On Tuesday, January 10, 2023 women from across the Memphis Jewish community will join to support Memphis Jewish Federation’s 2023 Annual Community Campaign and celebrate Women of Strength at a luncheon and VIP shopping experience. Second generation jeweler, mother of four, and entrepreneur Freida Rothman will keynote the event, which will also honor two Memphis women who have made a significant impact in our Jewish community, Ricki Krupp and Alla Olswanger-Lubin.

Tickets are on sale now and going fast. Get yours today.

“Federation plays such an important role in our community,” said board chair Cindy Finestone who, along with event co-chairs Jaclyn Marshall, Debbie Rosenthal, Jody Shutzberg, and Jessica Baum Sukhodolsky, is part of the leadership team planning this exciting event. “We are expecting more than 200 women to attend the event, all of whom will be asked to support the critical needs of our local and global Jewish communities.”

According to Finestone, Federation’s Annual Campaign is doubling down on its support of several critical issues impacting Jewish families including the war in Ukraine, rising antisemitism and teen mental wellness. 

“Campaign pledges made at the luncheon will support Federation’s efforts in all of these areas, plus ensure we can continue to support our infrastructure of local and overseas organizations.  We are especially excited that Elisheva Massel, Director, Strategic Partnerships at the Joint Distribution Committee will be joining us to share stories of the impact of our gifts in supporting families across the world,” she said.

In addition to inspired messages about the impact of our philanthropy, event attendees will hear the amazing story of Freida Rothman, a born-and-raised Brooklynite, whose messages focus on empowering women to believe that through positivity and optimism you can conquer any challenge. Inspired by the legacy of four grandparents-all Holocaust survivors- Freida’s stories match her exquisite jewelry with their ability to honor strength, hope, and resiliency. Immediately following the event, those in attendance can participate in an exclusive shopping opportunity offering the latest inspired designs from Freida’s collection. 10% of each sale will benefit Federation’s Annual Campaign. 

“Our inaugural Women’s Impact event was the last Federation program before the pandemic shut everything down,” said Laura Linder, President & CEO of Jewish Community Partners. “I’m beyond thrilled that we can now continue what we started in 2020 with this program and these distinctly dynamic women. Freida, Ricki, Alla, and Elisheva each embody powerful womanhood in different ways, and bringing them together for this event in support of Federation’s Annual Community Campaign strikes the perfect balance of heart and impact.”

Under the leadership of the event co-chairs, a host committee representing every corner and age demographic of our community has assisted in planning the details of the event as well as recruitment.  The committee includes Maureen Baum, Suzanne Baum, Marion Bessoff, Ellee Breit, Jill Buring, Hallie Charney, Bari Eiseman, Jackie Evans, Janis Finan, Karen Franklin, Marlene Gerson, Shayna Giles, Margo Gruen, Myrna Halpern, Elana Kahane, Karen Karmel, Justin Katz, Lisa Kaufman, Karen Koplon, Barb Lansky, Danielle Lazarov, Debbie B. Lazarov, Emily Lennon, Danielle Levine, Aviva Lewis, Betsy Libby, Sharon Lubin, Lisa Menuskin, Lindsey Reef, Shelley Robbins, Hillary Samuels, Sophie Samuels, Stacy Siegler, Lisa Silver, Audrey Siskind, Jill Steinberg, and Kathy Wexler.

The event will be held at 11:30 A.M., Tuesday January 10 in the Memphis Jewish Community Center’s Belz Social Hall. There is a $50 couvert, with attendance open to anyone whose household has pledged or commits to pledge $180 or more to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Annual Community Campaign. Tickets are on sale and expected to go fast. Click here to buy tickets.  

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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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“A part of me was now in Israel, and always will be. My summer in Israel will forever hold a special place in my heart,” said Memphis Jewish Federation Teen Israel Experience grant recipient Chloe Bullard upon her return from an amazing summer adventure. “I am truly thankful that I had these incredible experiences, and I will remember and look back at them for the rest of my life.”

With Memphis Jewish Federation’s announcement of the opening of the Teen Israel Experience Grant application period for the summer of 2023, experiences like Chloe’s are right around the corner for rising high school juniors and seniors and post-high school young adults in Jewish Memphis. Visit our website to learn more and begin the application process.

Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund, established through the generosity of the late Abe Lemsky, of blessed memory, enables Federation to strengthen the bonds between the Memphis Jewish community and Israel. Through Teen Israel Experience grants for high school students and Next Stop Israel grants for young adults, the Lemsky Endowment Fund connects young people to immersive Israel experiences. Data show that 100% of Teen Israel/Next Stop participants surveyed reported that Israel is more important to them now than it was before the trip. Interestingly, 93% of parents surveyed said that they themselves felt a greater desire to engage in Judaism because of their child’s trip.

“Before going on (my trip), I thought I had a strong Jewish identity, but not surprisingly, going to Israel made it even more clear,” said teen traveler Mandy Cassius. “It got stronger because of the people I was with like my new friends, my amazing advisors, and my trip family, which were my friends, advisors, and Israeli cousins.”

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, while young adults age 32 and younger are eligible for up to $4,000 in funding to participate in a recognized gap year, summer, or semester program in Israel. Grant funding is counted cumulatively – a teen who accepts a $3,000 grant to participate in an Israel program during high school will be eligible for a maximum $1,000 grant for an Israel program at the post high school level. Funding may be applied to program cost only, not to airfare or other expenses. A limited number of additional needs-based programs are also available. Applicant and parent responsibilities are outlined in the grant applications.

During the summers of 2021 and 2022, Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided forty-three teens with grants to help offset the cost of Teen Israel Experience Summer programs in Israel. Nine young adults have participated in the Next Stop Israel from 2021-2022 and eight young adults are currently in Israel participating in programs from 2022-2023.

“The first time we went (to the Kotel), I was blindfolded and led to a balcony to take in the sight for the first time; it was truly breathtaking. After my whole life of wanting to be in Israel, wanting to be at the Kotel, I was finally there,” said Nadav Weiss. “When visiting the Kotel for the first time it is customary to rip your shirt and I still have the ripped shirt because looking at it makes me want to go back.”

Applications for both programs are accepted on a rolling basis. For more information, contact Jewish Community Partners Manager of Community Impact Lorraine Wolf at lwolf@jcpmemphis.org. Jewish Community Partners is the management organization of Memphis Jewish Federation and the Jewish Foundation of Memphis.

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By Rebecca (Brown) Eisenstadter, Director of Memphis NCSY/JSU Chapter

In the face of rising global antisemitism, local Jewish teens will have the opportunity to celebrate their Judaism at a Jewish pride art workshop being offered by Memphis Israel Scholars on Sunday, December 4, 2022. The program, to be held at the Memphis Jewish Community Center from 1:00 to 3:30 P.M., will be led by artist and Israel activist Danielle Yablonka.

The art workshop is the latest in a series of programs offered by Memphis Israel Scholars, an initiative of NCSY/JSU. Memphis Israel Scholars provides Israel advocacy skills and leadership training to local Jewish teens of all backgrounds to help combat antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment. The program is generously sponsored by Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund.

The art workshop is a response to the global rise of antisemitism, an issue local teens are struggling with. Many are having trouble coming to terms with the fact that entertainment and sports figures they look up to are saying openly antisemitic things, and they are realizing – for the first time – that antisemitism is very real, and they aren’t equipped to deal with it.

The Memphis Israel Scholars program was created to address this issue, though when it was founded in 2018 it focused more on the need to prepare teens for antisemitism on their future college campuses. Today, that focus has evolved to address antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment that teens confront even before they graduate high school.

Memphis Israel Scholars kicked off its programming earlier this year with a workshop in October led by Yahya Mahamid, an Israeli Muslim who served in the IDF and has since dedicated himself to educating others about antisemitism and misinformation about Israel.

Lea Thomas, a senior at St. Mary’s, said the program really challenged stereotypes – in a good way.

“Yahya encouraged me to fulfill the Jewish value of loving our neighbors as ourselves,” she said. “Even though we both come from extremely different backgrounds, it was incredibly rewarding to share experiences and cultures.”

Brooke Sanderson, a sophomore at Goldie Margolin School for Girls, described Mr. Mahamid’s story as “really moving.”

“What stood out to me when he spoke was how when you see something (negative), you must speak up right away. Because if you don’t, it only gets harder (later on),” she said.

The upcoming art workshop is designed to help strengthen teens’ connection to Judaism because that’s the first step in combating antisemitism. They must be proud of who they are and where they come from in order to stand up for it, NCSY/JSU wants to empower as many Jewish teens as possible through engagements like this workshop.

The Memphis Israel Scholars art workshop is free of charge and open to all local Jewish teens. For information, email brownr@ncsy.org or call 504-235-6834.

Memphis NCSY/JSU is a division of NCSY, the international youth group of the Orthodox Union, and receives an annual grant from Memphis Jewish Federation.

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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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This time of year, the Jewish High Holidays inspire us to take stock of our good works over the past 12 months. By all measures this year has been extraordinary, with events that the world and we the Jewish people witnessed, some with shock and utter sadness, and others with joy and optimism. We are proud that our North American Jewish community has responded with generosity and loving kindness.

Conflict in Ukraine

Seven months ago, Russia invaded Ukraine and dragged the whole region into conflict and chaos. Federation communities and donors swiftly and compassionately reached into their pockets to give. Our system has raised more than $74.5 million to date and delivered support to more than 80 organizations doing lifesaving work on the ground, foremost among them Federation’s historic overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel, JDC, and World ORT.

Through Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) partners, Jewish Federations were there to help fleeing refugees as they crossed the border, providing them with food, shelter, medical aid, trauma care, and more. This urgent and timely response was possible because of the work we do day in and day out – thanks to Federation communities and your generous annual donors.

Thanks to Federation support, JFNA has been able to help refugees take the next steps toward resettlement, whether in Europe or North America; and if they were eligible to resettle in Israel, they helped them make Aliyah. They sent 91 Ukrainian and Russian-speaking professionals who rushed to volunteer and provided invaluable aid in countless ways, helping more than 35,000 refugees in Poland and Hungary. In addition to millions allocated by individual Jewish Federations, the JFNA system was able to deliver this help through more than $30 million in collective allocations. A representative committee of lay leaders from across our Federation system has diligently reviewed proposals, heard multiple briefings from experts and those on the ground, and made difficult decisions on how to best steward our communities’ precious dollars. Their work and the impact of Federations’ collective emergency support have been assessed and publicized in this ongoing series.

Until a short while ago, the mandate of the Committee was clear: to meet immediate urgent needs, secure individuals under immediate threat, expedite Aliyah and aid resettlement, and secure Jewish communal facilities and infrastructure as much as possible. With the crisis stabilizing for many, and with our partners able to draw tighter budget projections, JFNA is now looking further out on the horizon, past the end of 2022. New requests are shifting from urgent needs to ongoing ones, including those addressing the broader impact of the conflict in Ukraine across the region, most notably in Russia, where concerns over the health and well-being of the Jewish community are rising. Internal unrest in Russia following the call to conscript 300,000 men could see things shift yet again.

Since the conflict began, JFNA has proven ready to review and change direction as events demand. Now, they are rapidly reassessing the situation to determine whether a course adjustment is needed.

Aliyah from Ethiopia

Over the last seven months, Federations have also worked through JFNA to support a new wave of Aliyah from Ethiopia. Flights resumed on June 1, 2022 and Federation leaders, together with The Jewish Agency, flew with the first 180 Ethiopian olim to their new home in Israel. Earlier this month, another 60 Federation leaders accompanied over 200 more new olim on their flight to Israel. You can watch the moving arrival ceremony here and see history in the making!

For the first time in many years, there are currently more than 6,000 Ethiopian olim being supported in absorption centers as they start new lives in Israel. Each has an amazing story that instills in us hope and pride. JFNA is committed to raising $9 million this year to support Ethiopians making Aliyah, as well as those continuing to wait in Ethiopia.

Hurricane Ian

Jewish Federations of North America have been in constant touch with eight Federations in Central and North Florida, as well as those in Georgia and the Carolinas, to assess their needs in the aftermath of the storm. Unfortunately, the communities of Naples and Lee & Charlotte Counties sustained significant damage and face an extremely long road to recovery. Many members of the Jewish community lost everything – homes, cars, and life-long possessions. It is still not clear how many people have been evacuated.

In response to the devastation, Jewish Federations of North America’s Emergency Committee approved an initial allocation of $225,000 for immediate humanitarian relief for the communities hardest hit by Hurricane Ian’s devastating path.

The funds will be distributed to local Federations and Jewish Family Services for food, clothing and shelter; expert assessment on the community needs and effective deployment of volunteers; and support for kosher food.

You can donate to the Hurricane Ian fund here.

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