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 security measures they saw, up close and personal.  

Israel Today: Securityrazor-wire-fence

One cannot explore contemporary Israel without looking at Israel’s security. We have had several opportunities to delve deeply into this critical issue.

We drove to Neve Daniel in the Gush Etzion area and stood atop its observation deck with an expansive view of the country. It doesn’t matter how many maps you have pored over or how many videos you have watched- there is nothing like seeing Israel’s narrow borders up close and personal.

We looked at the separation barrier in several locations and at a checkpoint that has been redesigned to minimize casualties in case of a suicide bomber.

The checkpoint was in Bethlehem, steps from Rachel’s Tomb. We decided to make an impromptu visit. It really did fit in- we connected to our spiritual security.

desert-colorGivat Hatachmoshet (Ammunition Hill), was the site of a major battle for Jerusalem. There we heard a briefing from a young Israeli lawyer who is an expert in the ethics of warfare. He shared with us several examples from his own unit of how soldiers went above and beyond the laws of warfare in order not to kill Palestinian civilians. Today, military officials from other countries come to Israel to study how to be a moral army.

This concern with being moral was brought to life in Yerucham, at our Ethnic Cooks lunch, when we were joined by several young men participating in a JAFI-sponsored Mechina (pre-army) program in the desert city. Taking their future roles as Israeli soldiers incredibly seriously, these young adults are preparing themselves for what lies ahead. One of them spoke movingly about properly preparing himself for the weighty responsibility of using a gun. We all walked out feeling confident that Israel is in good hands with the next generation of Israeli soldiers.

Following our day in the desert, we drove to a Kibbutz on the Israel-Gaza border. Standing by an electronic fence, peering at Gaza City only a few miles away, was chilling. Again, knowing something intellectually is nothing like actually experiencing it.

We were surprised to hear from Ralph, our Kibbutz tour guide (from Namibia- did you know that there were Jews in Namibia?) that the Kibbutz has 800 members with a waiting list. This is a community that has been hit repeatedly over the years by Hamas rockets and mortars.  They have had to build bomb shelters every 50 yards since one has only 15 seconds to reach safety. Terrorist tunnels have been uncovered near the Kibbutz. And, the Kibbutz is now facing a new, more dangerous threat: the laser-guided Kornet missile. Yet this Kibbutz has a waiting list! How is that possible? One word answer: Zionism.


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When Jewish families and individuals move to Memphis, we want them to feel welcomed and embraced by their new neighbors and friends. Part of our work involves finding new Jewish Memphians and helping them plug into congregations, communities, and causes that fit their lifestyle. If you know of any new Jewish Memphians, drop a line to Gila Golder, Jewish Community Partners’ community impact associate: or 654-2151. 


Where did you grow up?

I “grew up” in Great Neck, NY, spent my young adult life in San Francisco and raised my family in the Los Angeles area. I retired from “gainful employment” in 2012.


Where did you live before Memphis?

Since I retired I’ve lived in San Francisco; Bali, Indonesia; Lakewood, NJ; and spent two years being itinerant, without a fixed residence.charles-in-the-tropics


Why did you leave that community?

In retirement there are so many options- endless travel, isolated island paradises, urban capitals- but after a while I realized that being part of a community was an essential part of my happiness.


What attracted you to Memphis?

I considered a lot of sources:,,  

My initial assessment was that the most important factors were available quality medical care, cost of living, climate, culture, a Jewish community (not just a number of Jewish people), and academic institutions.


What clinched your decision to move here?

For me retirement is not about unlimited leisure. In Memphis I am part of the Jewish community, which the anonymity of both big city living and endless travel hinder. Everyone knows of everyone and there is a sense of belonging both within your chosen shul and as part of the larger community whatever your level of observance (or non-observance).

But more important, Memphis is a place with many challenges and there is important work to be done here to heal the world (Tikun Olam). Whether you see it as poverty, race, crime, segregation, environmental or economic justice there are good people engaged in the work who are overjoyed to have you lend an oar help move the boat.


What do you do professionally?

I was a lawyer. Now I see myself as a transit advocate, trying to increase ridership on the “train to freedom.”


How old are your children and where do they go to school?


My older daughter lives in Bali. She was active in Hillel at the University of San Francisco when she was an undergraduate. My younger daughter is at City College in San Francisco, pursuing credentials to become a teacher.


What do you like best about Memphis and/or what makes it different or better than other places that you have lived?


Memphis has all the resources of a large city but is small enough to get anywhere in under half an hour. It is different because of the history of segregation and the fact that this history is still alive. The Jewish community is where it is, and what it is, for historical reasons.


How do you manage being far away from family?


My family has always been spread out. While airfare is higher here, I am hoping to attract a lower cost carrier (like Jet Blue or Virgin America) to bring prices down.


Where are your favorite places to go in Memphis with and without your kids? 


The new downtown is a very pedestrian friendly environment as are the Rhodes College and University of Memphis campuses. Overton Park, the Memphis Botanic Garden, Shelby Farms and the museums are also great environments. Entertainment venues, such as the Levitt Shell, Lafayette’s, Minglewood Hall and the Orpheum Theatre, are great for shows.



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A large group departed from Memphis International Airport Sunday, traveling to Poland to begin their journey from Warsaw to Israel. The JCP/MJCC-sponsored trip will connect 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 and images from the groups tour of the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery.  

Warsaw Jewish Cemetery. This cemetery wasn’t destroyed during the war, just neglected. It was cut off from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, so Warsaw Jews were no longer allowed to bury their dead there until after the war.


Walking through, you really get a sense of the diversity of Jewish life in Warsaw before the Holocaust. Buried here are diverse Jewish leaders from Yiddish author and playwright Y.L. Peretz to the Chasidic Rebbe of Slonim, as well as Zionist, Socialist, Bundist and Universalist activists.


I was particularly moved by the story of Warsaw Ghetto Judenrat (Jewish Council) leader Adam Czerniakow, who committed suicide in 1942 rather than hand over to the Nazis names of Jews to be deported to Treblinka death camp. He is also buried here.


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The following is excerpted from an article originally published in The New York Jewish Week. It was written by Associate Editor Jonathan Mark and can be read in full here. If you have friends or family that would thrive in the Memphis community, invite them to the Taste of Jewish Memphis weekend, November 11-13. Learn more about the program on the 100 New Families website

In a season when nothing escapes Heaven’s eye or mercy, let the angels note the renaissance of the Jews in Memphis.

By all weights and measures, the community should be dead or dying, as are most other communities of similar size and isolation. When we speak of Memphis Jews we can almost introduce you to each by name, for so few there are. The Jewish population is estimated at 9,000, fewer Jews than live in the Catskills in winter; one-third fewer Jews than in Albany. When you factor in the national Jewish percentages for the secular, the assimilated and the uninterested, the active population dwindles precipitously. But unlike so many other small Southern communities, the Memphis Jews are refusing to die. Happy warriors, confident, expanding, building, they are almost daring you to visit and not be seduced.

100-new-familiesAn ad hoc group, 100 New Families, supported by the Memphis Jewish Federation, is offering $250 toward anyone’s airfare to come to “A Taste of Jewish Memphis,” Nov. 11-13, a Shabbos with “Southern home hospitality.” The weekend includes a tour of the city, meetings with employment and real estate professionals (private homes within the eruv, near shuls, can be had for $200,000); visits to the two Jewish day schools; and another $500 toward relocation expenses. The group is also offering a three-month membership at the JCC, and a year’s membership at the more than half-dozen synagogues, from Reform to Conservative to Modern Orthodox, Young Israel and Chabad.

This is the Tashlich time of year, and this community suggests you throw your regrets and doubts into the Bayou Gayoso, in Memphis, or while standing on Chuck Berry’s Mississippi Bridge. After all, the New Year is a terrific time to consider running away from home.

The renaissance is across the board. A number of Reform and Conservative Jews in town have made a commitment to sending their children to day school and the Orthodox have supported an eruv, two mikvahs and two kollels, the better to attract and keep young families. Necessity is the mother of diversity. At the Bornblum Jewish Community School, 33 percent of the students come from the Reform temple, 28 percent from the Conservative congregation and 38 percent from Orthodox shuls (2 percent are unaffiliated. The second day school, Margolin Hebrew Academy-Feinstone Yeshiva of the South, is an Orthodox school.) There is also economic diversity, with tuition at Bornblum under $10,000, and 10 percent reductions for a family’s second and subsequent children.

Oh, don’t forget, say the recruiters, in Memphis there’s no state or city income tax.

If 9,000 Jews doesn’t seem like much, that’s about as many Jews as were living in one Manhattan neighborhood, Washington Heights, in 2002. That population more than doubled in the years since, and Memphis Jews think they can do the same. In fact, the two Memphis day schools are already more day schools than in Washington Heights and as many as in Riverdale (with 45,000 Jews, and one mikvah).

Several Memphis Jews pointed out that their incentives are not being made out of desperation, as they already have nearly a dozen Jewish institutions and thousands of affiliated Jews. The Memphis incentives are being promoted as the next step in a renaissance, not a first step or a step too late.

Memphis is the largest city in Tennessee, more than 650,000 people whose stories have been told by the likes of W.C. Handy, Chuck Berry, Paul Simon, Johnny Cash, Sun Studios and the blues men of Beale Street. “If Beale Street Could Talk,” goes one of the songs, and the innocent better leave the room before Beale Street starts talking. Almost every Jew in Memphis, it seems, can tell the stories of how Elvis was the greatest “Shabbos goy” this river town ever knew. Long before he moved into Graceland, it seems there wasn’t a Jewish tenement that didn’t know his curled lip and very polite “Yes, ma’am,” if he’d be told, “Elvis, it’s a little dark in here, could you, you know,” and he knew.

Rachel Siegel, an occupational therapist, and her husband, Joel, a pediatrician, moved from the Upper West Side to Memphis in 2004. Joel, now 38, and Rachel, now 36, came and stayed, without regret. Members of the Hadar sukkah-gatheringcommunity in Manhattan, Joel is past president of the Margolin Hebrew Academy and on the board of the JCC. They are perfectly pleased with the “superb education” that their four children are getting at Margolin.

Speaking by telephone from Memphis, Joel recalled that after medical school, “I was looking for a residency opportunity; Rachel was looking for a master’s program in occupational therapy. We spent a Shabbat, to see the Jewish community, and we were very impressed. Twelve years later, we’re still here.”

Both of their programs required a three-year commitment. “So,” said Rachel, “we had three years to figure it out. A year and a half later, we had a child. The Jewish community was wonderful, family-friendly and affordable — and less stressful.” Joel explained that he now had just a two-minute commute. Rachel adds, “I can drop off my kids and get to work in 15 minutes.” And no alternate-side parking and rushing to move the car. “People here live a more relaxed lifestyle,” said Rachel. “The other week was the annual kosher barbecue fest that brings the whole community together.”


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On Sunday, October 30 at 10:00 a.m. family, friends and “furry friends” will gather in the rose garden at Temple Israel for “Pause for Paws,” a dog walk to honor the late Dr. Karin Gubin. The event, being held almost exactly 2 years to the day of her untimely passing,  is the first of several that will raise funds for the newly created Dr. Karin Blinder Gubin Memorial Fund. Contributions to the fund will be used to carry out Dr. Gubin’s passions of women’s empowerment and healthy living.

“We are excited about the first event,” said Scot Lansky, committee member and event organizer. “Everyone who signs up will receive a t-shirt and a bandana for their dog. We will start and end at Temple Israel.”

Friends and family of Dr. Karin Blinder Gubin, of blessed memory, gathered at the home of her husband Dr. Steven Gubin to launch the Karin Blinder Gubin Memorial Fund.

Friends and family of Dr. Karin Blinder Gubin, of blessed memory, gathered at the home of her husband Dr. Steven Gubin to launch the Karin Blinder Gubin Memorial Fund.

“This event will pull together people from across the community,” said Laurie Scheidt, also a committee member and event organizer. “She was a truly special person whose kindness and spirit touched so many people.”

The Dr. Karin Blinder Gubin Fund was established in 2015 by friends and family to honor Dr. Gubin who died suddenly in 2014.  The Fund aims to celebrate the life of a creative, talented and extraordinary woman who gave so much to others in need. According to the fund’s mission statement, “Her love for her family was immeasurable and her fierce loyalty to her friends unmatched. Through this fund her friends and family will carry on Karin’s commitment to women’s empowerment; healthy living; nurturing mind, body and spirit; and caring for others.”

To participate in the “Pause for Paws” dog walk or to make a donation to the Dr. Karin Blinder Gubin Memorial Fund, visit our website. Please note, only friendly dogs that get along and play well with their peers are welcome.



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Have you built your family sukkah this year? Snap a photo and share it with us. We want to see how your family celebrates the holiday, eating or even sleeping outside in the wilds of your Mid-South backyard.

We’ll compile a pictorial of all submissions and share it with the community after the holiday. Please share any thoughts about the way your family celebrates Sukkot traditions today, or personal memories from the past. We’d love to see your lulav, your etrog, or the more local produce and foliage you’ve sourced as a modern Memphis replacement. To that point, here’s an article from the Forward about how you can help reduce the global Sukkot carbon footprint by ditching the traditional Four Species for flora with a more domestic origin.

Send photos and messages to

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Last weekend, forty-two new Jewish Memphians, ranging in age from toddler to senior and hailing from such far-flung spots as Seattle, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chattanooga, and Albany, were welcomed at a brunch last week sponsored by Jewish Community Partners and held at the home of Jill and Ken Steinberg.

Helping newly relocated Jewish families make their first connections in Memphis is an important part of our efforts to engage these new Memphians in communal and cultural activities that keep them connected to other Jews, and to our city’s vibrant Jewish community. We provide a Welcome Bag to every new arrival we hear about (more on that later!), thanks to a generous subsidy from a donor, through his Donor Advised Fund at the Jewish Foundation, but social gatherings, like last weekend’s brunch are dependent upon money gifted by you, members of the community, during our Annual Community Campaign.


Not so much new, a group of “returning” Memphians was also included in the brunch— young men and women who grew up in Memphis, attended college out of town, and recently returned to Memphis as adults.

“It was wonderful to see this part of our community represented,” said Laura Linder, President and CEO of Jewish Community Partners. “Our welcome program is called Choose Jewish Memphis, and we wanted to acknowledge the fact that these recent college graduates have chosen to return to Memphis. We’re delighted and honored to welcome them back into our community.”

Last year, JCP had to make a tough decision about the yearly welcome brunch, ultimately canceling it for lack of funding. With this year’s Annual Community Campaign set to launch in about a month, it’s still up in the air as to whether the event will remain bi-annual, or return to a yearly gathering.


Jewish Community Partners’ volunteer committee, dedicated Lions of Judah, assisted in planning the brunch and assembling the welcome bags. A big shout-out to Bobbie Shainberg, Rayna Greenberg, Rhonda Saslawsky, Billie Pierce, Cindy Finestone, Evelyn Makowsky, Stacy Vogel, and Jill Steinberg.

WE can only reach out to new arrivals that we hear about from our friends and supporters. If you know a family or individual that has just begun living in Memphis, please let Gila Golder, JCP’s Community Impact Associate, know about them. Give her a call at 901-654-2151 or send her an email:


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By Robin Du

I was born in Israel and I have visited Israel many times. But the trip I took this past summer was the most meaningful trip to Israel I have ever had. All my past trips have always been to see family; I had never actually seen many of the usual tourist attractions.

Going to Israel with all my friends was a truly inspirational experience. I was privileged to have the opportunity to visit my homeland and see all the attractions I had never seen, and I also was able to witness my friends experiencing Israel for the first time ever.

I remember going to the Western Wall on our first day of touring. I had visited the Western Wall many times before, but this time it was different. Before we got to the Western Wall, our tour guide walked us through the Old City western-wallof Jerusalem and explained its rich history. I had never learned about the history of Jerusalem in any of my previous visits to Jerusalem, and I was so fascinated to discover all the different cultures that had left their mark on the city. Our tour guide, Ron, took us to his favorite spot overlooking the Western Wall. I remember looking down at the Wall and feeling happy and proud. I saw that one of the other tour groups from my trip had already reached the Wall, and I could see my friend standing about thirty feet from the Wall just looking at it. It was his first time in Israel.

When we finally got to the Wall, I had an experience I will never forget. For some people, the Western Wall is just a wall, but for others it is the holiest site of the Jewish people. Many of my friends were awestruck and simply stood gazing at the Wall for several minutes, while others began to cry. I went up to the Wall and touched it, I felt the coarse stone as I ran my palm over the ancient bricks, and I felt the notes that contained the hopes and wishes of our people. I stood there for almost ten minutes thinking, and that day I realized what the Wall meant to me. I see it as the holiest site in the Jewish world, and a symbol of our people’s perseverance. We have been through so much and we have more than just survived— we have thrived. Countless nations have tried to destroy us, but today, here we stand while they are gone. Like us, the Wall has stood for years and years and has not fallen.

Once I understood what the Western Wall meant to me, I began to pray. I felt that I had to pray at the Western Wall while I was there. Every time we pray, we always stand and face the direction of the Western Wall, even if it happens to be thousands of miles away. I thought to myself, “Thousands of people are praying in the direction of the Western Wall right now, how can I not say a few prayers while I am right here?”  I am not religious, so I just said a few small prayers that I knew, the Shema and the beginning of the Amidah. When I finished praying, I went to find my friends. I wanted to be with my friends as we all stood at the Western Wall. There is something powerful about being surrounded by your best friends as you visit the holiest site of your people. My friends and I embraced each other and we were all grateful to be in Israel together.

This visit to the Western Wall furthered my connection to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Robin Du, the son of Tamar Hershkovitz and Ziyun Du, is a senior at White Station High School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided him with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the costs of his BBYO program in Israel in Summer 2016. 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. Teen Israel Experience applications for summer 2017 will be available in November at

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-By Daniel Slovis

I was lucky– six weeks is a long time for a first visit to the Jewish Holy Land, and it was just the right amount of time for me to have a completely life-changing experience.

I never expected to have such a fulfilling Israel trip. I know everyone talks about how it was “the best experience of their life” or “nothing could ever compare to the feeling you have when you land in Israel”, but I was skeptical at first. I had heard so many exciting things about so many different trips to Israel, but I didn’t want to believe anyone until I got to experience it for myself.

The thing is, everyone was exactly right! Nothing could compare to my trip to Israel. The Ramah Israel organization put together an incredible summer. No matter where I went or what I did, I felt at home.

The long and grueling plane ride everyone complains about really wasn’t so bad for me. When we landed and everyone started clapping, I felt a small rush of excitement and a big rush of nervousness. I didn’t know what to expect. I could barely speak Hebrew, and I knew absolutely no one on that plane. But the nerves and loneliness I felt walking through the giant Ben-Gurion airport didn’t last long. I got my bag and found the Ramah group, and just like that I was on my way to a once in a lifetime journey.

Finally, I found my camp friends, the people I’ve known for seven years. We’ve all been dreaming about taking this trip since just about the first days of camp seven years ago. Along with all of my old friends, I met new friends, people from all over the U.S. and Canada who went to other Ramah camps. Just getting to know everyone was an interesting experience, learning about their different camp cultures and customs and lingo. At school, anthropology is one of my favorite classes, so being able to watch and learn about all these new cultures in the backdrop of a new country was a fascinating experience for me.

Our trip started in the north of Israel and ended in the south. Unlike many of my friends, I had never been to Israel before, so no matter where we went, I was blown away. Climbing mountains, touring historic sites, and learning jerusalemso much about my own culture was just incredible. I think I learned more about Judaism in those six weeks than I had in my entire life! When we reached the heart of Jerusalem, our bus stopped at a small park that overlooks the entire city, and at first glance I was mesmerized. Our group all got together to say the shehechiyanu blessing, and I felt a rush of love and a feeling of being at home.

We did so much, I wish I could write about everything, but that could turn into a novel! So I will just briefly share two of my favorite experiences from the trip. The first was at the Western Wall. I had never in my life experienced anything like it. The instant feeling of knowing that everyone who surrounds me is a Jew just like me, and knowing that the place where I was standing is one of the holiest and most historically meaningful sites I will ever see— that made my head spin. The part that impressed me the most was that it felt like an affirmation of all of the stories I was told growing up, almost like proof that everything I had learned about actually happened. I was stunned by the beauty and antiquity of this holy place.

My other favorite experience was a program called Desert Survival. Desert Survival was a four day, three night journey wandering through the Negev, climbing up and down mountains and through rough terrains. The thing about Ramah is that when you go on camping trips at camp, you can tell they are very controlled environments and almost fake, but this was completely different. It was real, we were actually on a survival program in a real desert, and desert-tourismthat’s why I loved it so much. The best part of this journey in the Negev was when my group of 5 started walking down a very long dirt road to get to our second base camp. At one point, my group started to get on my nerves, so I started walking faster and soon enough I was finally by myself in front of them. While walking, I started thinking to myself. I thought about how difficult this actually is, surviving in the desert, and realizing that it is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. But then I thought about the future and how so many new things will be coming my way and many of them will be very difficult, but if I am able to get through this difficult experience, then I know I will be ready to conquer anything that comes my way in the future. That moment I had, realizing that I can take on whatever happens in the future, was the best feeling I could have had, and I’m so thankful for it.

Ultimately, my six week trip to Israel was the most incredible experience I have ever had in my life. I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to go on this trip, and I am so blessed that Memphis Jewish Federation helped me get there. I don’t know any other way to show my gratitude except a genuine thank you.

Daniel Slovis, the son of Amy Israel and Adam Slovis, is a senior at Lausanne School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided him with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the costs of his Ramah Israel Seminar 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. Teen Israel Experience applications for summer 2017 will be available in November at

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Eshet chayil mi yimtza v’rachok mip’ninim michrahAn accomplished woman, who can find? Her value is far beyond pearls- from the Eshet Chayil, a poem attributed to King Solomon that concludes the book of proverbs. lions-2

17,500 women strong, the Jewish Federation’s Lion of Judah cohort are fierce, a fundraising force to be reckoned with. Over the last 46 years, the Lions have worked toward changing the world, becoming an international emblem of empowerment and generosity as they’ve raised more than a billion dollars to benefit Jews in Israel, in nations across the world, and in our own communities.

Beginning this past Sunday, 1,200 Lions gathered in Washington, D.C. for the annual International Lion of Judah Conference, which ran through Tuesday. More than 100 speakers and scores of breakout sessions and forums offered the latest information on the critical issues facing the world today, giving the Lions much to sink their teeth into.

Marlene Tenenbaum Gerson was honored as this year’s Memphis recipient of the Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award, which honors a group of women who are bold, innovative, empowered, and generous. They are role models in their communities and beyond, setting an aspirational standard for leadership and philanthropy. Marlene was awarded along with 74 of her peers, each representing a hometown Federation.

On the last day of the conference, after packed days of workshops, lectures, and brain-picking with one another, the Lions gathered in the International Ballroom of the Washington Hilton, where they made their pledges to the 2017 Annual Campaign. This year, their collective generosity broke records, beating last year’s total by 5.5%. Each Lion returned home with her share of the $30.5 million pledged that afternoon, something to make her proud when she returned to her pride.


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