By Melinda Lejman
The opening night of the “70 Faces of Memphis and Shoham” exhibit was full of energy and excitement, not just for the subjects or the volunteer photojournalists who made it possible, but for the entire Memphis Jewish community. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the hard work of so many dedicated people come to fruition. As the Israel@70 coordinator for Memphis Jewish Federation, I was so proud to see such curiosity about and support for the project, but as a Jewish Memphian, I think I was even prouder.
The project came into being as a partnership between the Jewish Community Center, Memphis Jewish Federation, and the Memphis-Shoham Partnership and was a component of the yearlong celebration of Israel’s founding. The intention of the project is to showcase Jewish Memphians who are“under the radar,” those who are doing good work in the community as volunteers, those who have overcome adversity, and others who just have an interesting and largely untold story to tell. When Erez Kaganovitz, the creator of Humans of Tel Aviv, was scheduled to come to Memphis as an artist in residence with the JCC, Rabbi Mordechai Harris and Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein saw an opportunity to make his visit even more impactful. Thus, 70 Faces was born.
I remember how quickly things came together. We had to form a committee to oversee the project, and we had to brainstorm and curate a list of nominees. In retrospect, that might have been the hardest part of the entire project, as Memphis is bursting at the seams with mensches and “quiet doers” of all ages and from all corners of the Jewish community. Then, we had to recruit volunteer photojournalists to interview and photograph the subjects. Again, the amazing community we have here did not fail us – we found talented and enthusiastic volunteers who literally brought this project to life with their time, energy, and creativity.
Many of us had the opportunity to work directly with Erez, learning the art of interviewing subjects to get at the essence of their stories. Erez also taught us how to take interesting shots, trying out different approaches with us, and coaching us with patience. When Erez returned to Tel Aviv we struck out on our own to complete the Memphis side of the project,and I can tell you that we were all moved with every interview we conducted. I still get emotional when I think about the stories people shared with me.
Seeing the exhibit on opening night was just incredible. The lobby was jam-packed and basically standing room only. My family and I took turns weaving through the throngs of people to get a closer look at the stories and images on display,making room for one another. We heard over and over, “I have to come back and see this again!” There is something so special about the Jewish community we have here. I don’t know where the 70 Faces project will ultimately land, but I hope that it lives on to reminds us of our stories, especially when we forget that each one is vital to the story of Jewish Memphis.
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