Memphis Jewish teens

Ava Jalenak, daughter of Monique and Charles Jalenak, is a junior at St. Mary’s Episcopal School (pictured left). Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemksy Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the cost of her NFTY program in Israel. 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. Teen Israel Experience applications for Summer 2022 are now available online. Click here to learn more and apply.

By Ava Jalenak:
This summer I went on the most amazing trip and made so many memories that I will never forget.  Also, I created many deep connections with friends, and I am so thankful for the friendships.
I saw some of the most beautiful scenery ever and will never forget the beauty. As well as connecting with other Jewish teens, I also connected with my Jewish faith and identity throughout the trip. Everywhere we went was meaningful to how I view our faith and culture. One of my favorite places was the Negev desert. Even though the desert was extremely hot and exhausting to hike for hours, our surroundings and all the views were worth it. At night it was cool, and you could see all the stars in the sky. It was so peaceful, and I would do anything to go back there. On the last day of hiking in the desert, we went to the top of a mountain and the wind was so strong it made your eyes water. The view of three different countries was so amazing and I can still picture it.
Another one of my favorite places was Tel Aviv. The beaches were so pretty, and it was fun to see what the beaches were like in Israel. The city life was so cool to experience, and the food was amazing. During the day, sometimes we would go to markets for lunch and to buy things. It was cool to see how busy the markets were packed with tons of people.

Along with being with my best friends from camp, I met lots of new people and I immediately connected, and we all became friends. This included most of the people on my bus and people from the different buses in our Adventure One group.  It was so much fun to share these connections with other Jewish teens my age. I also think sharing a faith, especially Judaism, creates an immediate bond between people before you even get to know them.  I still keep in touch with a lot of the friends I made on this trip. I am so thankful to have made these friendships and connections with teens all over the U.S. I am also very thankful for meeting the Israeli teens my age and becoming friends with them as well! I am trying to stay connected with them even though they are across the world.
I also loved seeing the holy sites like the Western Wall and the old synagogues. I feel like experiencing those sites made me become more in touch with my Jewish faith and identity, and it made my love for my religion grow even more. Seeing the culture in Israel was also too cool and it made me fall in love with the country.  My Israel experience was by far the best trip of my life, and I would go back to Israel in a heartbeat if I had the chance.
I am appreciative to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment for helping to make my NFTY Israel trip possible.

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Jonas Kannady, son of Rachel and Geoff Kannady, is a senior at White Station High School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided him with a Teen Israel Experience grant to offset the costs of his BBYO program in Israel. All rising juniors and seniors are eligible for grants of up to $3,000 to attend a recognized teen summer or semester program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for Summer 2022 are now available online. Click here to learn more and apply.

By Jonas Kannady

First, I would like to start out by saying, thank you. I honestly would not have been able to go to Israel if I had not received Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund scholarship. Israel was by far one of the best experiences of my life.
From when I first arrived at the airport in Newark until I left Newark after the trip, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. During my time in Israel, I was able to have an experience not all Jewish teens have, let alone Jewish people have, which is just being in Israel. With that being said, it is an experience I will never forget.
The impact this trip had on me is everlasting. Israel gave me the experience to be able to connect with Jewish history I had been told about and heard stories about before I can remember. Being able to see these places in person was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This trip also gave me more connections with young Jewish teens. I was able to spend three amazing weeks in Israel with people who live in California to people who live in Florida and all in between. Some of the people have turned into my best friends, some of whom I still talk to every day.
Having the experience to walk down streets like Ben Yehuda Street, the streets of Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem, along with seeing the beautiful country was amazing. One of my fondest memories while in Israel was when we stayed at a Kibbutz Menara, located in the upper Galilee close to the Lebanese border. While we stayed at the Kibbutz, we learned about life in the Kibbutz and witnessed it first-hand. While at the Kibbutz we heard amazing stories about growing up and living in the Kibbutz. Along with the Kibbutz experience, I visited the Golan Heights, Gaza Strip border, and experienced a jeep ride. Those experiences I saw and the threats I heard about were remarkable. Those experiences and visits honestly made me feel 1000% more connected to Israel which is more connected in those moments to Israel than I had ever been. The thought of Israel being gone from one of those neighboring states made me realize and appreciate Israel more than ever.
Witnessing the Holocaust Memorial was one of the most impactful things of all especially being able to learn more about the most tragic event in Jewish history. The one thing I remember the most from all the memorials is walking through the Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem. Walking through the memorial and hearing the voice over the speaker saying name after name nonstop of the children killed during the Holocaust will forever resonate with me. Many of the names and ages of the children killed during the Holocaust were around the same age as my sisters which gives me goosebumps even now as I type this essay.
Overall, Israel gave me a forever experience that I will never forget. I am incredibly thankful to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping to make my BBYO Israel summer experience possible.

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Mandy Cassius, daughter of Melinda and Lyn Cassius, is a senior at White Station High School, and is pictured riding a donkey at Kfar Kedem. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to offset the costs of her NCSY/ JSU/The Jewish Journey program in Israel. 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. Teen Israel Experience applications for Summer 2022 are open and can be accessed at Lemsky Endowment Fund | Jewish Community Partners (

By Mandy Cassius:

Israel, where should I start? This summer was truly the best one ever! Every day was the best day on the NCSY/JSU The Jerusalem Journey (TJJ) trip. I cannot imagine a better way to have spent my summer!!

Walking in, I never thought I would make as many lifelong lasting friends. I arrived knowing very few people, except my sister and an advisor from my city, and left with at least a dozen best friends. Right now, I can confirm that I have stayed in touch with a lot of the people I met on TJJ Midwest. I have never seen a group of people come together like we did this summer.

We clapped every other minute. We danced. We sang. Before, after, and during Shabbat. We cried and laughed and smiled, sometimes all at once.

We started our trip on the Golan Heights and worked our way through Jerusalem into Eilat and back to Jerusalem, visiting many cities along the way. Some of the most meaningful places we went were the four holy cities, Tzfat, Tiberias, Hebron, and Jerusalem because they really encompassed the four elements of air, water, earth and fire.

Before going on TJJ, I thought I had a strong Jewish identity, but not surprisingly, going to Israel made it even more clear. It got stronger because of the people I was with like my new friends, my amazing advisors, and my family, which were my friends, advisors, and Israeli cousins. Nothing beats the great bond I developed with my Chaburah and our discussions of the power of questions and what tefillah (prayer) meant to us.

Something even greater than the people themselves was experiencing Israel, its holy cities, shuks (markets), hikes, shawarma, hostels, rivers, views, each Shabbat, and museums with the TJJ family. Shabbat was surreal and really gave the day of rest a new meaning to me.

TJJ had a lot of adventures, and some of my favorites were wakeboarding, sleeping in Bedouin tents, and scenic water hikes. As for the Jewish connection I had, well, it’s indescribable. At the shuk market on Ben Yehuda Street, I bargained for a Hamsa necklace that I’ve worn everyday since returning from Israel. It makes me feel closer to my Jewish homeland.

Stepping on that slippery Jerusalem stone with my eyes closed and hand on my friend’s shoulder was just the beginning: the Kotel reveal. I just started tearing up, not expecting to cry. There, straight in front of me was the wall with all the history staring back at me. On the trip we went to the Kotel four times, and I had a different experience every time. My second time going was on Tisha B’Av (the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av), the saddest day of the year. The third time was on Shabbat where we danced with a bride to be, and the fourth time was right before our goodbye banquet.

I will miss the sunrise hike and countless gorgeous red sunsets, which made me feel like I was living a dream. Even though the summer is over, I know I will be back in the near future!!

I am grateful to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping to make my NCSY/JSU TJJ summer experience possible.

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Abby Cassius, pictured right, daughter of Melinda and Lyn Cassius, is a senior at White Station High School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to offset the costs of her NCSY/ JSU/The Jewish Journey program in Israel. 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. Teen Israel Experience applications for Summer 2022 are now available online. To learn more and apply, please click here.

By Abby Cassius:

My experience can be summed up in four words… The BEST SUMMER EVER!

Our tour guide would also sum it up as the hottest days of the summer, and the best day on JSU/ (The Jewish Journey) TJJ, and I would have to agree. Along with all the influential places we got to visit, like Har Hertzl, Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Museum, a Yom Kipper War Bunker, or the Kotel, I made long-lasting relationships with other teens from the Mid-West. We also challenged our advisors asking questions about why people fasted on Tisha B’Av-which I didn’t know about until the trip-or why some Jews are shomer negiah (refrain from physical contact with members of the opposite sex).

The water sports day in Eilat was one of my favorite experiences. For the first time ever, I went tubing and banana boating all in one day. The sun was beating down on my face, and I could taste the saltwater on my lips. The rafts were huge, enough to fit four teens on each side. It was crazy, and I flew off the raft, but grew as a person every time my face hit the water because I realized I was doing all these firsts in my homeland, Israel.

This was my first time in Israel and my real first experience going out of my comfort zone. Sone of the activities, like rafting down the Jordan River, tripping through the Blind Museum or bunker, and stepping foot in a hostel room with complete strangers pushed me out of my comfort zone as I had never felt before. In the bunker, I put my teamwork skills to the ultimate test with the Midwest bus who I didn’t know yet and learned how exhilarating it was to meet new people, my TJJ family.

Overall, my summer experience was so much more than just a vacation. Services combined with Chaburah and speakers informed me on Israel, the Torah, and Judaism in general while the historic sites put all of their words into perspective. My friends and I slept under the stars in Bedouin tents and contemplated our futures as Jews. And, as I got home, I have challenged myself to use what I learned in my community, at my synagogue, and with my family.

I am appreciative to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemksy Endowment for helping to make my JSU/ TJJ Israel trip possible.

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By Emma Figarsky

Memphis Jewish Federation and the Jewish Foundation of Memphis have both received a Four-Star Rating from Charity Navigator, which is the highest possible rating. Charity Navigator is the nation’s largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities. Federation and Foundation are currently two of twelve Four-Star charities in the Mid-South and remain among the highest rated nonprofits in the industry, with a score of 96.57 out of 100.

“Between our two organizations, we work with hundreds of donors and hundreds of charitable organizations. This ranking speaks volumes about the professionalism and dedication of our staff and leadership in making sure every dollar is making maximum impact,” said Irvin Skopp, Treasurer/Secretary of the Executive Committee of Jewish Community Partners, which operates both Federation and Foundation.

Charity Navigator rates charities by evaluating two broad areas of performance: financial health, and accountability and transparency. These ratings show donors how efficiently a charity uses their support today, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time, and their level of commitment to being accountable and transparent.

“For decades, the Federation and Foundation have provided ways for charitably minded members of the Memphis Jewish community to support the most critical needs of Jewish families as well as achieve their personal philanthropic goals,” said Laura Linder, President and CEO of Jewish Community Partners. “Being recognized as a top-tier charitable organization is such an honor.  With all of the charitable choices donors have, this ranking helps to remind our supporters as well as the broader Memphis Jewish community that we are a trusted philanthropic partner.”  

This ranking signifies that both Memphis Jewish Federation and the Jewish Foundation of Memphis exceed industry standards and outperform most charities in their area of work. They have been recognized for adhering to best practices while executing their mission in a financially efficient way. To learn how to make a gift to Federation’s Annual Community Campaign or open a fund at the Jewish Foundation, visit

Pictured above: Anthony Morrison, Jewish Foundation of Memphis Chair; Laura Linder, Jewish Community Partners President & CEO; Cindy Finestone, Memphis Jewish Federation Chair; and Ken Steinberg, Jewish Community Partners Chair, at the 2019 Jewish Community Partners Annual Meeting, one of the last in-person events before the pandemic. The hard and careful work of staff and lay leaders, as well as the generous involvement of hundreds of donor families in Jewish Memphis, contributed to a Four-Star Rating from Charity Navigator for Federation and Foundation.

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By Audrey May

Intake, Referral & Volunteer CoordinatorWendy & Avron B. Fogelman Jewish Family Service at the Memphis Jewish Community Center

Seniors and their caregivers can find it challenging to navigate through change. Someone has a serious illness. Someone stops driving. Someone has a fall and breaks a bone. A friend or family member who was providing support is no longer available. Suddenly, there’s a crisis.

In these moments, it’s important to know that getting the help you need is easy. The Wendy & Avron B. Fogelman Jewish Family Service (FJFS) at the Memphis Jewish Community Center (MJCC) is here to help. With one call, we will get you connected to a service provided by us, by the MJCC, other community organizations, or the best service provider for your needs.

I work with an awesome group of other people here at FJFS, and we’re always willing to help in whatever way we can. We’re not only knowledgeable and helpful, but we’re also completely confidential.

With one call to our main number, 901-767-8511, FJFS staff will respond quickly to assess your needs and respond to your questions.  I give clients all the time that they need to tell me their story. We have a conversation and I listen to what’s going on and what their concerns are. Next, I’ll ask a few questions to determine if a person would be eligible for one of our programs, or something else. This confidential conversation is all about making sure we connect each client to the best services for their needs. We only want the client to share as much as they feel comfortable discussing in order to get the right services for their needs.

For example, if it’s clear that our Shalom Shuttle would be perfect for them, I’ll tell them a little about that. I can do an intake over the phone, right then, if they’d like to enroll. If there are other services that we provide I can often do an immediate referral. Perhaps you or a Jewish senior you know could benefit from kosher home-delivered meals, or help from an expert, supportive case manager to more easily navigate life’s challenges. Or perhaps you want to volunteer in a meaningful way. Just give us a call to explore the options.

Sometimes we need to do a little bit of research. Give us a day or so and we’ll get back to you. If a client is in need of a service FJFS doesn’t provide, we are connected to many established government and non-profit organizations. If someone needs in-home caregivers or elder law attorneys, for example, we offer options to empower our clients to make the right choice for them and their family.

It’s about matching a client to a provider that will meet their needs, but also their lifestyle, income, and cultural point of view. It’s sort of a matchmaker service. I don’t recommend to you the best doctor who specializes in what you need. I offer you choices so you can make an informed choice about what’s best for you.

People often call looking for counseling, and we have really terrific counselors on staff at FJFS. We’re able to see clients on a self-pay, sliding scale basis. We’re a good option for people who are looking for counseling in a place that is culturally sensitive to the Jewish community. The first session is always free because we want the community member to determine whether it’s a good match. Counseling is a very personal thing. But because we don’t accept insurance, we have other resources to check into that will lead to other suggestions for counselors, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other professionals who work with different issues and can accept your insurance or Medicare.

FJFS matters because all of us need help sometimes. Even the people who are the most giving, the most busy, the most engaged in the community- and that describes a lot of people in the Jewish community in Memphis- all of us need help sometimes. Or perhaps a friend needs help that’s outside of your areas of expertise. What better place to look for that help than an agency that’s at the hub of the Jewish community?

That’s why we’re here. Our goal is to help the community remain as vital, engaged, and healthy as it can be.

To get information about available programs and services, call the Fogelman Jewish Family Service at the MJCC at 901-767-8511.

As an integral part of the Jewish community, the Wendy and Avron B. Fogelman Jewish Family Service (FJFS) at the Memphis Jewish Community Center (MJCC) provides an array of compassionate social services and a connection to any additional services needed. FJFS forms collaborative relationships with clients to enhance your well-being and help you thrive, offering classes and support groups, counseling, emergency assistance, a Kosher Food Pantry, a resource center, senior adult care, support for Holocaust survivors, transportation, special needs services, volunteer opportunities and more. Learn more here.  

Your gift to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Annual Community Campaign supports FJFS with vital funds. Memphis Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Memphis can also work with you and your family to financially support FJFS in other ways. Call 901-767-7100 to learn more.

A Memphis native and social worker, Audrey is a senior herself and passionate about helping seniors get the information and services they need, as well as working with our wonderful volunteers to do meaningful work in the Jewish community.  She is a book nerd who spent eight years running a bookstore and nineteen years as a manager at the Memphis Public Library’s LINC/2-1-1 social service information service.  She is also involved with the local AARP Livable Community initiative seeking to improve life for seniors in Shelby County and is the Interim Chair of the Senior Services Committee at OUTMemphis working with LGBTQ seniors. When she’s not in Memphis, she is probably in Florida happily reading with her nine-year old granddaughter.

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Hannah Siegler, the daughter of Stacy and Jerry Siegler, is an 11th grade student at Lausanne Collegiate School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the costs of her Summer 2019 NFTY program in Israel. All rising juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants of up to $3000 to attend a recognized teen summer or semester program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for summer 2020 are available online.

This past summer, I went to Israel with NFTY. I had been to Israel before with my family, but I was very little so I do not remember much. The second time I had gone to Israel was with Bornblum Jewish Community School for the 8th grade trip. I was with a few of my friends going into it, so I had a good time. On this trip, I was accompanied by my friends from the URJ Jacobs Camp and kids from the URJ Greene Family Camp. Since some of my camp friends weren’t going, I was nervous to meet new people and to see camp people I wasn’t really close with.

When we arrived at our first destination, we did some icebreakers. We were all tired from a long day of traveling, so it made getting to know people more difficult. We all just stuck to our own small groups for the first week, not really branching out. But by the time we got to Israel, we went from a bunch of little groups to one big community.

We spent our first few days in Israel in the Negev desert, and this was where we really bonded. We had to do everything outdoors: sleep, eat, hike, and even go to the bathroom. From then on, there were no more unfamiliar faces because we were all friends.

Hannah, left, is pictured after an event in Israel with a friend she made on her Teen Israel Experience trip to Israel, which was supported by a grant from Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund.

From the good times, such as Ben Yehuda Street, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Bedouin tents, to the not as happy moments, such as remembering those who gave their lives for Israel and hearing Holocaust survivors’ stories, we were together throughout it all.

I will cherish all the wonderful memories that I made in those 5 weeks. I know that this was a once in a lifetime kind of experience and that wherever I may be, I will always remember NFTY in Israel.

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Twenty-five years ago, the Memphis Jewish community came together to create an organization that would work to ensure that our children and grandchildren would benefit from a thriving Jewish community. This invaluable resource evolved quickly into Jewish Memphis’s trusted partner in charitable giving, the Jewish Foundation of Memphis. The Jewish Foundation kicked off its year-long 25th Anniversary celebration Tuesday, December 10, with Latkes & Vodka, an event at Dixon Gallery and Gardens honoring the Jewish Foundation’s fund holders, professional advisors, and donors.

While the signature cocktails’ names were clever – who could turn down a Legacy Libation or an EndowMint- the collective impact of Jewish Foundation donors over the past quarter-century is serious business. Since coming to life under the leadership of its first executive director Paula Jacobson and first board president Ronald Harkavy, the Foundation has worked to transform the philanthropic culture of the Memphis Jewish community to include legacy giving.

Launched in 1995 to help secure permanent financial solutions for ten partner agencies in the Memphis community- Anshei Sphard-Beth El Emeth, Baron Hirsch Congregation, Beth Sholom, Temple Israel, Margolin Hebrew Academy/Finestone Yeshiva of the South, Bornblum Jewish Community School, Memphis Jewish Federation, Memphis Jewish Home & Rehab, Memphis Jewish Community Center, and Jewish Family Service.

Check out the Facebook album for more photos.

Jewish Foundation Board Chair Anthony Morrison welcomed the crowd as the Latkes & Vodka program kicked off, recognizing members of the Professional Advisory Group (PAG) and its steering committee members John May, Morrow Baily, Mark Kaplan, Scott Bendure, and Shelby Peranich, and its chairman, Jason Salomon.

 “We recognize the critical role a donor’s attorney, accountant, and financial advisor play when they are considering a charitable gift,” said Anthony. “The PAG has given us a way to involve more than a hundred such advisors.” Each year the Foundation provides education programs and networking opportunities for the PAG members and serves as a philanthropic resource for the advisors and their clients. 

Many Professional Advisors were on hand to celebrate the anniversary, as well as get a first look at the new Jewish Foundation of Memphis PAG Directory.

“I’m a new member of the Professional Advisory Group and was excited to see what the Professional Advisor directory would look like,” said Lee Olswanger, Financial Advisor with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “It turned out great, and I can’t wait to have extra copies in my office.”

Laura Linder, President & CEO of Jewish Community Partners, the managing organization that operates the Jewish Foundation, spoke briefly, celebrating the quarter century of community-focused philanthropy that led to the Jewish Foundation growing into the engine that drives Jewish Memphis. In her remarks, Laura highlighted the important achievements driven by Foundation’s work in its first 25 years, including Foundation’s Legacy initiative, B’nai Tzedek teen philanthropy program, and the hundreds of donors who have partnered with the Foundation to achieve their charitable goals.

“Today, staff and volunteer leadership continue their work to keep endowment and legacy giving at the heart of our thriving Memphis Jewish community,” said Laura. “Through these efforts, to date more than 500 legacy commitments have been made. This work will continue as we continue to build for future generations under the leadership of Foundation’s powerhouse team of Sheri Gadberry and Sarah VanderWalde.”

“For 25 years, the Foundation has worked with donors to meet them exactly where they want to be as philanthropists,” Sheri Gadberry, director of operations for Jewish Community Partners said after the event. “We’re trusted by Jewish Memphis’s philanthropic community because our work is donor-centric, which means we strive to be as adaptable as possible, working with donors to help them achieve lifetime philanthropic goals.”

According to Sheri, through its work with more than 500 fund holders, the Jewish Foundation serves as the “go to” organization in the Memphis Jewish community for charitably minded families. “With $93 million in assets and cumulative grants awarded topping $80 million, we have established ourselves as a major player in the Memphis philanthropic community.”

Mimi Grossman closed the program by speaking about her own personal experience with legacy giving, citing her recent bout with cancer.   

“Many of you may not recognize me if you haven’t seen me in a while. This is what post chemo hair looks like.” After the sympathetic laughter died down, she continued. “I’m grateful that my cancer was treatable and I am now cancer free and living every day to its fullest. But as I went through treatment, I found myself reflecting on questions like: What kind of legacy would I be leaving? What have I done to truly make a difference, not just to my children and grandchildren, but to my beloved community?”

As the programmed portion came to a close, two powerful symbols served as visual reminders of what it means to leave a legacy. During the program, guests were surrounded by the stunning pewter collection of Justin and Herta Adler, of blessed memory, two devoted Memphis Jewish philanthropists whose descendants hold funds at the Jewish Foundation. And finally, to close the evening, Josh Lipman spoke about the philanthropic legacy of his father, Ira A. Lipman, of blessed memory, before leading the crowd through a tour of the temporary exhibit Friedel Dzubas: The Ira A. Lipman Family Collection. Touring the artworks after the program, it was impossible not to ponder what we will leave behind. Jewish Foundation of Memphis is there to answer that question for anyone.  

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My experience in Israel was amazing and had a major impact on my life. The trip was filled with amazing teens and staff who made me feel excited about Israel and Judaism. My time in Israel would not have been nearly the same without all of these wonderful people I had with me. After returning home, I immediately wanted to go back, because the trip connected me so much to the country of Israel. The first time I went to Israel, I was only eight years old, so this trip was almost like the first time I had ever been, and it was a great way to experience Israel.

One aspect of the trip that I enjoyed was spending time on the beach. It was a great bonding experience with the other people on my trip. I took this as a great opportunity to create a deeper bond with not only the people of Israel, but also the beauty of Israel. I always knew that Israel was a beautiful country, but being able to see it for myself made it even more real. Pictures do not do the country’s beauty justice, and all the scenery I saw added to my experience. The bus rides were another great part of the trip because I was able to see all of the beauty within the country. Bus rides gave me a sense of Israel, by being able to see everything from my window.

Another meaningful experience was visiting the Western Wall. I went there twice, with one time being on Shabbat. The Wall was a place where I felt very connected to my Judaism. We arrived at the Wall and then we were checked by security— there were a number of armed guards— which struck me as very different from any synagogue or religious environment in America. In America, the security doesn’t feel as intense as in Israel. Everywhere I went, there were armed guards, and I have never felt safer anywhere else. I felt really good about practicing my Judaism in such a secure place. When I walked closer towards the wall, I felt very connected to it, and saying a prayer made me feel at peace. This experience brought me closer to Israel and to all of the people on my trip.

Shabbat is a very fun time for me and it is one of my favorite camp traditions, so I was very excited to experience it in Israel. The day felt even more special than any other day. On Friday, the whole country had a different feel because everybody was preparing for Shabbat. My group went to the Western Wall again, which felt different because more people were there than the last time we went, and they were all wearing fancy Shabbat clothes. I loved that everybody treated it as a special day more than the rest of the week.

My trip to Israel was an amazing journey. I had experiences that I don’t think I could have had anywhere else. I met many wonderful people and saw amazing places. It would not have been the same without the group of people who I went with. After touring Israel, I feel more connected to my Judaism and myself.

Sophie Skolnick, the daughter of Larry Skolnick, is a 11th grade student at Hutchison School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the costs of her Summer 2019 BBYO program in Israel. All rising juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants of up to $3000 to attend a recognized teen summer or semester program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for summer 2020 are available at

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Benjamin Mendelson, the son of Tracey and David Mendelson, is a 11th grade student at 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 costs of his Summer 2019 NCSY program in Israel. All rising juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants of up to $3000 to attend a recognized teen summer or semester program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for summer 2020 are available at

(Photo: Memphian Benjamin Mendelson gave life-saving care to an Israeli man during his summer Teen Israel Experience, supported by a grant from Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund. Here, he poses with a medal inscribed with the Talmudic quote, “He who saves a single life saves the entire world.”)

During the summer of 2019, I went on the NCSY Hatzalah Rescue program in Israel. Not knowing anyone else going on the trip, or what to expect when I got there, I decided to go based on a classmate’s recommendation. I had recently visited Israel for the first time with my family, so I was not nervous about traveling. However, I was worried about who I would live with for the next month and about making new friends. Little did I know that it would be one of the best summers of my life. I would make amazing friends and be given an opportunity to save a life.

When we met for the first time in JFK airport, I was scared to meet the strangers standing across from me with whom I would spend the next month. But after talking to them we were friends. I knew this was going to be a great summer. One thing I did not know was how impactful the experiences to come in Israel were going to be.

One of the best experiences of my life happened on this trip, on my 17th birthday. On an ambulance shift with another boy from my program, Jaden Jubas of Detroit, Michigan, we got a call for a semi-responsive man with chest pains. As we were driving, the man’s condition worsened, and he fell into cardiac arrest. When we got to the man’s apartment, there were already a number of paramedics who had arrived earlier and started an IV and CPR. I relieved a volunteer doing CPR, and after a few minutes, the man regained his pulse. Then his pulse was lost again, but Jaden used chest compressions to recover his pulse. After these tense moments, he was transported to the hospital. It occurred to me that I saved a man’s life on the very same date I was given life, 17 years previously.

I don’t know what happened to the man or his family afterwards. However, two things I know for sure came from this opportunity to participate in NCSY Hatzalah Rescue in Israel. I made a new network of friends across the United States that I talk to daily, and I learned priceless lifesaving skills.

The fact that I, a 17 year old from Memphis, saved the life of an Israeli man on my birthday is mind-blowing. Just as amazing is that Mr. Abe Lemsky, z”l, and his legacy made this possible for me and for that man and his family in Israel. I am not sure if Mr. Lemsky imagined this kind of scenario when he generously designated an endowment to Memphis Jewish Federation. What I have learned is that you can never truly know the impact of tzedakah.

I want to thank Memphis Jewish Federation and Mr. Lemsky, z”l, for helping create this Israel experience for me.

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