More than 150 young Jewish adults gathered the Wednesday before Thanksgiving for Memphis Jewish Federation’s first annual Reunion, a pre-holiday bash for locals, ex-pats, and out of town guests. The Old Dominick Distillery in downtown Memphis was the perfect setting for this rowdy bunch, who were so excited to reunite that their catch-up conversations crowded out the pumping bass of the music.

“This is exactly why we moved back to Memphis,” said Evan Sander, who served as a member of the event’s Host Committee with his wife Rachel.

“It was a blast being able to reunite with Memphis Jews of all age groups,” said Sarah Alpert, also a member of the Host Committee. “It can be hard to find time to see everyone you want to during a short holiday break, so it was awesome to all be together in one place.” 

Check out the full batch of photos by Paige Miller here.

Federation’s Director of Development Judy Lansky conceived Reunion 2022 to fill a void; she wanted Jewish Young adults in Memphis to have a dedicated space to get together before the traditionally family-oriented holiday while those who live elsewhere were back in town and locals were enjoying their time off. While organic gatherings often pop-up at old haunts like the Young Avenue Deli or Earnestine & Hazels, Judy visualized one central hub with an open invitation to all in the 21-45 age span, a homecoming party where old friendships could be rekindled and new connections made, all woven together with colorfully diverse, but distinctively Jewish, thread. The event was also designed as a fundraiser, bringing a new generation of donors into Federation’s Annual Community Campaign. A portion of each ticket sale went directly to the 2023 Campaign, marking many attendees’ first experience in Jewish philanthropy.

“Jewish Memphians in my age group are scattered all over the country, but regardless of where we all live, Memphis will always be our community,” said Judy. “I just moved back here, and there is something so special about reconnecting with old friends and already have so many shared experiences. Also, like me, many locals who start their adult lives outside of Memphis make their way back before long, and Federation is uniquely positioned to bring these people together and bond the next generation of movers and shakers in this wonderful community.”

Attendee Steve Wolf, who moved to Memphis from Chicago and works as a consultant in the agricultural sector, attended the Bluff City Bash soon after becoming a Memphian. Over the din of Reunion, he mentioned the pandemic-induced lack of social opportunities for young adults to gather, and gratitude to Federation for hosting this year’s event.

“Most of the people I met at the Bash, I unfortunately never saw again,” said Steve. “I’m glad that we’re kind of rekindling that type of thing with this event tonight. I look forward to meeting new people and seeing people that I’ve seen around as well. This is awesome.”

“Community members in my generation have many opportunities to get together, but Jewish young adults, our kids, need opportunities to define themselves as a generation of leaders,” said Laura Linder, President & CEO of Jewish Community Partners, which manages Memphis Jewish Federation. “The bonds that tie us together are formed at social events like Reunion, and as the hub of the Memphis Jewish community, Federation has the distinctive ability to pull people from every corner of the community together.”

About the Photos:

Event Chairs Andrea Cohen, Stephanie Saslawsky, Joel Saslawsky, Kayla Klazmer, Marissa Magdovitz, Andrew Magdovitz (not pictured Ted Cohen) served as Event Chairs for Memphis Jewish Federation’s Reunion, a premiere event for Jewish young adults. Conceived as a hub for young adults to gather with their old Memphis crew over the holiday, Reunion was also designed as a fundraiser, bringing a new generation of donors into Federation’s Annual Community Campaign.

Attendees of Memphis Jewish Federation’s Reunion premiere event for young adults partied together into the wee hours the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, at the Old Dominick Distillery in downtown Memphis. More than 150 21–45-year-olds gathered with old friends while making new ones at the Jewish Memphis homecoming party. A portion of each ticket sale went directly to Federation’s 2023 Annual Community Campaign.

Photos by Paige Miller

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“I trust Memphis Jewish Federation because they trusted that if they helped me become a Memphian, I would do my part to help make Jewish Memphis better and better,” said Alla Olswanger-Lubin, community activist, Federation Campaign donor, board member and volunteer, and proud Lion of Judah since 2011.

Alla’s relationship with Federation, with the entire Memphis Jewish community, is unique. She arrived a true outsider, the Ukrainian daughter of a high-powered attorney. She and the father of her first son chose to leave wealth and status behind, arriving in Memphis in 1979 with each other, their 2-year-old son Jon, and little else in order to make a better life in the United States. Guided by the unignorable urge to freely live as proud Jews, something they never would be able to do in Kyiv, they started over, strangers in a strange land.

When her boundless affection for people was met by the open doors of “the warmest Jewish community in the world,” she found her forever home. Today she has almost as many family members as friends in her chosen community, and her good will, generous spirit, and electric smile touch every corner of Jewish Memphis.

“I would not be sitting here if it weren’t for the Federation system. They supported my family when we immigrated here,” she said. The family was resettled through a program of Jewish Federations of North America, making their way first to Vienna and then to a small town outside of Rome, where they lingered for a few months while awaiting a decision on their final destination.

“I had a job outside Rome in an open-air market,” she recalled. “I kept extending my time because I didn’t want to go to the cities they offered, big cities where I’m never going to learn to speak English. I wanted a place where I can meet everybody and learn the language and culture. Memphis was that place.”

The agency now known as the Wendy & Avron Fogelman Jewish Family Service operated the resettlement program locally, and they worked to line up host families for those arriving. Alla and her family were warmly welcomed by Iris and Ronald Harkavy, Saralyn and Danny Weiss, and Ralph and Carol Yaffe, with all three couples becoming important figures in her life. Still, Memphis was a sleepy backwater in contrast to the bustle of Kyiv, and adjustment wasn’t immediate.  

“The first morning when I woke up, I opened my blinds and this yard man for the apartments was in my window and I’m like, ‘Oh my G-d, where are the cows?,’” she said. “I feel like I’m totally in the country. What have I done?”

But because of her love of people and genuine social connections, Alla helped her family acclimate.

“Of course, I made mistakes. Having a couple over for dinner the first time entertaining, I see that the husband had no fork,” she said. “I asked him, ‘Would you like a fork?’ But I didn’t use that word, I used a different word. And the eyes of the wife went very big. But then we were all laughing a lot.”

When her first marriage ended Alla found herself a single mom. She’d grown her social network and made connections, and with her accounting degree, she began her American career. She also began her life as a philanthropist.

“I made the promise that when I got my feet on the ground, I would start giving to Federation. I started with $50 a year, then maybe $108,” she said. “But today I pinch myself because I never dreamed that I would be part of an organization like this, knowing that, for example, someone can send a kid to a Jewish camp, which is sometimes where Judaism really lights up.”

It was through her growing social circle that she met Marty Olswanger, of blessed memory, who became her second husband in 1984. Marty adopted Jon, and the couple soon welcomed two more boys, Sam and Lee, making a cozy young family of five. With the stability of a rock-solid marriage, she became laser-focused on giving back to the Jewish community. She began working for the then-named Jewish Family Service as an accountant and volunteering with Russian resettlement, and she developed an understanding of the ways Memphis Jews depend on the non-profit agencies that serve the community.

When Alla’s sister Lilia fell ill and died, she and Marty flew to Kyiv to begin the process of bringing Alla’s mother and 15-year-old niece Lana to better lives in the United States. It’s no coincidence that this is when she began evolving as a philanthropist and had her first aspirations of becoming a Memphis Lion of Judah.

“One day, I said to Marty, ‘I want to be a Lion.’ He said ‘Not yet. We’re not there yet,’” she said. Sadly, they didn’t get there together. Marty was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 36, his body already overtaken by the disease. He died mere months later, after promising her that after he was gone, she would become a Lion.

In 2012 Alla married for the third and final time, to her beloved Nathan Lubin. With her three boys and Lana added to four sons and two daughters of his, the family was now quite large. Following their parents’ footsteps, this younger generation is already taking philanthropy and volunteerism seriously, donating to their synagogues and Federations and serving in lay leadership positions at Jewish agencies and shuls.

“My children already see the legacy of giving back that Nathan and I are working to make. They are very much involved themselves,” she said. “Now it’s a legacy that I want to leave for my grandchildren.”

Alla sees her Lion of Judah pin as a symbol of that legacy. “This pin means that the community is going to stay sustainable after we’re gone, because of people like us,” she said. “It’s something that’s priceless. Building that foundation of a sustainable Jewish community is very important to me, and the reason I endowed my gift. I had to hide my Jewish identity when I was little. I never wore any Jewish stars, never even dreamed to own one. I would be afraid to put it on. Today in Jewish Memphis, my grandchildren walk freely, and proudly say ‘I’m Jewish.’ All of our hard work made this happen and it means everything to me.”

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In the periodic series My Jewish Journey, community members share the story of their personal relationship with Judaism, Jewish identity, and Jewish life. Told their way and in their words, these stories are as unique and distinct from each other as the storytellers themselves, and together will begin to tell the colorful and multi-textured story of Jewish Memphis. 

I grew up in the small city of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, where I was the only Jewish kid, just like that Adam Sandler song. While I was the only Jewish kid in the county and school system, my family and I were only 30 minutes away from the synagogue in Jackson, Mississippi, which was home to about 200 families. We were also conveniently only 22 minutes away from URJ Jacobs Camp. Rabbi Jeff Dreifus and I were on staff at Jacobs camp at the same time. I think I will forever hold the all-time closest camper-counselor record. I was also a five-year staffer, so I received the coveted five-year jacket.

Around that same time, in 2009, I helped co-found the Hillel at Mississippi State University, where my father was a professor. I made a lot of great friends, but there was no Jewish student organization or Hillel. So, we got one going and 10 years later, it’s still running. That legacy is one of my prouder achievements in my Jewish journey. And that was just the start.

From there, I was able to expose myself to opportunities to lead in the Congregation B’nai Israel synagogue in Columbus, Mississippi, which is 20 minutes from Starkville. After I graduated, I was the vice president of that synagogue. During my college tenure, I took advantage of co-op opportunities to live in the Mississippi Delta where I worked at Baxter Healthcare, but there was also a synagogue out there in Cleveland, Mississippi, where Rabbi Danziger, Emeritus Rabbi of Temple Israel, would come down once a month and lead us in services. I got exposure to a Memphis rabbi before even knowing I would be in Memphis.

During college I also tutored two teenagers for their B’nai Mitzvah service, including the child of John Cohen, Mississippi State’s baseball coach who had played baseball for the team in the late 80s and is now the athletic director at Auburn. A call had been put out to the Hillel group for tutors, and I jumped on the opportunity. I was paid in dinners, so once a week, I got to have dinner with Coach Cohen. As a sports fan, it was a cool opportunity to pick his brain and get to know the family. In turn, they were eager to support the Hillel and would host us for a Hanukkah party or have everyone over once or twice a year. It was a fortuitous and timely relationship built through our connection to Judaism.

After graduating, I worked for a few years in a small tire factory in the Starkville area but grew tired of being the only Jewish 20-something who wasn’t in college. FedEx had always been on my radar, and someone urged me to apply. Several of my camp friends were from Memphis and I had been before. I was aware of the prominence of Memphis as a player in the region. So, I took the interview, and within 30 days, I was packing up my bags.

The day after I got here in 2016 I went straight to the JCC. I remember that day very clearly, and I said, “Hey, I want to coach soccer.” They were like, “Who is this guy who comes in on the day of their interview and volunteers already?” I came to Memphis with this history of being involved in Hillel and synagogues, so I wanted to make an impact on day one. I wanted to get entrenched in the community. I coached soccer for three seasons, and we only lost three games. I’m very proud of those boys. Now, all those kids are in high school. 

In the spring of 2017, I participated in Memphis Jewish Federation’s inaugural Kay Usdan Saslawsky Institute for Ethical Leadership, a curriculum designed to nurture leadership through sessions using case studies and Jewish texts and taught by local thought leaders and clergy. That was a great experience and a great opportunity to connect with some of the middle and older generations of the community. I was also featured in the Seventy Faces exhibit during Federation’s Israel@70 campaign. And now, I’m a member of the Federation board, serving an organization that serves as a sort of hub of Jewish Memphis, doing important work in all corners of the community. 

I have been honored to serve on Federation’s Hillels of Memphis advisory board. I was asked to help because of my experience forming a Hillel at Mississippi State, and also because I used to write for the Jewish Scene magazine which is owned by Susan Neiman. Susan had stepped in as the interim director when the previous Hillel director retired, and she asked me if I would come on and provide assistance. I’ve held an advisory role ever since and I was on the committee that selected the current Hillel director, Sophie Bloch, who has done an amazing job.

I also served on Temple Israel’s ConnecTI board with Cara Greenstein and Baylee Less and others of that generation. I’m happy to see how it’s evolved and regenerated even after COVID. While other social groups that filled a need during COVID faded away, this program is not going anywhere.

Recently, I began serving on the Temple Israel Brotherhood board as a sort of liaison between ConnecTI and older Temple members. Young folks, and maybe especially young men, who are turning the corner around 30, but don’t have families – we’re kind of in between groups. So, there is a gap and an underserved area of young adults, and I feel it’s worth the extra effort to bridge that gap.

I’ve been in Memphis for seven years now – a quarter of my life – and I’m very thankful for those years. Memphis is an excellent community and is very welcoming. The fact that in a metro area of more than a million residents, the relatively small Jewish community of 10,000 has a reputation for impacting and influencing culture, business, law, and the very shape of the city is amazing to me. I think it’s because of the Jewish leadership and institutions that we have here acting as the bedrock of our community. It gives Memphis something special that is unmatched. I have yet to find a city on par with Memphis in this regard.

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A coalition of staff and leadership fromMemphis Jewish Federationjoined over 1,200 Jewish communal leaders in Chicago at Jewish Federations of North America’s three-day General Assembly (GA), where they set the shared Jewish communal agenda for the year ahead and heard from a diverse array of voices on critical issues facing the North American Jewish community. First held 90 years ago, The General Assembly is the most consequential gathering of the leadership of the North American Jewish community and brings together Jewish leaders of diverse backgrounds in a space that fosters productive dialogue and debate.

“I am always inspired to be among Federation professionals and lay leaders at the GA,” said Cindy Finestone, Chair of Memphis Jewish Federation’s Board. “We share common challenges and opportunities and I always come away with new ideas about how we can strengthen our community. I most appreciated hearing that although we may have differing opinions, we must find opportunities to find what we have in common and build from that starting point.” 

This year’s General Assembly focused on responses to the geopolitical challenges and global events impacting the Jewish community, and challenges and opportunities towards building flourishing Jewish communities. Topics that were discussed include the urgency of Jewish communal security, Jewish Federations’ response to the Ukraine crisis and the uncertainties that lie ahead for Jews in Ukraine and Russia, and new initiatives and partnerships to combat the rise in antisemitism.

“We are living in complex times. Antisemitic incidents are increasing at an alarming rate, anti-Israel rhetoric is rampant, millions of people are displaced by war and our communities are overwhelmed by a mental health crisis,” said Laura Linder, President and CEO of Jewish Community Partners, which manages Memphis Jewish Federation. “These extreme challenges require bold solutions and broad collaborations, so that we can effectively strengthen our communities and ensure that they are safe, compassionate, inclusive, and vibrant. The General Assembly is a unique opportunity that comes around once-per-year for our communal leaders to come together to tackle these complex challenges, discuss practical steps towards building flourishing Jewish communities and return to our communities invigorated to implement these strategies.”

Global figures, activists, public officials, and communal leaders addressed the audience. Noteworthy names include President of Israel Isaac Herzog, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog, journalist and news anchor Andrea Mitchell, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Ambassador Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, philosopher/author/filmmaker Bernard Henry Levy, among many others. Celebrities from the screen could also be found; a chat with Israeli actor and star of the hit show The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem Michael Aloni was a fun surprise for Linder and other GA attendees. 

The agenda also included a special reception to mark the 60th anniversary of National Young Leadership Cabinet and the 50th anniversary of Lions of Judah, which represent models of leadership for the Jewish world.

During the opening plenary of The General Assembly, Jewish Federations of North America Board Chair Julie Platt announced that since the launch of LiveSecure last year, the number of Jewish communities in North America that have security programs has increased by 42%.  LiveSecure is a $130 million investment in Jewish communal security that aims to protect every single Jewish community in the U.S. and Canada through a grant issued by Jewish Federations of North America, with matching funds raised by the local Federation. This funding is already working to make Jewish Memphis safer for everyone.

Also announced at The General Assembly is an agreement made between the leadership of major Jewish organizations and financial ratings powerhouse Morningstar on a new set of commitments regarding anti-Israel bias in its ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) ratings. The agreement follows months of deliberations between the parties.

The five-person Memphis cohort also had a surprise encounter with an emerging Memphis lay leader. Unknown to Memphis Jewish Federation, Rhodes College junior Samuel Cross received an invitation to attend this year’s General Assembly representing Hillels of Memphis, a program of Federation. In July, Cross began his term as a member of the 2022-2023 Hillel International Student Cabinet based on his interest in outreach towards Jewish communities outside of the traditional Hillel network.

“Hillel tends to be Euro-centric, and my goal is to reach out to other Jewish communities that are rich in tradition and culture but have begun drifting away from the more mainstream Ashkenazi/Sephardic traditions,” said Cross. “Examples include the population of Beta Israel in Ethiopia, Bene Israel in India, and Central and South American Jews. I want to find ways to bring these communities in and facilitate a closer link between groups and hard-to-reach students.”

While our global Jewish family faces challenges and uncertainty, the General Assembly is a yearly reminder that dedicated professionals and volunteers are working diligently to stay ahead of these issues. This week, they returned to Memphis and to communities across the continent bursting with fresh ideas, innovative strategies, and the will to roll up sleeves and do the hard work, today, tomorrow, and always.   

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Finally, after a COVID-induced pause of almost 3 years, Memphis Jewish Federation Israel trips are back.

On October 20, a delegation of dads from the community, led by staff member Larry Schaffer, embarked on the MoMENtum Dads’ Journey to Israel, where they are enjoying empowering classes and exploring the magic of the country. In late November, 10 moms from Jewish Memphis will make a similar trip, joining women from all over the world for the MOMentum Moms’ Journey, a revitalizing week of self-exploration, unforgettable experiences, and inspiring Jewish learning.

“It’s almost indescribable,” said Bill Naids, a first-time visitor to Israel and a Temple Israel member, from a video dispatch sent from the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City only a few days into the Dads’ Journey. “I’ve always felt a magnetic attraction to the land here. The closer we got to the trip, the more that magnetic attraction increased. But being here has exceeded all of my expectations. The camaraderie with guys has been wonderful. Visiting the Kotel was absolutely moving, the physical embodiment of the spirit we all share, the connection to generation after generation. It’s just overwhelming.”

When asked what advice he would give to others considering joining a Federation trip to Israel, Bill’s answer was immediate and simple: “Run, don’t walk. This is one of the best choices I’ve ever made.”

The Memphis crew, which also includes Richard Faber, Ken Kramer, Jeff Lewis, and David Peterson flew in early, landing in Tel Aviv to make their way to Shoham, Memphis’s partner city. There, they gathered with friends old and new, and enjoyed breakfast at the home of Orli Lehat, the founding Israeli Chair of the Memphis-Shoham Partnership.  

The Dads’ and Moms’ Journeys are designed to create connections in the travelers; connections to Israel certainly but also connections to Judaism, connections to Jewish ancestors, connections to family, and connections to the Jewish communities in their hometowns. This is achieved through carefully curated experiences led by hand-picked guides and teachers. From Shoham, the Memphis crew joined almost 200 other men from across North America to begin the Dads’ Journey proper, with a visit to Latrun, the site of a fierce battle during the 1948 war and current home of a tank museum. Next on the itinerary was Tzfat, where they took in the sights and participated in an exercise designed to help the men strengthen important relationships in their lives and grow closer to their loved ones back home.

The exhilarating and emotional tour continued from there with stops at Yad Vashem, Mt. Herzl, and a hike up Masada. Soon they will experience Shabbat at the Kotel, and a final day exploring how their life path will intersect with Tikkun Olam to make a real difference in the lives of their loved ones, in the Memphis Jewish community, and in Israel.

“I hadn’t visited Israel since I was in high school and I was excited to see it all these years later as an adult,” said Men’s Trip leader Larry Schaffer, Donor Relationship Manager for Jewish Community Partners, which manages Memphis Jewish Federation. “It’s amazing to take in the sights, interact with the people, sample the amazing food, and absorb what we were taught by world-class Jewish educators. It’s also special to bond with these five guys, all of whom will be life-long friends.”

In November, 10 Memphis Moms will embark on a similar journey, led by Federation’s Chief Impact Officer & Executive Vice President Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein. Like Bill Naids, most of the women are making their first trip to Israel, a detail that Bluma finds significant.

“It’s exciting to be able to be with them sharing the special experience of first-time Israel visitors,” she said. “It’s also very exciting because it is a spiritually-oriented trip. Even for the women who have been before, they’ve never been on a trip like this, which focuses on their family’s connection to Judaism and to the land of Israel.”

Participants on the Moms’ trip will spend time in Shoham and will be joined on the trip by three Shoham women. From there, they will explore bustling Tel Aviv, experience the spirituality of Jerusalem, feel the mystical power of Tzvat, hike Masada and bathe in the Dead Sea, enjoy Shabbat with former Memphian Chaya Kaplan Lester and her family, visit Jerusalem’s ancient Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, visit Yad Vashem – Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, visit Tzvat’s Mikvek, visit Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall where Israel was created, and more. “I look forward to these fabulous women coming back with a love of Israel, a love of their Judaism, and a love of their role as Jewish mothers and Jewish women in fostering positive Jewish identity in their families,” said Bluma.

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Jewish Community Fellow Mandy Cassius is pictured on Rhodes College’s campus during her freshman year.

Memphis Jewish Federation is excited to announce that applications are now open for the Rhodes Jewish Community Fellowship for the 2023-2024 academic year.

Once again, Rhodes College is making five renewable $10,000 fellowships available to first-year Rhodes students who participated in Jewish life in their home communities. Fellowship awardees are expected to become active in Jewish life at Rhodes, including active involvement with the Rhodes Hillel chapter.

“I’m looking forward to meeting peers and gaining new experiences while participating in the Jewish Community Fellowship and Hillels of Memphis,” said Mandy Cassius, a Rhodes College freshman and current Jewish Community Fellowship participant. “I’ve heard a lot of great things from people who’ve been involved in these programs previously, and I’m looking forward to getting into them too. I’m from Memphis and the fact that Rhodes already feels like my extended family excites me the most. I can’t wait to make Rhodes a part of my home for the next few years!” 

Eligible students must apply for admission to Rhodes for the Fall of 2023 semester, be admitted, and choose to enroll at Rhodes. Fellowship applications will be reviewed by Memphis Jewish Federation and Federation will recommend applicants to Rhodes. A complete application includes a resume of current participation in Jewish life and a 500-word essay. The deadline to apply for the fellowship is December 1, 2022.

Learn more and apply here.

“We are thrilled with our ongoing partnership with Rhodes College, including the support given to the Rhodes Hillel chapter led by Hillels of Memphis Director Sophie Bloch and the annual Jewish Community Fellowship,” said Federation’s Chief Impact Officer & Executive Vice President Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein. “The broader Rhodes College community embraces Jewish life on campus and is always seeking ways to strengthen it.”

The first Rhodes Jewish Community Fellow began in 2016 and many more have followed, enjoying the gorgeous campus, wonderful and challenging education, and warm and vibrant Jewish life on campus.

The Rhodes College chapter of Hillel 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 chaired by Wendy Rotter. Rhodes Hillel focuses on cultural, religious, educational, and social programming and is open to all students regardless of background. Rhodes Hillel is managed by Memphis Jewish Federation and endowed through the generosity of an anonymous donor.

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By Mike Stein, Managing Director-Investments Wells Fargo Advisors, and a member of the Jewish Foundation of Memphis Professional Advisory Group

How much thought do you give your charitable giving? Do you simply write some checks or, more likely, visit organizations’ websites, make donations, and then get on with your day? If so, you’re not alone. But is that really the most fulfilling way to do it? Here are some insights from Kia Sullivan, lead fiduciary advisory specialist with Wells Fargo Wealth and Investment Management:

Having supported the philanthropic efforts of many clients over the years, I have found there are a number of benefits and obstacles that need to be overcome to get the most out of the experience. First the benefits: I have seen first-hand how giving one’s time, money, and energy on behalf of others can enrich personal and cultural relationships, enhance well-being, and build stronger, more vibrant communities.

Now the obstacles: Making meaningful decisions about how, when, and how much to give is not always easy. With over 1 million charities in the U.S. and social, environmental, and economic uncertainty, the choices can be overwhelming, even stressful. As a result, I have seen some individuals restrain their charitable activity despite their strong desire to give back. Others I encounter worry that their giving is scattered, often reactive, and only moderately satisfying.

Fortunately, there are ways to enhance the process of giving so that it’s a more rewarding and joyful experience on behalf of the greater good. When my clients ask how to make the most of their charitable giving, I tell them it starts with meaning (not money). Together, we explore their values, passions, and objectives to help bring focus and intention to their philanthropy.

How can you transform your giving into a more meaningful, fulfilling endeavor? Whether giving of time or treasure, a little planning goes a long way. Here are some guidelines to help get you started:

  1. Reflect: The first thing I encourage clients to do is take a look at past and current practices of generosity. Understanding your past behaviors will help guide your direction forward. As you reflect, consider how much of your giving decisions are based on feelings of obligation, gratitude, impulse, or even guilt. What’s the most meaningful gift you’ve ever given and why? 
  2. Identify your values: Values are the core motivating principles that guide our behavior and shape how we show up in the world. Knowing the principles and characteristics that motivate you is at the heart of meaningful giving. For example, if your core values are creativity, opportunity, and independence, you may approach giving differently than one motivated by tradition, effectiveness, and collaboration. Understanding that philanthropy is as unique as your fingerprint allows authenticity and meaning to penetrate the choices you make.
  3. Find a focus and write it down: Intentional philanthropy requires exploring your interests and passions and determining what issues matter most. I suggest choosing two or three areas on which to focus the bulk of your giving. Then write a philanthropic mission statement as a way to clearly express the intent of your generosity. A mission statement answers the questions “What do I stand for and what do I want to do about it?” This focus will help you prioritize opportunities, make meaningful decisions, and even help you say “no” when an opportunity is off-target.  
  4. Engage those you love and trust: Philanthropy as a shared experience fosters a sense of interdependence and cooperation and can drive greater personal and social change than may be achieved alone. Family philanthropy is also an opportunity to connect with one another, define what you stand for as a family, and pass down generational values. Whether giving as a family unit or with a trusted tribe, be willing to stretch out of your comfort zone and learn from others and from the communities you choose to serve.
  5. Attend to the details: It’s important to address the practical details of putting your generosity in motion. Establish a budget including charitable dollars and volunteer time, and consider parameters for discretionary and responsive gifts, even for those random acts of kindness. A budget can aid in planning and decision-making, bringing peace of mind so you can feel good about doing good.

Consider taking time to reflect on how you might find more meaning and fulfillment from your expressions of generosity. Talk to a professional financial advisor if you’d like to learn more about charitable planning and inspired giving.

Wells Fargo Wealth and Investment Management (WIM) is a division within Wells Fargo & Company. WIM provides financial products and services through various bank and brokerage affiliates of Wells Fargo & Company.

This article was written by Wells Fargo Advisors and provided courtesy of Mike Stein, Managing Director-Investments in Memphis at 901-761-8151.

Wells Fargo Advisors is a Corporate Partner of Jewish Community Partners, which manages the Jewish Foundation of Memphis and Memphis Jewish Federation.

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In commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Memphis Jewish Federation’s Memphis – Shoham Partnership is presenting Museums as Catalysts for Change, Tuesday, April 5 at noon via Zoom.

Featured panelists include Omer Deutsch from The Israeli Museum at the Yitzhak Rabin Center, Ryan Jones of the National Civil Right Museum, and Temple Israel’s Senior Rabbi Micah Greenstein- also a board member of the National Civil Right Museum. Memphis Partnership committee member Marci Hirsch and Shoham Partnership Chair Arela Hamou will facilitate the program, which will explore how museums can act as agents for social change and how they keep pace with ever-changing cultural norms while fulfilling their educational missions.

“The Partnership sees the importance of museums and sharing the impact of the National Civil Right Museum with Shoham and Shoham sharing the impact of the Yitzhak Rabin Center with Memphis,” said Marci.

Born and raised in Shoham, Israel, Omer Deutsch has a master’s degree in Education. After a decade in the formal education system she branched out into Israel’s non-formal education system as an educator at The Israeli Museum at the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv.

“I’m a firm believer that Israeli society has to continue growing and striving to make a difference,” she said. “As Yitzhak Rabin said, we must ‘keep what’s worth keeping, to change what needs to be changed,’ and there’s a lot that needs to be changed.”

Ryan Jones serves as Educator and Historian at the National Civil Right Museum, which occupies the former Lorraine Motel in Memphis, the site of Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968. In his role, Jones reviews and validates all interpretive and historical content shared by the Museum. A native Memphian, he attended the University of Tennessee at Martin, and is currently writing a dissertation on racial violence in Mississippi and Alabama, focusing on little-known cases that impacted Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s.

A long-time advocate and activist on behalf of civil rights, Temple Israel’s Rabbi Greenstein has served as an Executive Committee member and continues to serve on the Board of Directors for the National Civil Rights Museum. In recognition of his noted work in interracial reconciliation and interfaith initiatives, Rabbi Greenstein was elected to the National Board of Directors of the NAACP.

He has been recognized for his advocacy of human rights, with the Memphis City Council naming him Humanitarian of the Year in 2011. In 2016 he received Shelby County’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Be The Dream Legacy Award. In August of 2021, Rabbi Greenstein dedicated the first non-Orthodox synagogue in the City of Shoham, at which Israeli leaders noted how this milestone achievement would never have materialized were it not for the leadership and commitment of Rabbi Greenstein and Temple Israel.

“I’m proud of the role Temple Israel has played in effectuating positive change within the land of Israel as a revered partner in the Israel Movement for Reform Judaism and the Israel Religious Action Center,” he said.

A sub-committee of the Memphis-Shoham Partnership Steering Committee consisting of Michele Buring, Marci Hirsch, Liz Rudnick, and chair Keri Unowsky met with their Shoham counterparts to plan this fascinating look at two museums both honoring the memory and legacy of leaders who were assassinated while fighting for social change. To register, visit jcpmemphis.org/Memphis-shoham-partnership or call 901-767-7100.

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Juliana Kaitibi, Camp, Youth, & Family Services Director at the Memphis Jewish Community Center, speaks about her grant application for an inclusive summer camp program in hopes that the B’nai Tzedek students will provide funding. 

“Will this program happen without our funding?” “How many people would benefit from our grant money?” These are the questions Memphis teenagers, who are part of the B’nai Tzedek program, asked local Jewish non-profit leaders who applied for a B’nai Tzedek 2022 Co-Op Fund grant.

January through March is granting season for over fifty students enrolled in B’nai Tzedek, the teen philanthropy program at the Jewish Foundation of Memphis, led by Sarah VanderWalde, Director of Foundation Programs. Over the course of three meetings, B’nai Tzedek teens reviewed eleven applications from seven local Jewish organizations – Baron Hirsch Congregation, Beth Sholom Synagogue, Bornblum Jewish Community School, Memphis Jewish Community Center, Memphis Jewish Federation, Plough Towers, and Temple Israel. The total amount requested was over $14,000, however the teens are tasked with allocating $10,000, money generously provided by the Teen Philanthropy Co-Op Endowment Fund, created by an anonymous donor family in 2012.

“Due to the generous family who created the B’nai Tzedek Co-Op Fund, our B’nai Tzedek teens get to participate in the collective grantmaking experience, something most adults don’t get a chance to do,” said Sarah.

The teens ranked each application on a variety of criteria including consistency with Jewish values, creativity and clarity, whether the project is needed in the community, and whether it will change the lives of those it serves. Then the seven Memphis organizations who applied for grants met with the students – some on Zoom and some in person.

“This program enables our students to learn about the Memphis Jewish community. At each meeting, we look at Jewish values collectively,” said Sarah. “And for the final grant making experience, the students make strategic decisions, and ultimately allocate money that will change people’s lives.”

After listening to the grant applicants present, the students continued discussing what to do. “Is this truly needed or is it nice to have?” “If we partially fund the program, will they get money from somewhere else?” “I don’t see how this will help the Jewish community.” “Can we give them more money than they asked for?” “I am so excited for this program because Memphis really needs it.”

The students made their final decisions on how to allocate $10,000. They will present grant awards on Monday, March 21. More information can be found online at https://jcpmemphis.org/teen-philanthropy.

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Sofia Jalenak, daughter of Monique and Charles Jalenak, is a junior at St. Mary’s Episcopal School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemksy Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the cost of her NFTY program in Israel. All rising high school juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants up to $3,000 to attend a recognized teen summer or semester program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for Summer 2022 are now available online. To learn more and apply, please go to: www.jcpmemphis.org/lemsky-endowment-fund.

By Sofia Jalenak

The Israel trip to me was an experience like no other. I was able to travel with my best friends, meeting new people, and making stronger friendships. We stayed at so many different places with new people each time and meeting people from my camp I did not really know very well.

One place I will remember is when we slept and woke up early to hike Masada. The sunrise was beautiful, and I remember rushing up there thinking we were late, but we made it just in time. Another sunrise I remember is when I went to the IDF program. I had such a fun time meeting new people. I stepped out of my comfort zone and was away from all my friends and still had a good time. Unfortunately, I was not feeling good but the sunrise I was able to watch was pretty and a little bit worth it. Another memorable place was in the middle of the woods during the IDF training. The instructor led us single file into the woods at nighttime and told us we were not allowed to speak. I was able to sit there peacefully and watch the stars and reflect on my experience so far on the Israel trip. Once everyone was led out then we were all collected and led back to the camp. I will always remember how bright the stars were that night.

Just like when we were hiking in the desert, I will always remember the sunrise when we were waking up in the desert. I got close with so many people when we were hiking in the desert. The eight-hour long hikes made it seem like they were only thirty minutes because of the conversations and funny laughs we had. We would do trivia games and share jokes. Another sunset I will remember is the one on top of the roof in Akko. We had just gotten back from IDF training, and I had to say goodbye to all the new friends I made. We waited for the other buses to come and watched the sunset and saw the pretty pink sky shine bright on top of all the buildings.

The sunsets in Israel will always be my favorite thing. I saw them with all different people around me, including people I never thought I would ever be friends with or ever have the chance to meet. I watched the sunsets with new friends, old friends, and unlikely friends. It makes me sad to think that those times were the first and last times I was able to watch the sunsets with those people. I will forever cherish these memories and remember the beautiful sky and the beautiful people.

I am appreciative to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for making my NIFTY Israel trip possible.

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