Memphis Jewish Federation’s Shoham Delegation Trip Strengthens Sister City in Israel Partnership

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Shoham Delegation with community teens at Beth Sholom Synagogue.

By Melinda Lejman

A dynamic delegation from Shoham, Memphis’ sister city in Israel, visited Memphis in early February bringing Israeli professional expertise, culture and warmth to both the Jewish and broader Memphis community. The five-day visit was part of the five-year-old Memphis-Shoham Partnership Together program, which facilitates meaningful connections between Israelis and Jews worldwide through people-to-people relationships.

Comprised of noted clinical criminologist and Ashkelon College professor Dr. Ronit Peled-Laskov, Shoham Partnership Chair Arela Koter and JAFI Shoham Partnership Director Amir Sela, the delegation’s visit was coordinated by Keri Unowsky, Memphis Partnership Chair and committee members Marci Hirsch and Liz Rudnick. Visitors enjoyed home hospitality from Keri and Dan Unowsky, Marci and Geoffrey Hirsch and Michal and Patrick Almalem. Community member Carolyn Schrier helped with showing our visitors around.  

While in Memphis, Dr. Ronit Peled-Laskov engaged four professional audiences on the topic of “Lessons from the Israeli Criminal Justice System on Reform and Recidivism: How International Approaches of Criminal Reform Might be Applied in the United States.”

One such event was co-sponsored by the Memphis Bar Association and was attended by a diverse group of attorneys, members of Jewish Foundation of Memphis’ Professional Advisory Group (PAG), a state judge, Federation and Foundation leadership and others interested in the topic. The CLE-accredited program was moderated by Judge Sheryl Lipman, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. 

“I was actually very interested in the discussion regarding vocational training programs in Israeli jails… It’s curious that Israel discovered something that the U.S. used to do well and no longer does,” noted attorney Greg Siskind of Siskind Susser, PC. “I was also struck by what Ronit said about jails being a place where people come out even more hardened criminals. I’m afraid we have that problem here in Tennessee… I’m glad to hear Israel thinks so much about this. I wish we would follow that example.”

At another continuing education program sponsored by The University of Memphis’ Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Research, Dr. Peled-Laskov elaborated on how from its founding, Israel has always taken a more rehabilitative approach to criminal justice.

Other professional meetings included the District Attorney’s office and one with Sherie Rosenblatt, an educator in the  county’s prison system.

Memphis teens were treated to a fabulous experience with Amir Sela, who doubles as an Israeli Pop Culture expert. Hosted by Beth Sholom Synagogue, teens learned about Israeli society through the lens of Israeli pop music.

“Learning about Israel away from a historical context was an amazing opportunity,” said Elijah Schaffzin, a 14-year-old freshman at University High School and a member of the Stand With Us Teen Leadership Council. “We delved into the rich and multicultural stories of several Israelis through music and, in doing so, we experienced the unique and beautiful diversity of Israel.”

To better understand the Memphis Jewish community while strengthening the partnership between the two cities, delegates visited some of our synagogues, the Memphis Jewish Community Center and our two day schools who have twinning relationships with schools in Shoham. “The Shoham team visit to Bornblum was great!” shared Michal Almalem, Jewish Studies Principal at Bornblum Jewish Community School. “They joined our students for Shacharit prayer… and they loved seeing our school, past years’ projects, and students in action… They spent some time talking to our middle school students… It was a meaningful meeting, and we can’t wait to visit Shoham with our 8th graders in April.”

To gain a glimpse into Memphis’ rich social justice history, delegates toured the Temple Israel Museum’s newest exhibit, “Righteous Among Men: Rabbi James A. Wax, A Life Dedicated to Social Justice,” and visited the Civil Rights Museum enjoying a private tour with Rabbi Micah Greenstein, senior rabbi of Temple Israel.

“We were so thrilled to have Amir, Arela, and Ronit here with us in Memphis. The Memphis-Shoham Partnership is all about fostering connections between our two communities, and there is no better way to foster those connections than by meeting with our fellow Partnership members in person,” shared Keri Unowsky, Memphis chair of the Memphis-Shoham Partnership committee… While the visit had many highlights…  the best part was the close friendships we gained. We miss them terribly already!” Federation’s Israel@75 Coordinator Jeri Moskovitz assisted with the planning of the visit and noted that “Our three Shoham visitors were an inspiration to all of us, bringing so much love and spirit to our community.”  For more information on upcoming Israel@75 events, reach out to Jeri at

Federation Israel@75 Coordinator Jeri Moskovitz introducing Dr. Peled-Laskov and Judge Sheryl Lipman at CLE program co-sponsored by the Memphis Bar Association.

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