah play date and toy drive. Many of the community’s synagogues, schools and other agencies helped as well, setting up donation drop boxes for people that couldn’t attend the toy drive event, and by spreading the word through newsletters, bulletins and social media posts. Turnout at the event was huge, and the satellite drop boxes were wildly successful as well. Most importantly to Celia, the amount of donated gifts exceeded all expectations.

“I hoped we would get donations,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like this before. I like being nice to people.”

Rabbis and agency representatives discreetly identified families that could use a little extra joy this Chanukah, and the gifts are making their way to children’s hands. Chabbad’s Rabbi Levi Klein took gifts to local children’s
hospitals, including a few gifts for an Israeli child receiving treatment at St. Jude. The rabbis at Margolin Hebrew Academy and Bornblum Jewish Community School, and staff at Jewish Family Service helped identify families, and the joy is spreading across the Jewish Mid-South, all because of one six-year-old girl and her generous heart.

This week, Celia visited the JCP offices, and peeked into the giant boxes filled to the brim with toys and games. Sheryl Alexander, JCP’s director of financial resource development, was drawn out of her office by the sound of the young voice. She asked Celia what she wanted for Chanukah this year.

“You mean what do I mostly want?”, she asked, a thoughtful look on her young face.

“Yes, what do you want the most.”

“For my family to be happy and healthy.”

A perfect answer for this year’s Festival of Light. Happy Chanukah, everyone.




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The following message was sent this morning from Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO Jerry Silverman. You can also jump directly to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Aleppo Assistance Fund.

Dear Friends,

Now entering its sixth year, the conflict in Syria continues to take a drastic toll on the lives of the Syrian people. With more than 11 million innocent civilians forced to flee, the humanitarian crisis has reached grave proportions. The situation in the besieged city of Aleppo is particularly dire, as reports of crimes against humanity have taken the suffering to a new level.

Our people have a long history of humanitarian activity aiding both Jews and non-Jews during times of crisis, and we know many of you are looking for a way to help. Jewish Federations are fortunate to partner with JDC and the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief (JCDR), which has been delivering humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees and displaced people since 2013. As people in Aleppo are being evacuated, the JCDR is working to ensure that essential items like food, medicine and clean water are delivered in as quick and efficient a manner as possible. You can help by giving through your local Federation.

Thank you,

Jerry Silverman
President & CEO
The Jewish Federations of North America

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Reprinted from our partners at The Jewish Federations of North America. Your giving to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Annual Community Campaign makes funds available for families in need, in Memphis, Israel and around the world. This story is an example of the impact your giving can have on people in communities around the world.  

Just a few months ago, Odelia and Ohad Brat celebrated one of the happiest occasions of their lives: their son’s bar mitzvah. They’ll never forget when he received his brand-new tefillin—special leather boxes worn during prayer—from his beloved grandparents. Everyone was so filled with pride.

And they’ll never forget grabbing those same tefillin at the last minute as they and their six children—ranging in age from 20 to six—quickly fled their home in Talmon. A raging fire was only minutes away. So they took what was most precious to them.

It was a smart split-second decision. Flames destroyed much of the Brat family house. The entire upstairs was charred. When the family returned, they could barely even recognize what used to be their home.

The Brats did make one unlikely discovery, though. A bank tin, badly burned. Inside was the money one of their sons had earned mowing lawns for neighbors. It was dirty and damp, but it was there.

It’s a symbol for what it’ll take to rebuild their home and their lives. It’s not going to happen overnight. But they have each other. And Federation partner The Jewish Agency for Israel, which is delivering grants of $1,000 to families across Israel who lost everything in the fires.

With the grant, the Brats are able to buy clothing, medicine and other essentials for their large family. Odelia says that the care, concern and support they’ve received from The Jewish Agency has left her speechless.

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By Gila Golder- Gila is JCP’s community impact associate and a transplant from Baltimore. 

In fall 2014, I was living in upstate New York with my husband, Rob, and we were looking for a change.

Rob was commuting two hours each way from Rochester to Ithaca, in his final year at Cornell Law School. (The Jewish community in Ithaca is mostly made up of undergraduates— believe it or not, Rochester was the closest city with a significant population of Jewish couples and families!)  I was running an infant/toddler playgroup out of our two-bedroom apartment during the day, and working evening and weekend shifts making fundraising phone calls at the Rochester JCC. We had made a lot of friends in the Rochester Jewish community, but we knew it wasn’t the right fit for us long-term. During the 18 months that we lived there, we tried out multiple synagogues but couldn’t find one that felt like home. And while Rochester is home to an active Orthodox community, something that was important to us, we didn’t quite feel like we “fit in” in terms of our observance level and customs.

The Golders celebrated their first Memphis Purim this year.

The Golders celebrated their first Memphis Purim this year.

We started investigating Jewish communities that we could move to after Rob graduated, primarily in the Midwest and the South. We wanted a place that would be affordable, with an Orthodox community and K-12 Jewish day school, someplace warm and friendly and close-knit. Boston (Rob’s hometown) was too big and too expensive. We did seriously consider Baltimore (my hometown), but neither of us had any luck finding jobs there. Other cities on our shortlist were Milwaukee, St. Louis, Atlanta, Columbus, and Kansas City.

We were aware of Memphis, but it wasn’t particularly on our radar until I discovered a Yahoo! News article a Rochester friend had shared on Facebook, “Memphis Jews Invite ‘100 New Families’ to Relocate”, writing, “Anyone want to do this for Rochester?” Curious, I clicked the link. The Orthodox community in Memphis had just launched a campaign to recruit new families, and they were offering subsidies for people to travel to Memphis for a “Taste of Jewish Memphis” Shabbaton weekend.

We explored the 100 New Families website, read testimonials from people who had recently moved to Memphis, and researched the day school. The community seemed to fit all of our criteria. The more we read and researched, the more we liked the sound of it. I called Jessica Baum Sukhodolsky, who was listed as a contact on the website, to introduce myself and let her know we were interested in the Shabbaton. She sounded genuinely thrilled to hear from us, and eager to help in any way possible to connect us to the community.

After all that, we almost didn’t make it here. The airport in Rochester is tiny, and flights in or out typically cost an arm and a leg. Even with the travel subsidy, we couldn’t afford the trip to Memphis. I called Jessica back to apologize and let her know that we couldn’t come for the Shabbaton after all. I didn’t ask for additional help, and I certainly wasn’t expecting it, but that’s exactly what happened— the 100 New Families team increased the subsidy to meet our needs.

The weekend was absolutely packed with activity. We toured the Margolin Hebrew Academy and the JCC, and tried out three different synagogues on Shabbat. There was a gala Friday night dinner in the home of Shelby and Lee Baum. I remember being charmed by all the Southern accents and the y’alls sprinkled into everyday conversation. But there were a lot of transplants from the North, too, people like us who were attracted to Memphis’ low cost of living and vibrant community. Rob reconnected with an old friend from yeshiva who had moved to Memphis with his family. Everyone was so nice, and so enthusiastic about Memphis. At a get-together on Shabbat afternoon, we noticed a lot of kids running around, evidence of the community’s growth and sustainability. And, of course, we were plied with food at every turn. Rob still jokes that the homemade mac and cheese served at a meet and greet on Saturday night was a “major factor” in our decision to move to Memphis! By the end of the weekend, we were exhausted. But we could already tell that Memphis was special. Something just “clicked”. It felt like home.

Gathering with new friends for a YAD Trivia Night.

Gathering with new friends for a YAD Trivia Night.

May couldn’t come fast enough for us. We spent the rest of that year with one foot out the door. We knew we wanted to move to Memphis, we just weren’t sure when or how we could make it happen. We were so ready to be done with the ridiculous commute, done with shul-hopping, done with feeling like the odd ones out. My in-laws drove in from Boston for Rob’s graduation from Cornell. I watched him walk across the stage and knew it was time to figure out our next steps.

Back in December, Joel Siegel, another 100 New Families volunteer, had sent me a job opening from Memphis Jewish Federation (now Jewish Community Partners). I had bookmarked the e-mail and set it aside, knowing it was too soon to apply. Fortunately, the position was still open. I interviewed over Skype— putting my mom in charge of the napping toddlers— and within a week, Federation offered me the job.

We spent the summer packing and organizing for the move, and scrolling through the 2-mile Orthodox neighborhood on Zillow. Our housing search became increasingly frantic as the weeks passed and we still hadn’t found anything. We were looking for a house to rent, but most of what we saw on the market were houses for sale, or large houses for rent that we couldn’t afford starting out on one salary. Eventually, we qualified for a mortgage on a townhouse, but that deal fell through at the last minute– and that’s how we found ourselves driving through Ohio on our way to Memphis, having absolutely no idea where we would go when we got there.

I scrolled through contacts on my phone as Rob drove, calling anyone I could think of who might be able to help. Everyone I spoke to was sympathetic, but most were either out of town or had a full house. Eventually, I connected with Linda Schlesinger, who offered home hospitality for the night. And what hospitality— when we finally pulled into East Memphis at midnight, apologizing profusely, she and her husband David greeted us with easygoing smiles and a barbecue buffet! They were equally relaxed and welcoming even as “one night” turned into a week and a half before we finally found a house that would work for us. We had just experienced our first taste of Southern hospitality.

We were part of a group of 26 Jewish families who had moved to Memphis over the summer, including 8 Orthodox families. How do I know this? Because part of my job at Jewish Community Partners is newcomer engagement. During my first few months at work, I staffed a volunteer committee that assembled welcome bags for the new families in the community. We all had a good laugh when I set one aside for myself!

15 months later, we’ve settled in to the community, and we couldn’t be happier. We love Memphis so much, we even celebrate “Memphis milestones”—our first Grizzlies game, first trip to Beale Street, first anniversary of living in Memphis, first time surviving the summer. (Well, maybe not that last one.)


Gila got a Grizzlies win for her birthday.

Rob is wrapping up an internship for Judge Paula Skahan and is just about to start his career as a criminal defense attorney. He shares a commute downtown with a fellow attorney, and then takes the bus to meet me at the MJCC at the end of the day. (I’m told “no one” in the Memphis Jewish community rides the bus. Then again, apparently “no one” works downtown, either— at 30 minutes away, it’s considered an inordinately long commute. Take that, New York City!)

I love that my office is located in the MJCC, the central hub of Jewish Memphis. I can’t walk through the lobby without seeing at least one person I know. Plus, my desk is about 100 feet away from Holy Cow—how cool is that?

Working at Jewish Community Partners, the umbrella organization for the Memphis Jewish community, has been a great fit for me professionally, but it’s also been a tremendous boon on a personal level. I always have my finger on the pulse of the community; I’m the first in my social circle to know about upcoming programs and events; and I have the privilege of giving back to a community that has welcomed my husband and me with open arms. Recently, I even had the opportunity to invite a group of visitors with the most recent “Taste of Jewish Memphis” Shabbaton to come to our office and learn about JCP’s role in the community.

This fall, Jewish Memphis welcomed another group of new families to the community— 46 this time, including 16 “returnees,” people who grew up here, left for college, and chose to come back. I have so enjoyed meeting the new Memphians. I hope they love it here as much as I do.

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Tomorrow night we welcome the iconic Jerry Springer to the MJCC stage, for a completely unique Annual Community Campaign donor event, never to be duplicated again. All of us at JCP are pretty excited about hosting him and hearing what he’s got planned for the night, but mostly we’re looking forward to talking with you,  the audience, after he defies your expectations about ‘The Real Jerry Springer.’

It’s easy to mistake the public persona for the real human, and we have to admit we were guilty of it at first. Over the decades of his career as a TV and radio personality, we formed an opinion of Jerry from his legendary show- all the chair throwing, the hair pulling, the dirty secret revealing. But in the few months of preparations for tomorrow’s event, we’ve gotten to know a different guy.reveal-postcard

The real Jerry is introspective, self-deprecating. He’s articulate and careful with his words. He’s easy going, kind, funny. He’s generous- not only did he fly himself here at his own expense, but he’s appearing for free and even made a substantial donation to the Annual Campaign. He’s a political activist and a committed philanthropist. He cares about the environment and people that live in poverty. He’s just, empathetic, and smart.

So, in an effort to share our enthusiasm, here are our ### favorite times Jerry’s shown his real self, the great guy we’ve gotten to know. Tomorrow night, those of you that have made your $118 (or more!) Annual Campaign pledge AND made your RSVP will get to know him, too. 

7.- On Morality- “We are all born as empty vessels which can be shaped by moral values.”

6.- On the Human Experience- “We can’t just have mainstream behavior on television in a free society, we have to make sure we see the whole panorama of human behavior.”

5.- On Cultural Evolution- “There were 190 of us in my graduating class, and believe it or not, only two of the 190 were women. Of the 188 men, only one was African American. As a class we were too white, too male and too privileged. And though it certainly took too long to change, what comfort it is today to look out at all of you and see the racial, gender and ethnic diversity that really is America.”

4. – On Unexpected Career Turns- “No one would have picked me out in high school and said, ‘This guy is going to be in show business.’ I don’t have any of the talents you would normally associate with show business. I’m always playing a role, whether it’s the role of the mayor, the role of a news anchor, or a role of a crazy talk-show host.”

3.- On Celebrity Culture- “I don’t live in Hollywood. I don’t have celebrities as friends. I like them, but I don’t pal around with them. I just live in the Midwest, a real normal world.”

2.- On The Jerry Springer Show- “I am not superior to the people on my show. This is an understanding derived from a life spent on the front lines of human interaction. We are all alike. Some of us just dress better or have more money, or perhaps we were born into better circumstances of parental upbringing, health, brains and luck. It’s just a show. It’s not the end of Western Civilization. It’s chewing gum.”

1.- On Working for the American Dream- “Life is a gift — as is living in America. And I know that from personal experience. You see, I am not the first lawyer in my family. My dad’s brother was. His practice was cut short, as was his life — in Auschwitz. My grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins — they met their end as well in Chelmno, Theresienstadt and in camp after camp, Hitler turning my family tree into a single vine. Mom and Dad, by the grace of God, survived, enabling them to bring my sister and me ultimately to America.

“With four tickets on the Queen Mary, January 1949, we sailed into New York Harbor. In silence, all the ship’s passengers gathered on the top deck of this grand ocean liner as we passed by the Statue of Liberty. My mom told me in later years (I was 5 at the time) that while we were shivering in the cold, I had asked her “What are we looking at? What does the statue mean?” In German she replied, “Ein Tag, alles!” (One day, everything!)

“She was right. In one generation here in America, my family went from near total annihilation to this ridiculously privileged life I live today because of my silly show. Indeed, in America, all things are possible.

“So as we honor your achievement, may it be for you as it was for me, “Ein Tag, alles!” One day, everything!”

Check out the Jerry Springer Podcast to get a better sense of the man behind the persona. On his podcast, Jerry is able to be himself, share his views and offer more of his intellect to his audience. 






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-By Sam Canales, pictured above (second from the left) with his immediate family- brother Aaron, mother Stacy, and father Art Canales. Photos by Barry Markowitz

Sam Canales read an abridged version of this speech at Jewish Community Partner’s Pillars of the Community event this week, honoring the families, organizations, and individuals that have each cumulatively given $250,000 or more in unrestricted funds over their years of philanthropy. 

It is an honor to be here. My name is Sam Canales. I’m a senior at White Station High School and an active four year member in BBYO. Currently I am serving as the Regional Vice President of Cotton States Region which covers five states and accounts for nearly 600 Jewish teens. My involvement with BBYO is deep and longstanding; I am a third generation member and I can proudly say that msam-canales-speakingy heart and home are with this organization. Memphis BBYO is a very special community, and its current members are defining the future.

I recall many times in the last four years where I felt the strength and unity that Memphis BBYO has forged. In my chapter, Israel H. Peres AZA #71, which has been home to young Jewish men in Memphis since 1928 including a number of people in this room, we have raised tens of thousands of dollars since my freshmen year through our annual Harvest Hop Fundraiser for charities and program enhancement.

This year, with the funds raised, we are sending a Jewish girl named Mia, who visits St. Jude from her home in South Africa every few months for her malignant brain tumors, to Disney World with her parents. That’s a life changing wish that is being granted, and the BBYO teens in our community are happy to provide it.

At BBYO conventions and events, we are given the chance to exhibit skills and techniques that advance high level leadership. Learning how to properly lead meetings and conduct effective professional communication are valuable skills that set a foundation for long term success, and BBYO provides every teen this exceptional chance to grow and develop.

Along with the unique leadership opportunities, BBYO in this city allows a safe environment for people to respectfully speak their minds and connect with fellow Jewish teens on a deeper level. From Israel to politics to just friends making jokes, this BBYO community is always comfortable and forward thinking.

I am so appreciative of the role BBYO has played in this chapter of my life, and I know that it doesn’t end when I graduate high school. The skills I’ve learned, the friends I’ve made, and the Jewish identity I have formed will follow me wherever I go and I couldn’t be happier about it. BBYO is much more than a bunch of teenagers hanging out who happen to all be Jewish. It is a youth organization, a Jewish movement, and a cultural change agent. Through Memphis BBYO, the leaders of tomorrow are getting started today. Thank you and enjoy your evening.

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The letter below was written by Captain (Dr.) Ben Schaffer to his wife Fagie Schaffer while he was in Austria at the end of World War II as one of the first medical staff to enter Mauthausen concentration camp. Captain Schaffer, a dentist serving in the medical corps of the U.S army, was Margaret Fargotstein and Amy Baxter’s maternal grandfather. Ben and Fagie lived the rest of their lives in Memphis. margaret-at-burkina

Towards the end of their visit to the Auschwitz State Museum and the Birkenau death camp, the participants on the recent Kehilla: A Memphis Journey to Poland and Israel trip gathered in one of the empty barracks at Birkenau to reflect on the horrors they had just witnessed. Several members of the group shared personal Holocaust stories. Trip participant Margaret Fargotstein shared her grandfather’s letter. Captain Schaffer took the photographs depicting Mauthausen as it was discovered by allied troops.



Thursday, May 10th, 1945



Dearest One,

I didn’t have to go on a hospital route today, so will try to catch up on several things.

I still can’t get over the things I saw yesterday. Four days ago (we were still at war*) our company received an emergency call for medical officers and enlisted personnel and to bring delousing equipment. They were to report to Mauthausen, Austria – about 15 miles east of Linz, Austria.

The 11th armored division (who had been at Camp Barkely*) has liberated a large concentration camp and several smaller ones. So their officers asked for some of our men.

Major Buckley and a couple of others went down the next day to view the place, and they returned with horrible stories. It so happened that yesterday’s run carried me to a P.O.W. hospital located just across the Danube River from Linz, and upon finishing my business there, I headed for Mauthausen.

The village of Mauthausen is a small place situated in the hill and mountainous territory. Normally the area would be beautiful. As we (my driver, my interpreter and I) approached the area we saw hundreds of the former inmates walking out “free”. They were easy to recognize. Most of them still wore their flimsy stripped prisoner shirts. All were starved and were mere skin and bones. Many made motions to their mouths indicating hunger, but we couldn’t do anything for them. First of all, we were also hungry having no food with us, and secondly if we had food and gave it to them they would end up with dysentery. Others waved to us – so weak they could hardly raise their hands. Still others were too weak to walk and either lay or sat on the sides of the road waiting for death to take them. Some few, however, appeared stronger and shouted to us “American, American!” Well – this was the front and I must say it did my heart good to be able to give the poor souls a friendly smile and wave. Lots of them saluted as we passed – and for the first time – I had the feeling of a liberator receiving the greetings of the liberated.

We finally arrived at a fairly large place and in we went. Rode around the area, saw some horrible sights, and then found out this camp was only a small one compared to the one 7 miles further. So on we went.

Honey, let me interrupt the sequence of this story to again thank G-D that our loved ones live in the U.S. For – but for that fact – some of those people, or should I say living skeletons and dead, could be us.

ww2pics-7I received permission from the Colonel in charge to go in and inspect any part or all if I desired. So the three of us went in. First was the “shower room”. The inmates undressed and went in for what was to be showers. But the doors closed and locked on them and instead of water, out of the showerheads came poison gas. It only took a few minutes and then the bodies were removed to the next building – the crematorium. Many would be still alive. Soon smoke would rise from the chimneys and the smell of hair and human flesh was in the air. There were still bodies in the crematorium when the place was captured. Also being used to a degree but the people are dead of malnutrition and sickness.

The barracks were a sight not to behold. The bunks were 3-5 inches in height rammed and jammed next to each other. Quite a large number of inmates too weak to get our of them. Disease runs rampant. At this one place there are over 4,000 cases of T.B., mostly women, about 200 cases of Typhus – the epidemic type, and every other disease imaginable. Dysentery is horrific. One of the barracks had nothing but dysentery cases. The bunks were 5 high and the poor souls too weak to help themselves, so the one on top was fairly lucky. They just lay there dying – urinating and defecating in their bunks. The human waste would then drip and fall on the other bunks below. It was all too horrible for comprehension.

The Tubercular women were about the worst of the lot. Just bone covered by skin – some only weighing 65-70 pounds. As many as 4 to one bunk and the (Illegible) that carry them out.

The entire “Koncentration-Lage”, as they are called was built out of granite except for the wooden barracks, and the granite was quarried nearby by the inmates and the place built by them – each stone being carried up the so-called “180 steps of death”.

As they became too sick to work they were sent to the “dispensary” which was like a separate little camp below the large one. Here they died having been given no attention. The bodies were stripped of clothes “too important an item” and the bodies buried in huge pits.

So many have died the past few days (nothing in the world could have saved them) that the Colonel had to resort to mass burial. He made use of a large soccer field and had bulldozers and steam hovels dig out large graves. The bodies are placed like cord-wood in the graves and the bulldozer covered them – as do some large numbers of civilians. But – there are army Chaplains of all three faiths present to give a simple burial service. I saw an untold number being buried myself.ww2pics-2-1

I took a few pictures from the outside of the place and had intended to take some on the inside. But – I got chicken. When I saw those people – I did not have the heart or nerve to level my camera at them. Perhaps it is for the best.

I only hope and pray that G-D deals mightily with the perpetrators of such crimes and atrocities to humanity.

I’ve tried to put into words some of what I have seen. It is an impossibility to do so accurately. There is just too much. Even our own minds didn’t want to grasp it at all. What can mere words express?

If this description spoils your next meal, I’m sorry. I know. I didn’t feel much like eating afterwards.

I’m bringing this to a close as I want you to get this as soon as possible and our mail is just going out.

Tell the girls I haven’t forgotten them. I’m just busy as can be. I’ll write first chance I get.

No mail for our company for a week now. Have no idea when we’ll get our next batch.

Kiss our children for me. All my love……




Notes for reference:

*WW2 ended May 8th, 1945.

*Camp Barkely was in Abilene, Texas.




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The Memphis group returned last week from Poland and Israel, where they visited many historic sites and diverse communities, including the city of Shoham, Memphis’ newly-named Israeli partner city. The JCP/MJCC-sponsored trip connected the travelers to their Jewish history, taking them to important sites from the recent past. Here, our director of community impact, Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein, shares her thoughts on reintegrating into her ‘normal’ life after the profound experiences during the journey. 


Final Reflections: Returning to Our Routines

I’ve been struggling with how to return to my life after the Poland experience. I am not the same person. How could I be? I stood in a gas chamber at Auschwitz. I saw bone fragments of Jews who were executed and cremated at Majdanek. I walked the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto. How can things ever be the same? And yet, all of us who went through this traumatic experience need to return to our lives, to re-integrate, to get back into the routine of daily living. How do we do that?auschwitz-crematoria

In many ways, we were like mourners. Like the mourner, we lit memorial candles, said the El Maleh Rachamim and recited Kaddish. Like the mourner who welcomes stories about his loved one, we learned about the lives that were lost, about the centuries-old vibrant and diverse Polish Jewish life that was brutally erased.  Like the mourner, we were living in a parallel universe of pain and grief while everyone else went about their daily routines.

When you get up from sitting shiva, it is customary to take a walk around the block to mark your reintegration into society. I feel like we need some ceremony, some ritual, to mark our return from witnessing the destruction of European Jewry.

Over the years, I have heard from teens in our community upon returning from March of the Living or similar programs that they couldn’t speak about their experience. For the first few weeks, they could only talk to their peers with whom they had shared the experience. I completely understand that now. I find myself gravitating toward members of our community who have been to Poland.  I don’t know how to answer the innocent and well-meaning question, “How was your trip?” Difficult. Painful. Meaningful. Those words don’t do it justice but what else is there to say?

negev-infinitySpending time in Israel right after Poland was a good first step toward reintegration. The lost world of Polish Jewry is visible in today’s Jewish state – a diverse, intense, multi-cultural and vibrant Jewish society working around the clock to better itself, Jewish communities abroad, and the world. No matter how much you think you appreciate the need for and the value of an independent Jewish state, there is nothing like landing in Israel from Poland (via Berlin, Germany!).

So, how do we move forward after this encounter? We have to find ways to channel the experience into our daily lives. We have to strengthen our activities on behalf of the Jewish people, here, in Israel and all over the world.

Like the mourner whose raw pain dissipates with time, I know that I will stop waking up in the middle of the night with images of gas chambers and crematoria. But also like the mourner, there will always be a hole, a void. And, I don’t want the trauma to completely disappear. However painful it is, I want, I need, the experience to stay with me, to inform my world-view, to help me keep perspective on the larger picture and not to get bogged down, clouded or distracted by the details.

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The Memphis group returns today from Poland and Israel, where they visited many historic sites and diverse communities, including the city of Shoham, Memphis’ newly-named Israeli partner city. The JCP/MJCC-sponsored trip connected the travelers to their Jewish history, taking them to important sites from the recent past. Here, our director of community impact, Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein, shares her thoughts about the partnership with Shoham and the group’s visit with city leaders there.  


Memphis-Shoham Partnership

When we were in Jerusalem, we heard from Jewish educator and leader Avraham Infeld who told us in no uncertain terms that “Judaism is not a religion.” What is it then? Jewish Peoplehood. Membership and engagement with the Jewish people.

The Memphis Jewish community has opened a new chapter in Jewish Peoplehood with our new JAFI partnership with the Israeli city of Shoham.

Located near Ben-Gurion airport, Shoham is very similar to the Memphis Jewish community. It is comprised of highly educated professionals who are actively engaged with their community. Its Chief Rabbi heads a moderate modern Orthodox organization and there is a growing Reform congregation. Among many other offerings, its beautiful JCC has a professional dance school that has  traveled to competitions in Europe and China.

As we got off the bus for our first official visit, we were warmly greeted by Mayor Gil Livne and other municipal officials.

We had a wonderful get-to-know each other visit with the mayor sharing with us a Power Point about his city and Scott Notowich, our Memphis-Shoham Steering Committee Chair, reciprocating with one about Memphis.


After a bountiful and delicious lunch in the JCC’s cafe, we met Shoham youth from across the religious-secular spectrum, watched a high school robotics demonstration and were treated to a JCC  dance presentation by 13 and 14 year-old girls.

All of us returned to the bus excited about our new friends in Shoham and brimming with ideas for building the relationship with joint projects and initiatives.

The power of Jewish Peoplehood.


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Gearing up for its inaugural year, the Kay Usdan Saslawsky Institute for Ethical Leadership launches Spring 2017, sponsored by Jewish Community Partners and held at the MJCC. 

The seminar will be facilitated by notable educators and community leaders Rachel Shankman and Rabbi Feivel Strauss, who will teach a curriculum developed by award-winning author and speaker Dr. Erica Brown. Each session will include a leadership case study as well as a Jewish text study component. No previous formal Jewish education is necessary in order to participate.

JCPConnect spoke with facilitator Rachel Shankman about leadership, community, and how emerging leaders can find a role and a purpose in Memphis. 


Why is it timely to train a new generation of leaders in the community? 

I think from a very practical perspective, the community did a needs assessment recently, sponsored by Jewish Community Partners, and leadership development ranked as one of the very top priorities among the community. I think there’s an awareness that if we want to have a sustainable, knowledge-rich Jewish community, then developing leaders is going to be more critical perhaps than ever.shankman-memphis-magazine


How does a strong ethical foundation inform a leader’s ability to achieve goals? 

A historical example is the best was to address the need for ethics in leadership. If you look back at the history of the Holocaust and look back at the Wannsee Conference and you look at the people sitting around the table making the decision about the final solution, the majority of those people had Ph. Ds.

So what we’ve learned from history is that education without an ethical core can actually take you down a very slippery slope. We have to have that sense of ethics to really be able to develop leadership that can sustain us.


Share your thoughts on Dr. Erica Brown, who created the materials you and Rabbi Strauss will use while teaching the course. 

I am a recent devotee of Erica Brown, and I have been looking at her material and then of course I went to the training. To actually be able to witness her as a facilitator was extraordinary. She is so knowledgeable about Judaism but also knowledgeable about human behavior and how to marry those two things. It’s also a marriage of her work and the work of the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning.

They create extraordinary curricula for Jewish educators and beyond. Many communities have had the Melton Program where they have brought in different scholars and have taught from their curricula, so this is a collaboration with them.

It was such a well-vetted, practical, engaging curriculum that we were thrilled to find it and thrilled to offer it as part of this institute.


How can ancient Jewish texts be useful to a leader in today’s community? 

I was the director of Facing History and Ourselves so that kind of gives you the sense that I’m a true believer that we do have to look back to look at both the wisdom, the triumphs and the mistakes of our history to better understand today. I think we are really working on the fact that for many of us we don’t understand clearly enough that so much wisdom, so much knowledge, so much inspiration has come from Jewish text. And so to be able to apply those lessons to today I think connects us to our history and doesn’t give us the void of not understanding that history.

For example, each section looks at a Jewish text, and one looks at what we can learn from failure and it looks back at epic failure on the part of King David, one of our most beloved parts of Judaism. So I think it says let’s look back, let’s take a moment, let’s look at our greatest heroes, who are flawed. I think it gives permission then to people who are moving into leadership to say we need to learn from failure but we don’t need to be defined by it. That richness of that story and the many, many texts that are part of this curriculum I think will have people feel extremely connected to the Jewish tradition and heritage.

Kay Usdan Saslawsky. "It’s a meaningful way that I could honor her memory, and I was so honored to be asked to facilitate this program." - Rachel Shankman

Kay Usdan Saslawsky. “It’s a meaningful way that I could honor her memory, and I was so honored to be asked to facilitate this program.” – Rachel Shankman

Why is active listening an important part of leadership? 

I think that developing good listening skills is one of the most challenging aspects of leadership development. I think we’ve all been trained, frankly, to think about debate rather than dialogue- debate meaning you have a point that you want to prove and you’re already thinking about how you’re going to make your point, whereas dialogue, which listening is such a critical part of, as in there’s something I can learn from you, and hopefully in that symbiotic relationship there’s something that you can learn from me. And the only way to really develop that is to acknowledge the significance and the intentionality of stepping back and listening. And that leads you to taking perspective from other people; ideas and suggestions and thoughts, and challenges.

Empathy is important but also humility. Knowing that we don’t have simple answers to these challenges of leadership.


Who is the prime candidate for aptitude in the program? 

I love that I hope we’re looking a little outside the box. I think we’re looking for people that do have an interest in their own leadership development with the goal of being able to impact the community, both within institutions if they represent an institution, but equally importantly in a transformative way to be able to think about the Jewish community writ large. I think it’s really critical because I think really that’s a way for us to be getting younger leadership who may not have the same attachments or entry point into demonstrating leadership in the community. We need their energy, we need their wisdom, we need their input as well. I think it’s going to be really helpful

to have a mixture of different people, different ideas. Out of that I hope will come genuine friendships, genuine ways for people to demonstrate and use what they are going to learn through these sessions with us.


Any final thoughts? 

Kay was one of my very, very best friends. When her family and friends thought about what was the best way to honor this unbelievably ethical Jewish leader, that’s how all this emerged. We have a 50 year friendship, she was in our wedding, I was in theirs. It’s a meaningful way that I could honor her memory, and I was so honored to be asked to facilitate this, and of course delighted to do this with Rabbi Feivel. It’s very personal as well as an outgrowth of many many things that are near and dear to me and my career in the community.

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