-by Joshua Katz

Around ten kids my age were sitting at the table, and the only other person I knew was my brother. As my first B’Nai Tzedek meeting started, we got a little background on what exactly it was that we were doing. They told us we had $10,000 to donate to Jewish organizations around Memphis. Everyone in the room was awestruck, “Ten thousand dollars, that’s so much!” We all thought it would be so easy to hand out such a large sum of money, until we got the proposals from the community. After adding up all the proposals, the amount needed was over $40,000.

Joshua Katz - B'Nail TzedakWe looked over each and every proposal carefully, scoring them on their relation to Judaism, how much the organization actually needed the money, and so on. It was amazing how fast we were getting to know each other from this. Despite our differences we worked together agreeing, disagreeing, and coming up with solutions of how to split the money. After, our first meeting of several hours, we had cut down the $40,000 significantly. We all came back into our next meeting as colleagues and friends working hard at bringing our total down, until we made it to $10,000.

Each year after my first, I have had more and more compassion for the recipients that were receiving our grants. We read over the details of their specific needs, and it has made me realize how thankful I am for what I have. It is an amazing feeling at the end of each year, getting up in front of all the organizations, and knowing that the grant you are about to give them is helping out our Memphis community. It allows organizations to keep improving their programs, add new ones, and most of all give back to the people of Memphis.

Being placed on this special board has given me a new eye for charity. It is amazing how much the people around us do for the better of everyone, and B’Nai Tzedek has taught me how important it is to give back. Whether it’s a few dollars or hundreds of thousands, I have learned that every donation helps these institutions. B’nai Tzedek has given me a foundation and a start with philanthropy, so later on I can be a leader in my community, and give back to them as well.

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-by Molly Rogers

My journey in Israel started with a four day stay in the Negev. Before this adventure in the desert, I thought: “Oh, I’m just with a group of normal Jewish teenagers. It’s not like this hike could be very strenuous.” Boy, was I wrong! Throughout my trip, I kept a journal. This is what I wrote during my last day in the Negev:

Teen Israel Experience - Molly Rogers“We woke up at 4 a.m. to hike one of the tallest mountains in Israel, Mount Shlomo. It was honestly so hard, like if you took a wrong step, you could have fallen to your death. However, the feeling we all had once we reached the top was so overwhelming and inspirational. I felt invincible!”

While I might have been exaggerating a bit describing the “fall to my death”, the part about feeling invincible was spot on. Gazing out over Israel from the top of the mountain, I felt so blessed and content. I thought about all of the things we are supposed to thank God for daily but too often neglect. I was grateful for all of the invaluable relationships I was forming. I was grateful for my family and my happiness. I was grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity. I was grateful to be standing in the Promised Land.

I stayed in a group with my new friends Leah and Annie and my counselor Mor during the entire hike. We never left each other’s side. Throughout the six hours on that mountain, Mor was constantly uplifting us. She would say: “Smile, girls. It makes you feel better,” or she would sing us Israeli lullabies to soothe our nerves.

One phrase Mor repeated to us that I will never forget is baktana. In her words, this phrase means, “For you, it is nothing.” The impact that Mor’s words had on me are lifelong. Baktana does not have to only be used when you are hiking a mountain in the middle of the desert in Eilat. I still use it whenever I am having a bad day. Now, I truly feel like I can do anything.

Who knew that one day on this mountain with this one person could change my life forever?


Molly Rogers, the daughter of Michelle and Jeff Rogers, is a junior at White Station High School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the costs of her NFTY summer program in Israel. 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.

This year, JCP will supply 21 students a total of $52,500 for travel to Israel through the Teen Israel Program.

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-by Spencer Gruber

Similar to many people travelling to Israel for the first time, I was eager to learn the history behind the birthplace of our religion and people. I had heard many stories from other members of my Temple’s congregation, friends, and family members about their experiences in Israel, and one common sentiment that I inferred was the feeling of a “religious awakening”. Now, while I thought I knew every emotion one can experience as a 22 year-old, this was not one of them.

After enduring the flights from Memphis to Tel Aviv, one could expect to be fatigued. However, there’s no time for exhaustion because of the tight schedule throughout our trip.  From the streets of Tsfat to the heights of Mt. Gruber Greenstein Birthright ImageMasada, to the Dead Sea and Jerusalem, the country itself is magnificently beautiful, and can only be fully experienced firsthand. Attempting to describe the scenery would be doing any person who has never been a disservice.

While we had the opportunity to learn the antiquity behind each site we passed while travelling across the country via our tour guide, and also, learn from a well-versed instructor on the background and current events involving conflicts in Israel and the Middle East, our most important learning tool joined us a few days into our trip.

Americans on Birthright have the opportunity to interact with Israeli soldiers, who also chose to utilize this unique opportunity available to them. This presents a setting for similar, yet different, individuals to probe each other. We discussed everything ranging from hesitancies of meeting each other, to issues within our home-countries, to what we can do to grow our Jewish roots into the future. We even transgressed the deeper conversations, and many formed close relationships, with whom they would consider a “foreigner”, in a short period together.

Each person who visits makes the trip for their own set of reasons and has their unique individual experience. I think the reason many people feel a “religious awakening” after visiting, especially on their first trip, can be attributed to the people you meet, places you see, history learned, and experiences enjoyed that evoke a sense of pride for many from something new that they’ve ascertained.

Spencer Gruber, a senior at University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, participated in a Birthright Israel trip through Kesher, a project of Union for Reform Judaism, in December 2015-January 2016. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund supports Birthright Israel through an annual grant. To date, 424 Jewish young adults from Memphis have participated in a Birthright trip.
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Roger and Kathy Messigner live together inside Plough Towers, their walls covered with grandchildren’s art and math homework. Married since 2015, the two met at Plough, a place they deeply love.

“October will be 15 years. I moved in with my father as his caregiver. When he passed away, I was allowed to stay,” said Roger. “Both me and my father did volunteer work in the building. I’ve gotten involved that way.”

“He’s known as someone who took wonderful care of his father,” Kathy said. “He has that reputation. He’s a mensch.”

For the first of her seven years at Plough, she and Roger traded neighborly pleasantries in the halls. But at a funeral service for a mutual friend and Plough resident, their relationship evolved.

“The gravesite was far from the car. The grass and the ground is uneven, so Kathy asked if I could help her,” Roger said. “When she asked, I held her hand. We both felt the spark.”

They courted for a year, having meals together on and off campus, attending the symphony and theatre. At home, they bonded over Scrabble. One night, Roger prepared a special message on the Scrabble board.

Darling I love you so much

I want to spend the rest of my life with you

Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it

“I didn’t even know! Then he sat me in front of it,” Kathy said, beaming.

“Then I read it to her, and when we got to the word ring, I pulled the ring out.” Roger beamed back.

The couple has made a special life for themselves among their peers at Plough Towers, taking advantage of everything the facility offers and thriving in their time together.Messingers image

“We have one meal a day, lunch on weekdays, provided through MIFA and the Jewish Federation,” Kathy said. “The food used to be very bad. But it has definitely improved, within the last six months. Before, we wouldn’t go down, just have our lunch up here. Now, we go often, and it’s $1.55, that’s all we pay. Isn’t that something?”

They giggled through a list of other perks that bring joy and convenience into their lives, interrupting each other and finishing each other’s sentences. The beauty parlor; the computer lab and the courses it offers; the small library; the Plough Towers van.

“The van is very nice,” Kathy said. “They take people to the grocery store, take them to activities, shopping, to the synagogue.”

“There’s people who use the bus regularly to go to synagogue for Sabbath and Jewish holidays,” Roger said.

“Another nice thing that is wonderful is on Fridays once a month, we have one of the rabbis from the city come and give a Shabbat service,” Kathy said. “The cantor from Anshei Sphard Beth El Emeth, he came last week. We have challah and grape juice or wine and it’s lovely.”

Their list continued to grow. A modern television livestreaming Temple Israel services into the Plough common space; lectures and classes led by clergy and special guests from Israel; subsidized housekeeping; seasonal celebrations and holiday gifts.

“The kindergarteners and kids from the Jewish Community Center provide us with cards for the holidays,” said Roger “For Purim they might make us groggers or little cards.”

“I’ve had more interaction with the Jewish community and with Judaism since living here than I ever had before. Far more than I ever had, anywhere. Anywhere,” she said.

Last year, JCP provided more than $30,000 to subsidize senior and disabled adult housing with activities and housekeeping at Plough Towers, with additional funding going toward the Scheidt-Hohenberg Kosher Hot Meals Program. 

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