Furthering Israel & Global Jewish Engagement, Memphis Hosts JAFI and JDC

by Steven Holman-

Dr. Ilana Kwartin, a JAFI representative, is pictured lecturing at a joint board meeting of Jewish Community Partners, Jewish Foundation of Memphis and Memphis Jewish Federation.

As part of Memphis Jewish Federation’s strong commitment to Israel and global Jewry, Federation recently hosted its liaisons from overseas partners Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to brief leadership and others in the Jewish community on its activities.

Dr. Ilana Kwartin, JAFI’s Regional Director of Western U.S. and Elisheva Massel, JDC’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, visited Memphis together in mid-November. JAFI and JDC are longtime partners of Federation, making up the bulk of its overseas granting. In addition to supporting the core programs of both agencies, Federation directs funds to JAFI’s Memphis-Shoham Partnership and to JDC’s Kharkov program aiding impoverished and elderly Jews in Ukraine.

A lawyer and women’s rights activist, Dr. Kwartin began her visit with a ‘Lunch and Learn’ for Jewish Communal Women Professionals on November 17, where she spoke about Israel’s new government and current women’s issues. She then delved into her own academic research and activism focusing on the hidden phenomenon of women in coercive, controlling relationships.

 “Dr. Kwartin is clearly an expert in her field and has so much to offer us about the intersection of law, politics, and gender in Israel,” shared Rabbi Sarit Horwitz of Beth Sholom Synagogue. “Her lecture was engaging, thoughtful, dynamic … She has so much to offer to our community, and to me personally as a feminist and a Zionist.”

At a special briefing for major donors, board members and Jewish leadership, Dr. Kwartin explained the intricacies of the Israeli political system and highlighted the unprecedented coming together of diverse political parties in the current government.

Later that evening, at a joint board meeting of Jewish Community Partners, Jewish Foundation of Memphis and Federation, both Dr. Kwartin and Elisheva Massel updated leadership on the critical work both agencies do in Israel and all over the Jewish world in caring for at risk and vulnerable Jews and in strengthening Jewish identity.

Together, they updated Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund Committee the next morning on Lemsky-funded projects in Israel that are helping Holocaust survivors, at-risk elementary school children and young adults, and Israeli soldiers grappling with their Jewish identity.

Elisheva Massel, JDC’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, is pictured facilitating a lecture for B’nai Tzedek students.

Twelve students who are part of the B’nai Tzedek Teen Philanthropy program at the Jewish Foundation of Memphis participated in two case studies facilitated by Elisheva Massel later that day. After the teens learned about what the JDC does and how it focuses its humanitarian work on countries outside of North America, the teens split into two groups.

One group discussed a situation of a natural disaster and how to survive. The second group had a more complicated experience when tasked with trying to figure out a way to leave a country being ruled by a dictator. After presenting their solutions to these precarious scenarios, the students heard firsthand how Elisheva herself left South Africa with her family. This was a unique experience for the teens who normally partake in learning about philanthropy locally, rather than on an international scale.

“I really enjoyed going to the recent B’nai Tzedek meeting where we listened to Elisheva from the JDC,” said Kyra J., a 9th grade student at St. Mary’s. “It was incredible learning about all the important work that they do. They help Jews in over 70 other countries. They provide assistance to elderly Jews and those living in poverty. They also help rescue Jews in danger and provide emergency funds for natural disasters.”  

To learn more and to get involved with Federation’s Israel and global Jewry work, please contact Federation Executive Vice President Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein at 901-767-7100 or

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