Memphis Jewish Population

It’s finally time to polish up on your putt-putt skills for Hillels of Memphis 15th Annual Yiddishe Cup Mini- Golf Tournament!  A fixture on the Memphis Jewish calendar for over a decade, the fun, community-wide event for Memphians of all ages returns in-person on Sunday, April 23rd at 2 PM at Golf & Games.

The mini-golf format of the tournament makes this event accessible to people of all ages and all levels of golf experience – which emulates the role Hillel plays on campus as an inclusive and inviting community. “Hillel at Rhodes has allowed me to feel and learn about my Jewish identity and has enabled it to flourish. Through Rhodes Hillel, I have been given numerous opportunities to experiment with my role in my community, my culture, and my religion allowing me to grow as a young Jewish adult” said student President of Rhodes College Hillel, Samuel Cross.

Student President of University of Memphis Hillel, Aaron Bardos, adds: “Supporting and being in Hillel is amazing! Every event is fun, the food is great, and most importantly the people and conversations are amazing. I found that the Yiddishe Cup last year was an amazing way to bring people together around our common love of Hillel.”

At Yiddishe Cup, both mini-golf devotees and amateurs will have their turn on the green while competing for the highly coveted first-place finish. Anyone can form a team of four for $36 and sponsorship opportunities begin at $118. Teams will have the opportunity to win special prizes for a hole-in-one and other categories.

“Year after year, Yiddishe Cup has served as the primary fundraiser for Hillels of Memphis, a program of Memphis Jewish Federation,” said Sophie Bloch, the Director of Hillels of Memphis. “Funds raised from Yiddishe Cup directly support vital and impactful programming like Shabbat and holiday celebrations, Israel programming and interfaith events at University of Memphis and Rhodes College. Without this critical funding, many of Hillel’s programs could no longer happen. Last year we raised $18k which is the largest amount to date, and I’m confident that we can meet – if not exceed – that number this year!”

Hillels of Memphis boasts an active and engaged lay advisory council whose members appreciate the significance of Hillel on college campus. “Hillel is so important because it provides young people with a place to share, learn, and grow as their Jewish identity continues to develop during the formative years of the college experience,” said Hal Fogelman, co-chair of University of Memphis’ Hillel Advisory Council. “The Yiddishe Cup event is a lot of fun, and it’s always great to see young people come together, develop friendships, and participate in various Jewish celebrations and activities.” This year’s event is co-chaired by Audrey Siskind and Bradley Karasik, both of whom are champions of the Hillel cause and parents of children who have been involved at Hillel at their respective schools.

For Rhodes College and University of Memphis students, Hillels of Memphis serves as a Jewish home away from home. All proceeds from the event benefit students on both campuses through educational programming, social events, Shabbat meals and communal programming and events throughout the year. While 85% of the budget of Hillels of Memphis is funded through a generous endowment, the remaining 15% comes primarily from funds raised through Yiddishe Cup. The event will take place rain or shine with indoor activities at the facility, located at 5484 Summer Avenue, available. Registration, sponsorships, and detailed information about the event may be found at www.hillelsofmemphis.org/yiddishecup. You may also contact Hillels of Memphis Director Sophie Bloch at 901.452.2453 or email sophiebloch@hillelsofmemphis.org.

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Sarah visiting The Kotel during BBYO’s International Leadership Seminar in Israel

Sarah Hochman, daughter of Molly Haley and Jacobo Hochman is a junior at Houston High School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the cost of her BBYO ILSI (International Leadership Seminar in Israel) trip last summer. 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. Applications for Summer 2023 are now available online. Click here to learn more and apply.

By: Sarah Hochman

During three weeks of Summer 2022, I participated in BBYO’s International Leadership Seminar in Israel (ILSI). This trip was the voyage of a lifetime and my first ever trip to Israel. Over the three weeks we spent traveling across all of Israel, we were able to see and learn more than I had ever imagined to be possible.

From hiking the legendary Masada before sunrise, not only seeing but going into Ben Gurion’s humble kibbutz home in the Negev, learning how to surf with a nonprofit on a Tel Aviv beach, visiting and praying at the Kotel multiple times, and exploring a bustling Jerusalem shuk (market) before Shabbat, each and every day provided me with a new experience. Other activities we did and places we saw include splashing in the Sea of Galilee, floating in the Dead Sea, camel riding, rafting down the Jordan River, staying in Bedouin tents, rappelling down a crater, hiking through cool and clear waterfalls, singing together under the desert moonlight, and shopping along Ben Yehuda Street.

Each of these experiences deepened my connection to Israel and to the Jewish people more than I ever expected to be possible, reaffirming a bond I know will never be broken. I already am looking forward to taking another trip when I get the chance to go back.

When I arrived on the trip, I knew virtually no one. Being one of the youngest in a group that filled up four buses to their entirety was quite daunting. Yet, in the blink of an eye, I was surrounded by so many new friends who I still talk to every single day. These people have all changed my life, and I never would have met them if I hadn’t gone to Israel. Being on a trip with 160 other Jewish teens from a plethora of different countries leaves me speechless; it helped me to realize how much we have in common with one another even while living completely different lives in completely different places. We would never have met and become friends if it weren’t for this shared voyage, we all chose to do. It also was an inspiring and powerful example that Judaism thrives today in so many varying communities all over the globe.

Our various awe-inspiring guest speakers, fearless BBYO staff members, and knowledgeable tour guides affirmed this, giving us perspectives from all their unique stories and connections to Israel. Some of them were Israeli, some were immigrants, and all came from different countries and different Jewish backgrounds. Whether they were sharing memories of their time in the army or an interesting fun fact, they provided us with learning opportunities we would never have gotten from school or even an Israel trip with our families, and that knowledge will forever remain a great asset to myself and all who were fortunate enough to experience ILSI or any Israel trip. If nothing else, everyone (including myself) learned: there is nowhere quite like Israel.

Thank you to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping make my BBYO ISIL Israel trip possible for me.

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Pictured from left to right are Steve, Risa and Jonah Baer, Molly Franklin, Karen Franklin, Alan Harkavy and Jody Franklin

In celebration of Israel’s 75th anniversary, Memphis Jewish Federation is pleased to invite the community to a special evening with Alan Harkavy in conversation with Karen and Jody Franklin.

Taking place on Thursday, March 23, at 7:00 PM, “Journey from the Bible Belt to the Land of the Bible” begins in the Shainberg Gallery of the Memphis Jewish Community Center with a tasting of Israeli wines. Those attending will select wines that will be served at the May 17th “Shuk, Rattle and Roll” community-wide celebration honoring Israel’s 75th Anniversary at the Memphis Botanic Garden. After wine and light refreshments, the evening continues in the Belz Theater at the Orgel Family Performing Arts Center for Alan’s presentation and conversation with the Franklins.

Born and raised in Memphis, Alan explains he was destined to live in Israel: “As an American born Jew, I have been fascinated with Israel for as long as I can remember. In 1980, at the age of 17, I had the privilege of attending ‘High School in Israel’. It was then that my love affair with the Land was sealed, and it was then that I knew one day I would live in Israel.”

While in college, Alan studied Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University. He and his wife, Diane, met at the University of Michigan and after law school he returned to Memphis where he practiced law for 30 years before making Aliyah in 2014.

Alan went back to “school” in Israel and became licensed as a tour guide by the Israel Ministry of Tourism in 2017. “Becoming a tour guide allows me to do what I love every single day; connecting people to Israel,” explains Alan. “I am so grateful for the privilege of guiding individuals, families and groups of all faiths through this historical and magnificently beautiful land.”

Alan made the move from the “Bible Belt” to the “Land of the Bible” with Diane, and their four daughters, Annie, Gabrielle, Charlotte and Lily. He added “Saba” (grandfather) to his resume with the birth of his grandchildren, Levana (2) and Shachar (5 months).

Jody and Karen reaped the benefits of Alan’s training and experience first-hand by touring with him when they visited Israel in 2017. “And just like in high school, Alan began our “Israel Education” at the Flam winery. He educated and walked, hiked, and exhausted us; from the water tunnels of Jerusalem to the early morning hike up Masada!” They are excited to interview Alan and plan to have some “fun” questions for him.

This program promises to be a highlight of Federation’s Israel at 75 celebrations and is free and open to the community with advance registration.  Please RSVP at: https://form.jotform.com/230576278906062

Participants are invited to bring pictures of themselves in Israel to be included in the Israel at 75 video montage to be displayed at a later event. Photos will not be returned. Digital or scanned photos may be emailed to crichardson@jcpmemphis.org.  Please include the names of everyone in the picture.

For more information about the evening with Alan Harkavy or the community photo montage, please contact Federation’s Israel at 75 Coordinator, Jeri Moskovitz at jmoskovitz@jcpmemphis.org.

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Lily at the Haas Promenade on her first day in Jerusalem

Lily Hirsch, daughter of Marci and Geoffrey Hirsch is a junior at St. Mary’s Episcopal School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the cost of her NFTY Jacobs Camp Israel trip last summer. 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. Applications for Summer 2023 are now available online. To learn more and apply, click here.

During my NFTY Jacobs Camp trip to Israel, I was frequently surprised and comforted by the prevalence of Judaism. Every new place I visited, I thought “I wish I could spend more time here.” I’ve never been surrounded by so many Jewish people and seen so many people openly practicing Judaism. This experience was definitely unique and special to me.

The most memorable part of my time in Israel was the two-night camping trip in the desert. I spent each night in a different part of the desert and slept under the stars. Going into this trip, it was the part I was least excited about. Once I got to the desert, I immediately loved the scenery and knew I would love spending time there. I really enjoyed sleeping under the stars at night and waking up to the sunrise in the morning. It was amazing to see these incredible views.

On the last week of my Israel trip, six Israeli teens joined us and traveled around with our group.

It was so interesting to hear about their lives and compare our experiences. It was also fun to have people my age showing me some of their favorite things about their country. On the last day of their stay with the group, I ate lunch at one of their houses. It was exciting to see where my new friends lived and to have the opportunity to experience a traditional home cooked Israeli meal.

Sharing these experiences with the camp friends I have grown up with was the most special part of the trip. I don’t know if my connection to Judaism grew stronger during the trip, but I am so happy to have a connection to Israel and to have a better understanding of the Jewish community beyond my home.

Thank you to the Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky’s Endowment Fund for helping make this journey possible for me.

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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 jmoskovitz@jcpmemphis.org.

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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By Sarah VanderWalde

On Sunday February 5, more than 500 people walked through the Dixon Gallery & Gardens to celebrate TuBishvat, the Jewish New Year for trees. The sun was shining outside, music was playing inside, and community members of all ages discovered new ways to observe TuBishvat.

While planning the Dixon’s 2023 events calendar, Dixon’s Public Programs Coordinator Elizabeth Sloane noticed that the holiday of TuBishvat began on a Sunday night in February. On the Hebrew calendar, the holiday falls on the 15th day of the month of Shvat. “It was almost serendipitous, as the Dixon Gallery & Gardens is not just an art gallery, but also a robust garden full of trees,” Ms. Sloane said. “We are the perfect place for the community to celebrate TuBishvat, so I asked the education team if we could move our community day, which is normally on a Saturday, to a Sunday.”

With permission for the Sunday date granted, Ms. Sloane reached out to the Memphis Jewish Federation. Federation’s Community Impact Manager Lorraine Wolf was excited to get involved and referred Ms. Sloane to other Jewish organizations for partnership. “It was truly a community effort,” said Ms. Wolf. “We were thrilled with all the Jewish organizations represented there and the fabulous turnout from both the Jewish and broader community.”

The Dixon staff along with dozens of community volunteers brought TuBishvat to life. Outside the main entrance, children played with bouncy balls, hula hoops, Connect 4 and tic-tac-toe, overseen by teen volunteers from BBYO. Entering the lobby, families were greeted by a Memphis Jewish Federation table and handed a packet of seeds to plant at home courtesy of Federation’s Israel@75 initiative.

Inside the auditorium, local musician Jason Caplan played music and led a circle of kids playing home-made instruments. In the same room, Bornblum Jewish Community School, and the Memphis Jewish Community Center had tables set up with tree-inspired arts and crafts.

Leaving the auditorium, visitors walked through the art gallery and could stop to participate in additional tree-themed activities along the way. Many families with young children ventured to story time sponsored by PJ Library, a program of the Memphis Jewish Federation. Donning a home-made tree hat, Bornblum kindergarten teacher Ariel Figueroa read a story about trees to a packed audience.

“Having recently moved to Memphis, it was amazing walking through the Dixon and being able to recognize many people from the Jewish community, as well as from my daughter’s school,” said Lillia Osadzinski​​. “It is nice to see the entire Jewish community come to one event and be together.”

Continuing through the galleries, another favorite stop was in the education room where local Jewish artist Marisa Baggett demonstrated her tree-of-life painting process. While Marisa painted, visitors were able to add their own paint strokes, making the finished painting a TuBishvat community masterpiece.

Leaving the education room took visitors outside to a TuBishvat seder hosted by the Torah Mitzion Kollel. At the seder table, one could try a variety of fruits known for this holiday including figs, dates, and raisins. With a large crowd eager to partake in the food, they broke out in song and led the blessings of the different fruits in Hebrew, English and Spanish.

More tables of art were outside with teen volunteers in charge of different projects including create-your-own tree ring necklaces. Parents left with bags full of art projects, and everyone walked back to their cars with a Ricki’s cookie, a gift from the Dixon.

“It was easy working with all the different organizations within the Jewish community to make this day possible,” said Ms. Sloane. “We were thrilled with the turnout, especially with many people walking into the Dixon for the very first time. Come back and visit us because the Dixon is free until 2024!”

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Eliza Herman visiting the Kotel during her BBYO Passport Israel trip

Eliza Herman, daughter of Jenny and Larry Herman is a junior at St. Mary’s Episcopal School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the cost of her BBYO Passport Israel trip last summer. 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. Applications for Summer 2023 are now available online. To learn more and apply, click here.

This past summer was one that I will never forget because of my amazing trip to Israel. This was my first time going to Israel, and it was incredible to see how much my connection to the country and my faith grew throughout the three weeks I was there.

The decision to go on this trip was one of the hardest ones I have ever made because I would only know one other person. From going to the shuks (markets), hiking Masada at five in the morning, and especially hanging out with new friends, I can confidently say that I have made memories on this trip that I will never forget.

The trip started in Jerusalem with a tour of the Old City where we walked from the Jaffa Gate to the Zion Gate. This path included walking through an aqueduct underneath the city. We ended the day by going to the 2022 Maccabiah opening ceremonies. At this event, we met up with all of the other BBYO Israel trips where we got to watch the procession of all the countries and ended the night with a concert.

Another day that stands out to me was our day in Tsfat. This day consisted of a tour of the city followed by a discussion with a Kabbalistic artist that lives in the city. This talk stuck with me because it was so interesting to learn about a new side and way of Judaism that I did not know about previously. The artist talked about his life and how he grew up in America and then decided to follow his spirituality and move to Israel. He also spoke about how he uses his art to express some of the teachings of the Kabbalah. After this, we explored the city for ourselves and walked around the market. The day ended with rafting and pizza on the Jordan River.

Before I went on the trip, I knew I was going to love hiking Masada, and I can say that the experience exceeded my expectations. Our desert adventure started with riding camels at sunset which was so much fun. That night, we learned about the Bedouin culture while staying in tents. The next day started early with a 4:30 am wake-up so we could see the sunrise from the top of Masada. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the early wakeup and hike were well worth the view at the top. One of the most impactful moments on the trip was when the group sat in a circle and watched the sunrise at the top while saying a prayer for how we were all grateful to be at that place and in that moment together.

These were only a few of the many experiences that not only made me feel connected to Israel but also with Judaism as a whole. I feel like I have a home in Israel and made many friends from all over the country. Thank you to the Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky’s Endowment Fund for helping make this journey possible for me.

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Kotel (L to R) Ezra Davidovics, Yaakov Lubetski, Asher Liss, Eli Schloss, Izzy Weiner, Yehuda Kahn

Ezra Davidovics, son of Dr. Deena and Noam Davidovics, is a junior at the Cooper Yeshiva High School for Boys. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided him with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the cost of his NCSY Kollel Israel trip last summer. 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. Applications for Summer 2023 are now available online. Click here to learn more and apply.

By Ezra Davidovics

Last summer I had the time of my life on NCSY Kollel. It was a completely spectacular experience which I will never forget. The learning was meaningful, the rabbis inspiring, the trips amazing, the counselors fantastic, and the friendships I made along the way long lasting. While on Kollel, I could feel how much I was growing both in my learning and athleticism. I truly believe that if you are going to Israel for the summer, NCSY Kollel is the best and most worthwhile program to attend. 

Kollel, which is in Moshav Beit Meir, a moshav near Jerusalem, is a program which beautifully blends Torah learning and sports. It includes a rigorous schedule of six hours a day of learning, with world renowned rabbis, and an equally intense basketball league, which almost all of the participants are in. The program also has great “mini-tiyulim,” (journeys) for those who don’t want to be in the league or people with an off-day from basketball, which are trips around Israel anywhere from malls to yeshiva campuses. 

Every Tuesday during the program we went on big trips to amazing places throughout the Land of Israel. These trips helped me recognize the beauty of the land I call my second home and what it means to be Zionist. My favorite trip was when I went to go climb Har Yehoram and Har Yo’ash (mountains) in Eilat. This trip was physically challenging, as much of the climb was vertically up a cliff face, but also extremely rewarding once you finally get to the top. The climb down was also another two miles and took us three hours but once we were finished with that it was still 10:00 AM! After the mountain, we went on a boat and had water sports and swimming in the Red Sea. We spent a little time at the famous Ice Mall in Eilat but unfortunately not much there was kosher.

Other tiyulim were more educational, like the Gedolim (noted rabbis) tour. This tiyul was where we went from great rabbi’s house to great rabbi’s house in the city of Bnei Brak. It was very cool and inspiring to see all these holy people and hear words of Torah from them. We were accompanied by our head counselor who knew the city well and could tell us exactly where to go. 

Over the course of the program, through the use of free time and late nights, I managed to finish three quarters of the entire Gemara Maseches (Talmud Tractate) Rosh Hashanah. This was a goal that I took on early in the program and was a tall task indeed. With four days left until the day we were leaving, I was sitting with four dapim (pages) left. I rallied my chavrusa (learning partner), and we managed to finish them all before the final day, at a much faster pace than we were used to. This is what I consider my greatest accomplishment from this program as I worked the hardest for it. Overall, I would recommend NCSY Kollel to anyone and everyone as it was, in fact, the “Best Summer Ever.”

Thank you to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping to make my NCSY Kollel trip possible.

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Steve Blen, son of Alison and Scott Blen is a junior at Memphis University School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided him with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the cost of NFTY Jacobs Camp Israel trip last summer. 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. Applications for Summer 2023 are now available online. To learn more and apply, please go to: www.jcpmemphis.org/lemsky-endowment-fund.

I have gone to camp every summer since I was 8 years old, and I have been with the same people for all of these years.  I will never forget this past summer learning and having fun in Israel with my lifelong friends from Jacobs Camp.  Rabbi Jeff Dreifus flew to Israel with my group and was with us for the first Shabbat at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  We took a picture with him and the Memphis kids on my trip.

My favorite part of the trip was the “Sea to Sea” excursion. We slept under the stars for four nights and met people from many other Jewish summer camps. We hiked in the desert, sat around campfires at night and saw beautiful scenery every day. I still keep in touch with some of the people I met.  I especially enjoyed the visits with Arab families and hearing about what their life was like.  These meetings gave me the opportunity to see things from their perspective and the chance to expand my world view. We also met people in the IDF and heard about their experiences.  I was surprised to learn that they were not much older than me and impressed by their bravery. 

I also enjoyed normal days where we just hung out in Israel playing volleyball with kids on the beach and visiting families in their homes. 

 I saw my first cousin, Sydney Ellen, who was interning in Tel Aviv, and I ran into my sister, Stella, in a flea market, while she was traveling on a BBYO trip. My twin sister, Sarah was on the same trip as me. It was very special to be so far away, and be with Rabbi Dreifus from Memphis, members of my family and my camp friends.

Thank you to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping to make my NFTY Jacobs Camp Israel trip possible.

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BeWell Memphis Team:  Pictured L to R: Rebecca Frary, Rashki Osina, Kayla Salomon and Emily Davis

By Melinda Lejman

For most families, the term “first-aid” likely conjures images of a kit filled with Band-Aids and antibacterial ointment used to treat skinned knees and minor cuts. But when it comes to navigating the more complex challenges of teen mental health issues, where do parents and their children turn? Thanks to a grant from Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), Memphis Jewish Federation (Federation) will now partner with Wendy and Avron Fogelman Jewish Family Service (Fogleman JFS) to launch BeWell Memphis and train facilitators to provide teen wellness strategies in the community. 

The $16,000 grant is part of JFNA’s BeWell: Helping Teens and Young Adults Thrive initiative in partnership with the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies and is a response to national trends indicating teen wellness issues post-COVID. Recent statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health indicated that almost half of teens between the ages of 13-18 live with a mental disorder. 

Data collected by Federation via a parent and teen survey further indicated the need for mental health intervention. Of the teens surveyed, 78.9 percent reported experiencing excessive worrying, fear, and anxiety and 68 percent reported sadness or depression. Parents noted the difficulty of finding appropriate and affordable mental health services and the need for access to programming geared toward teens and families. 

Grant Beeber, a member of the Teen Wellness Task Force formed by Federation earlier this year, volunteered to go through the mental health first aid training. “I learned a lot regarding mental health disorders, stigma, challenges, and how to communicate with your peers,” shared Grant. “It really was eye-opening to me how much information is really behind this and I think when more people in our community experience it, we will all benefit.” 

The Teen Wellness Task Force, co-chaired by Rashki Osina, Fogelman JFS Director of Social Services, and Kayla Salomon, social worker with the Shelby County schools and BBYO advisor, was born out of Federation’s Needs Assessment and Planning Collaborative formed in early 2022. The purpose of the Collaborative is to establish a data-driven process that collects accurate and useful data to help determine community needs and necessary financial resources. Based on information and national trends exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, teen wellness was one of the early specific task forces formed as a result of the Collaborative. 

“A Federation collaborative can bring together all of the different agencies in the community and we have already seen huge success with the Senior Collaborative,” shared Susanne Landau, chair of the Needs Assessment and Planning Collaborative. “I think this is a role that Federation plays very well. One of the powerful things about this initiative and the other collaboratives is knowing that the issue really touches everyone.” 

The BeWell grant awarded from JFNA will be used to train facilitators in Youth Mental Health First Aid and Teen (Peer-to-Peer) Mental Health First Aid, including Emily Davis, LMSW, and Rebecca Frary, LPC-MHSP, both therapists at Fogelman JFS, as well as Teen Wellness co-chair Kayla Salomon. Once facilitators are trained in the First Aid programs, they will begin offering workshops to teens, parents, and teen professionals on how to recognize symptoms and signs in teens and encourage teens to seek help. 

“People forget that mental health is health,” says Kayla. “You know, if you have diabetes, you get medication for that. If you break a bone, you go to the doctor. [Mental health] is not embarrassing. And for us to be able to put a little bit of a Jewish twist on it makes it different from what you could normally get in the city.”

Although mental illness and mental health are becoming less stigmatized, it may not be a top priority for people to address, especially among teens with busy schedules. “We’re trying to break through that barrier by providing these courses that are nationally-known and evidence-based, where each participant gets a certificate after completing the course,” says Rashki. “And we are going to provide community service hours for the teens that come. So yes, we’re trying to teach, but also break through the stigma and these barriers that have been put up and have been very hard to break through.”

“A lot of times, teens are going to each other as the first line of defense,” adds therapist Emily Davis. “The course is empowering for teens to know what to look for among their friends as well. So, they can be an advocate for their friends and accepting of help.”

There is also an adult component for adults who work with teens to learn to spot things that might need to be addressed and provide resources that don’t necessarily require a professional. “It makes everything way more accessible, and decreases the need to go to multiple people or find a good therapist,” shares therapist Rebecca Frary. “It’s more about, ‘Have you tried self-care? What do you do to feel better? Here’s what I do to feel better.’ And it becomes more of a conversation and an exchange of information, as opposed to lessons learned from adults to kids.”

Mental Health First Aid trainings will be available at the Memphis Jewish Community Center. Please check the Fogelman JFS website for details on open classes and opportunities. The first class, open only to teen professionals who work in the Memphis Jewish community, will take place on February 15. Private trainings with an on-site facilitator are available for organizations for a small fee.

In addition to programming, per the grant requirements, Federation’s Teen Wellness Task Force will evolve into a Memphis Resiliency Roundtable modeled after JFNA’s national Resiliency Roundtable. The Memphis one will include representatives from all Jewish youth groups, schools, and synagogues, as well as community members passionate about this issue.

“I’m very excited that we were awarded a grant of $16,000, and we’ll use that money to train facilitators and empower teens and parents with the knowledge and strategies gained from the first aid courses,” shares Cindy Finestone, chair of Memphis Jewish Federation. “From there, with the help of Fogelman Jewish Family Service, we hope to gather feedback to see what’s resonating with our teens and what’s resonating with adults, and then follow up and offer additional programs to reverse some of the trends that we’re seeing.”

To learn more about BeWell Memphis, schedule an organizational on-site training, or to hear about other mental health services offered by Fogelman JFS, please contact Rashki Osina at rosina@jccmemphis.org.

Susanne Landau, Chair, Federation’s Needs Assessment & Planning Collaborative
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