A large group departed from Memphis International Airport Sunday, traveling to Poland to begin their journey from Warsaw to Israel. The JCP/MJCC-sponsored trip will connect the travelers to their Jewish history, taking them to important sites from the recent past. Here, our director of community impact, Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein, sharesher thoughts and images from the groups tour of the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery.
Warsaw Jewish Cemetery. This cemetery wasn’t destroyed during the war, just neglected. It was cut off from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, so Warsaw Jews were no longer allowed to bury their dead there until after the war.
Walking through, you really get a sense of the diversity of Jewish life in Warsaw before the Holocaust. Buried here are diverse Jewish leaders from Yiddish author and playwright Y.L. Peretz to the Chasidic Rebbe of Slonim, as well as Zionist, Socialist, Bundist and Universalist activists.
I was particularly moved by the story of Warsaw Ghetto Judenrat (Jewish Council) leader Adam Czerniakow, who committed suicide in 1942 rather than hand over to the Nazis names of Jews to be deported to Treblinka death camp. He is also buried here.
The following is excerpted from an article originally published in The New York Jewish Week. It was written by Associate Editor Jonathan Mark and can be read in full here. If you have friends or family that would thrive in the Memphis community, invite them to the Taste of Jewish Memphis weekend, November 11-13. Learn more about the program on the 100 New Families website.
In a season when nothing escapes Heaven’s eye or mercy, let the angels note the renaissance of the Jews in Memphis.
By all weights and measures, the community should be dead or dying, as are most other communities of similar size and isolation. When we speak of Memphis Jews we can almost introduce you to each by name, for so few there are. The Jewish population is estimated at 9,000, fewer Jews than live in the Catskills in winter; one-third fewer Jews than in Albany. When you factor in the national Jewish percentages for the secular, the assimilated and the uninterested, the active population dwindles precipitously. But unlike so many other small Southern communities, the Memphis Jews are refusing to die. Happy warriors, confident, expanding, building, they are almost daring you to visit and not be seduced.
An ad hoc group, 100 New Families, supported by the Memphis Jewish Federation, is offering $250 toward anyone’s airfare to come to “A Taste of Jewish Memphis,” Nov. 11-13, a Shabbos with “Southern home hospitality.” The weekend includes a tour of the city, meetings with employment and real estate professionals (private homes within the eruv, near shuls, can be had for $200,000); visits to the two Jewish day schools; and another $500 toward relocation expenses. The group is also offering a three-month membership at the JCC, and a year’s membership at the more than half-dozen synagogues, from Reform to Conservative to Modern Orthodox, Young Israel and Chabad.
This is the Tashlich time of year, and this community suggests you throw your regrets and doubts into the Bayou Gayoso, in Memphis, or while standing on Chuck Berry’s Mississippi Bridge. After all, the New Year is a terrific time to consider running away from home.
The renaissance is across the board. A number of Reform and Conservative Jews in town have made a commitment to sending their children to day school and the Orthodox have supported an eruv, two mikvahs and two kollels, the better to attract and keep young families. Necessity is the mother of diversity. At the Bornblum Jewish Community School, 33 percent of the students come from the Reform temple, 28 percent from the Conservative congregation and 38 percent from Orthodox shuls (2 percent are unaffiliated. The second day school, Margolin Hebrew Academy-Feinstone Yeshiva of the South, is an Orthodox school.) There is also economic diversity, with tuition at Bornblum under $10,000, and 10 percent reductions for a family’s second and subsequent children.
Oh, don’t forget, say the recruiters, in Memphis there’s no state or city income tax.
If 9,000 Jews doesn’t seem like much, that’s about as many Jews as were living in one Manhattan neighborhood, Washington Heights, in 2002. That population more than doubled in the years since, and Memphis Jews think they can do the same. In fact, the two Memphis day schools are already more day schools than in Washington Heights and as many as in Riverdale (with 45,000 Jews, and one mikvah).
Several Memphis Jews pointed out that their incentives are not being made out of desperation, as they already have nearly a dozen Jewish institutions and thousands of affiliated Jews. The Memphis incentives are being promoted as the next step in a renaissance, not a first step or a step too late.
Memphis is the largest city in Tennessee, more than 650,000 people whose stories have been told by the likes of W.C. Handy, Chuck Berry, Paul Simon, Johnny Cash, Sun Studios and the blues men of Beale Street. “If Beale Street Could Talk,” goes one of the songs, and the innocent better leave the room before Beale Street starts talking. Almost every Jew in Memphis, it seems, can tell the stories of how Elvis was the greatest “Shabbos goy” this river town ever knew. Long before he moved into Graceland, it seems there wasn’t a Jewish tenement that didn’t know his curled lip and very polite “Yes, ma’am,” if he’d be told, “Elvis, it’s a little dark in here, could you, you know,” and he knew.
Rachel Siegel, an occupational therapist, and her husband, Joel, a pediatrician, moved from the Upper West Side to Memphis in 2004. Joel, now 38, and Rachel, now 36, came and stayed, without regret. Members of the Hadar community in Manhattan, Joel is past president of the Margolin Hebrew Academy and on the board of the JCC. They are perfectly pleased with the “superb education” that their four children are getting at Margolin.
Speaking by telephone from Memphis, Joel recalled that after medical school, “I was looking for a residency opportunity; Rachel was looking for a master’s program in occupational therapy. We spent a Shabbat, to see the Jewish community, and we were very impressed. Twelve years later, we’re still here.”
Both of their programs required a three-year commitment. “So,” said Rachel, “we had three years to figure it out. A year and a half later, we had a child. The Jewish community was wonderful, family-friendly and affordable — and less stressful.” Joel explained that he now had just a two-minute commute. Rachel adds, “I can drop off my kids and get to work in 15 minutes.” And no alternate-side parking and rushing to move the car. “People here live a more relaxed lifestyle,” said Rachel. “The other week was the annual kosher barbecue fest that brings the whole community together.”
On Sunday, October 30 at 10:00 a.m. family, friends and “furry friends” will gather in the rose garden at Temple Israel for “Pause for Paws,” a dog walk to honor the late Dr. Karin Gubin. The event, being held almost exactly 2 years to the day of her untimely passing, is the first of several that will raise funds for the newly created Dr. Karin Blinder Gubin Memorial Fund. Contributions to the fund will be used to carry out Dr. Gubin’s passions of women’s empowerment and healthy living.
“We are excited about the first event,” said Scot Lansky, committee member and event organizer. “Everyone who signs up will receive a t-shirt and a bandana for their dog. We will start and end at Temple Israel.”
Friends and family of Dr. Karin Blinder Gubin, of blessed memory, gathered at the home of her husband Dr. Steven Gubin to launch the Karin Blinder Gubin Memorial Fund.
“This event will pull together people from across the community,” said Laurie Scheidt, also a committee member and event organizer. “She was a truly special person whose kindness and spirit touched so many people.”
The Dr. Karin Blinder Gubin Fund was established in 2015 by friends and family to honor Dr. Gubin who died suddenly in 2014. The Fund aims to celebrate the life of a creative, talented and extraordinary woman who gave so much to others in need. According to the fund’s mission statement, “Her love for her family was immeasurable and her fierce loyalty to her friends unmatched. Through this fund her friends and family will carry on Karin’s commitment to women’s empowerment; healthy living; nurturing mind, body and spirit; and caring for others.”
To participate in the “Pause for Paws” dog walk or to make a donation to the Dr. Karin Blinder Gubin Memorial Fund, visit our website. Please note, only friendly dogs that get along and play well with their peers are welcome.
Have you built your family sukkah this year? Snap a photo and share it with us. We want to see how your family celebrates the holiday, eating or even sleeping outside in the wilds of your Mid-South backyard.
We’ll compile a pictorial of all submissions and share it with the community after the holiday. Please share any thoughts about the way your family celebrates Sukkot traditions today, or personal memories from the past. We’d love to see your lulav, your etrog, or the more local produce and foliage you’ve sourced as a modern Memphis replacement. To that point, here’s an article from the Forward about how you can help reduce the global Sukkot carbon footprint by ditching the traditional Four Species for flora with a more domestic origin.
The Nobel Prize goes to global titans in literature. Harold Pinter. Alice Munro. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Toni Morrison. Bob Dylan?
Citing Dylan’s “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” the Swedish Academy has named the iconic Jewish singer/songwriter as the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in literature, the first artist known primarily as a musician to claim the prestigious prize.
Over a career spanning more than half a century, Dylan has given hundreds of songs to the world, many steeped in Jewish imagery and whispers from the Torah. It’s no surprise, either. Born Robert Zimmerman, his father was president of Hibbing, Minnesota’s B’nai B’rith, while his mother served as president of the local Hadassah. All four grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe, and spoke Yiddish at home. As an adult, Dylan even sent his kids to the same Jewish summer camp he himself attended as a teenager, and conducted private studies with rabbis.
We’ve rounded up three of his more Judaically-influenced tunes for your viewing/listening pleasure, spanning the many weird and wonderful phases of Dylan’s career. We’ll start with one that’s particularly unusual; Dylan performing ‘Hava Nagila’ for a Jewish telethon, seemingly in the early 80s. He’s joined on stage by his son-in-law Peter Himmelman and the actor Harry Dean Stanton.
“Oh, God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son!’ / Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on.” The Binding of Isaac makes a prominent appearance in the classic song “Highway 61 Revisited”, with Dylan’s version of the story occupying the first verse of the song. Here he is with his ace touring band, performing the song at a California festival about a week ago.
“The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land
He’s wandered the earth an exiled man
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn
He’s always on trial for just being born
He’s the neighborhood bully”
That’s the third verse of “Neighborhood Bully”, Dylan’s pro-Israel anthem from his 1983 album Infidels. The song came right after Israel’s controversial 1982 Lebanon War, a period of uncertainty for many Israelis, who were in an intense period of questioning their government’s actions toward neighbors. Here, Dylan uses irony to make his point about Israel’s right (and duty) to protect itself.
Jewish Community Partners President and CEO Laura Linder announced that applications are now being accepted for participation in a new 7-part leadership seminar created to honor the memory of long-time Jewish communal leader Kay Usdan Saslawsky.
The Kay Usdan Saslawsky Institute for Ethical Leadership grew out of a desire to honor Kay’s memory in a meaningful and lasting way. When she passed away suddenly in May 2015, Kay’s friends and family formed a committee to brainstorm project ideas that would make a real impact in the community as well as convey the type of person she was and the values she embraced. It was not long before they rallied around the idea of continuing Kay’s legacy of ethical leadership through the creation of a community leadership program.
“Kay was an optimistic and caring person,” said Melody Usdan, Kay’s daughter-in-law and a member of the committee. “She had a way of bringing people together and building consensus, even when difficult community issues were on the table. We are hopeful that program participants will be inspired to carry on her legacy of leadership through their participation in this program.”
The leadership training curriculum was written by award-winning writer and educator Dr. Erica Brown and covers timely and important topics, such as inspired communication, mentoring others, effective change management, growing from failure, and creating a leadership pipeline. Sessions are designed to be interactive and will provide participants (Fellows) with practical tools and techniques to help them advance their leadership skills. Each session will include a leadership case study as well as a Jewish text study component.
Rachel Shankman, founding director of the Memphis regional office of Facing History and Ourselves, will co-teach the program along with Rabbi Feivel Strauss, Senior Educator for Temple Israel.
“Rachel Shankman and Rabbi Feivel Strauss are knowledgeable, dynamic leaders whose contributions to the Memphis Jewish community have been invaluable,” said Ms. Linder. “We are so excited to see them come together as a team to train a group of Fellows that will work to steward a sustainable and thriving Jewish community in Memphis for many years to come.”
The volunteer committee will accept applications from interested candidates through November 7. The ideal candidate will have a history of active involvement in the Memphis Jewish community and be prepared to step up his or her involvement following the completion of the program. All ages and backgrounds are appropriate, but Fellows must be willing to engage with each other and listen respectfully to all the voices in the room. They must also commit to attending every session. While JCP is heavily subsidizing the program, there is a participation fee of $250, payable in two installments, to cover program materials and included meals (need-based scholarships available).
The General Assembly convenes thousands of volunteer and professional leaders from Federations across North America, along with those in the business of Jewish philanthropy from around the world. Obviously, we’re pretty into Jewish philanthropy around the world. But we’re also pretty into Watch What Happens: Live, mostly because we feel like we’re friends with its host Andy Cohen.
Now, Jewish philanthropists from across North America have a shot at actually making friends with the guy.
This year’s GA kicks off in Washington D.C. November 13, with a luncheon featuring the Emmy and Peabody award winning TV host, producer and bestselling author. To attend the luncheon, guests must be members of the Joshua Society, having made a household gift of $10,000-$24,999 to their Federation’s Annual Campaign.
That evening, the Prime Minister’s Council and King David Society present Courage, Resilience, and Achievement at the brand-new National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Smithsonian Institution’s 19th and newest museum. This elegant event will feature Susanna Heschel, the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights leader who marched in Selma with Rabbi Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Attendees must be a member of the King David Society or Prime Minister’s Council (minimum respectively $25,000/$100,000) or have created a current or future estate plan commitment (minimum of $500,000) at your local Federation or Jewish Community Foundation. Adult children of members are encouraged to attend.
Fortunately, the rest of the GA is more accessible. Visit their website to register, and to learn more about the other symposia, and the totally awesome keynote speakers, like the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg (The RBG!), NBC News journalist Chuck Todd, and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the international religious leader, philosopher and award-winning author. Check out the full list of speakers here.
Make sure to register soon, as the deadline looms. Cut off for registration for both exclusive November 13 events is October 21.
The GA is an annual event for people committed to giving through Jewish Federations. This premier annual conference will take you on a journey to explore how Federations help shape purposeful Jewish communities. And how our movement has forged a course that continues to touch millions of lives on every continent. Explore your Jewish journey at the 2016 General Assembly.
Last weekend, forty-two new Jewish Memphians, ranging in age from toddler to senior and hailing from such far-flung spots as Seattle, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chattanooga, and Albany, were welcomed at a brunch last week sponsored by Jewish Community Partners and held at the home of Jill and Ken Steinberg.
Helping newly relocated Jewish families make their first connections in Memphis is an important part of our efforts to engage these new Memphians in communal and cultural activities that keep them connected to other Jews, and to our city’s vibrant Jewish community. We provide a Welcome Bag to every new arrival we hear about (more on that later!), thanks to a generous subsidy from a donor, through his Donor Advised Fund at the Jewish Foundation, but social gatherings, like last weekend’s brunch are dependent upon money gifted by you, members of the community, during our Annual Community Campaign.
Not so much new, a group of “returning” Memphians was also included in the brunch— young men and women who grew up in Memphis, attended college out of town, and recently returned to Memphis as adults.
“It was wonderful to see this part of our community represented,” said Laura Linder, President and CEO of Jewish Community Partners. “Our welcome program is called Choose Jewish Memphis, and we wanted to acknowledge the fact that these recent college graduates have chosen to return to Memphis. We’re delighted and honored to welcome them back into our community.”
Last year, JCP had to make a tough decision about the yearly welcome brunch, ultimately canceling it for lack of funding. With this year’s Annual Community Campaign set to launch in about a month, it’s still up in the air as to whether the event will remain bi-annual, or return to a yearly gathering.
Jewish Community Partners’ volunteer committee, dedicated Lions of Judah, assisted in planning the brunch and assembling the welcome bags. A big shout-out to Bobbie Shainberg, Rayna Greenberg, Rhonda Saslawsky, Billie Pierce, Cindy Finestone, Evelyn Makowsky, Stacy Vogel, and Jill Steinberg.
WE can only reach out to new arrivals that we hear about from our friends and supporters. If you know a family or individual that has just begun living in Memphis, please let Gila Golder, JCP’s Community Impact Associate, know about them. Give her a call at 901-654-2151 or send her an email: email@example.com.
I was born in Israel and I have visited Israel many times. But the trip I took this past summer was the most meaningful trip to Israel I have ever had. All my past trips have always been to see family; I had never actually seen many of the usual tourist attractions.
Going to Israel with all my friends was a truly inspirational experience. I was privileged to have the opportunity to visit my homeland and see all the attractions I had never seen, and I also was able to witness my friends experiencing Israel for the first time ever.
I remember going to the Western Wall on our first day of touring. I had visited the Western Wall many times before, but this time it was different. Before we got to the Western Wall, our tour guide walked us through the Old City of Jerusalem and explained its rich history. I had never learned about the history of Jerusalem in any of my previous visits to Jerusalem, and I was so fascinated to discover all the different cultures that had left their mark on the city. Our tour guide, Ron, took us to his favorite spot overlooking the Western Wall. I remember looking down at the Wall and feeling happy and proud. I saw that one of the other tour groups from my trip had already reached the Wall, and I could see my friend standing about thirty feet from the Wall just looking at it. It was his first time in Israel.
When we finally got to the Wall, I had an experience I will never forget. For some people, the Western Wall is just a wall, but for others it is the holiest site of the Jewish people. Many of my friends were awestruck and simply stood gazing at the Wall for several minutes, while others began to cry. I went up to the Wall and touched it, I felt the coarse stone as I ran my palm over the ancient bricks, and I felt the notes that contained the hopes and wishes of our people. I stood there for almost ten minutes thinking, and that day I realized what the Wall meant to me. I see it as the holiest site in the Jewish world, and a symbol of our people’s perseverance. We have been through so much and we have more than just survived— we have thrived. Countless nations have tried to destroy us, but today, here we stand while they are gone. Like us, the Wall has stood for years and years and has not fallen.
Once I understood what the Western Wall meant to me, I began to pray. I felt that I had to pray at the Western Wall while I was there. Every time we pray, we always stand and face the direction of the Western Wall, even if it happens to be thousands of miles away. I thought to myself, “Thousands of people are praying in the direction of the Western Wall right now, how can I not say a few prayers while I am right here?” I am not religious, so I just said a few small prayers that I knew, the Shema and the beginning of the Amidah. When I finished praying, I went to find my friends. I wanted to be with my friends as we all stood at the Western Wall. There is something powerful about being surrounded by your best friends as you visit the holiest site of your people. My friends and I embraced each other and we were all grateful to be in Israel together.
This visit to the Western Wall furthered my connection to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
Robin Du, the son of Tamar Hershkovitz and Ziyun Du, is a senior at White Station High School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided him with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the costs of his BBYO program in Israel in Summer 2016. All rising juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants of up to $2500 to attend a recognized teen summer program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for summer 2017 will be available in November at www.jcpmemphis.org/lemsky-endowment-fund.
PJ Our Way, the newest chapter of PJ Library for kids ages 9-11, is now available in Memphis!
After a successful pilot period which began in October of 2014, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation is thrilled to announce that PJ Our Way will now be available to tweens throughout the United States!
PJ Our Way has been bringing Jewish books into older children’s lives as effectively as PJ Library has done with younger children. And now kids in Memphis can join the thousands of kids around the country who are enjoying free books.
Building on the success of PJ Library, which gives the gift of Jewish children’s books each month to more than 150,000 children in North America, PJ Our Way allows program participants to select one of four books every month, giving them more choice on their journey toward being life-long readers while introducing them to Jewish ideas.
“We believe these stories and their values help shape young people in their understanding of being Jewish, and it’s our hope that PJ Our Way will ultimately build a strong community of young Jewish people,” said Harold Grinspoon, Founder of PJ Library and PJ Our Way.
As part of the program, PJ Our Way participants can create book trailers, videos, quizzes, author interviews, and other media to communicate with peers about the books. The PJ Our Way website provides these new avenues for discussion.
“We’ve thought a great deal about how to engage older readers by giving them more say in what they read and then giving them creative platforms to talk to their peers about the books,” said PJ Our Way Director Catriella Freedman.
One way in which PJ Our Way encourages kids to be creative is through participation in the national Design Team. Design team members have early access to books, create videos and reviews, interview authors, participate in workshops, and lead the conversation among their peers. PJ Our Way subscribers can apply to be a part of the national Design Team each October.
The PJ Our Way program is supported by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation based in Agawam, Massachusetts. PJ Library is funded by local philanthropists Billie and Joe Pierce Family and Memphis Jewish Federation in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Sign-up today.
About PJ Library
PJ Library is an award-winning Jewish family engagement program designed to strengthen the identities of Jewish families and their relationship to local Jewish community. Created by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, PJ Library started in 2005 by providing free, high-quality Jewish books and music each month to 200 families. Now, more than 150,000 children between the ages of six months and eight years receive the books in more than 200 communities in the United States and Canada. In addition, more than 260,000 schoolchildren in Israel receive Hebrew language, Jewish values-based books through PJ Library sister’s program, Sifriyat Pijama. PJ Library is also available in Australia, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Russia, Latin America, and Singapore, with further international expansion anticipated. Originally inspired by Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library which sends books to children in underprivileged areas of the US, PJ Library (“PJ” is short for “pajamas”) strives to contribute to the magic that books bring to bedtime. The Harold Grinspoon Foundation works in partnerships with philanthropists and Jewish non-profit organizations to bring PJ Library to families raising Jewish children. For more information, visit www.pjlibrary.org.