Memphis Shoham partnership

Pictured clockwise from top left: Judge Sheryl Lipman, Dr. Sandra Arnold, Dr. Ronit Peled-Laskov, and Dr. Gili Hart.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Memphis Jewish Federation’s Memphis-Shoham Partnership is presenting Women Making a Difference, Tuesday, March 8 at noon featuring four dynamic leaders in their fields. Dr. Sandy Arnold and Judge Sheryl Lipman will represent Memphis, and Dr. Gili Hart and Dr. Ronit Peled-Laskov will represent Shoham, our community’s sister city in Israel. 

“The Partnership is kicking off our Spring Virtual Series on International Women’s Day by celebrating female business, legal, medical, community, and thought leaders among us,” said Liz Rudnick, facilitator for the program and member of the Memphis-Shoham Steering Committee. “From Memphis, the Honorable Judge Sheryl Lipman and Dr. Sandra Arnold of LeBonheur Children’s Hospital will participate, helping Israeli attendees learn more about U.S. law and medicine. Representing Shoham, we’ll hear from biotech startup CEO Dr. Gili Hart and criminologist Dr. Ronit Peled-Laskov. I’m looking forward to joining my community and new friends from Shoham as we hear what unites women at the top of their fields across the globe.”

Representing a diverse array of top-level specification, the four speakers bring impressive credentials and peerless experience to the program.

Dr. Arnold is Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Medical Co-Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship, and Associate Residency Program Director, Pediatric Residency at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, and a professor at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Her experience with clinical research in the areas of vaccines, antibiotics and antivirals, and common infections has made her an invaluable resource during the COVID pandemic for local schools and community organizations.

A Memphis native, Judge Lipman was appointed United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee by President Barack Obama in 2014, prior to which she served as University Counsel to the University of Memphis after years of private practice in Washington, D.C. and Memphis. Off the bench, Lipman is a hard-working advocate for social justice, having served in positions and on boards for the Memphis Race Relations and Diversity Institute, Facing History and Ourselves, the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, among others.  

Shoham resident Dr. Hart’s Israel-based company, SpilSense, is developing transformative RNA-based treatments for previously untreatable genetic illnesses and pulmonary diseases. Her career sits at the intersection of business and medicine, with extensive experience in global regulatory strategic planning and interactions, partnering with large-pharma. A former Research Fellow at Yale University’s School of Medicine, she has published numerous papers and patents, with her work focused on autoimmunity diseases and B and T cell maturation and migration, which can directly affect inflammation and immune conditions.

Dr. Peled-Laskov is a clinical criminologist and Senior Lecturer in Ashkelon Academic College’s Department of Criminology. She is the head of the Ethics Committee at Ashkelon College, and an active researcher in fields relating to crime, punishment, and rehabilitation, with special emphasis on white-collar offenders. With a background in therapy-based boarding schools for youths with behavioral disorders exhibiting borderline criminality, she currently serves as public representative on parole committees and as an official prison controller for Israel’s Ministry of Internal Security.

The March 8 program is the first in a three-part webinar series designed to connect Jewish Memphians to residents of Shoham, Israel, exploring a diverse trio of topics- women who make an impact, the role museums can play in social change, and the celebration of holidays through cooking.

“The Memphis-Shoham partnership is all about making authentic connections between the people of both communities,” said Keri Unowsky, chair of Federation’s Memphis-Shoham Partnership steering committee.

The Partnership’s second webinar, In Commemoration of Martin Luther King’s Assassination: Museums as Catalysts for Change, will take place Tuesday, April 5, the day after the 54th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis. Ryan Jones, Adult Education Director at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and Temple Israel’s Rabbi Micah Greenstein, a board member at the museum, will represent Memphis, while Omer Deutsch, Museum Educator at the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel-Aviv, will share her points of view. The program will explore how museums can act as agents for social change and how they keep pace with ever-changing cultural norms while fulfilling their educational missions.

The series culminates on Tuesday, May 22 with In Celebration of Shavuot: Artful and Creative Holiday Cooking. Participants will join Memphis artist and gourmet chef Marisa Baggett and a to-be-announced guest from Shoham as they prepare creative Shavuot recipes that can be replicated at home. The webinars are free and open to the public. To learn more and register, click here.

Memphis and Shoham are connected through the Partnership2Gether Peoplehood Platform, a program of Federation partner JAFI (Jewish Agency for Israel). Guided by Federation’s Memphis-Shoham Steering Committee, the Memphis-Shoham Partnership launched in 2016 to facilitate meaningful connections between Israelis and the Memphis Jewish community through unique programs like school twinning, teen and young adult leadership projects, and programming like this webinar series, which bridge the distance between the two communities with universally relatable content.

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Photo and interview by Gila Golder

Part of Memphis Jewish Federation’s ongoing efforts to connect Memphis and Israel, the 70 Faces of Memphis and Shoham project was designed to form real connections between the people of Jewish Memphis and the people of Shoham, Israel, Memphis’s partner city through the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership 2Gether program. The project serves as a way to connect Jewish Memphians to each other by showcasing their unique character and contributions to the community.

Gabby Bray knew about BBYO, an international youth organization with four chapters in Memphis. Her mother had been active in BBYO as a teen, and many of her friends had already joined. But she was hesitant to get involved. “My mom was like, ‘Go to the first program. Just give it a shot.’”

Mom was right. “I absolutely fell in love with it.”

That was over three years ago. Today, Gabby is a high school senior— “which is scary!”— and has been an active leader in her BBYO chapter, stepping up to plan and organize programs down to the last detail. Since BBYO is a pluralistic organization and welcomes teens from all backgrounds, it can be challenging to ensure everyone feels welcome.

“It’s being conscious of where you’re doing prayers, are you doing the right prayers, are you aware of where east is in the room…and many of the teens who have joined don’t necessarily have a Jewish background, so making sure we’re explaining everything we’re doing so they understand what’s going on.” And at a leadership convention last year, another issue was raised— designing programs that are accessible for teens with physical disabilities.

For Gabby, taking care of these logistical details isn’t a burden. It’s a responsibility she takes on with joy and pride. “The mindset is, when you’re going through those details, it can’t be a chore. If it’s something put upon you, like oh, I have to make sure this is kosher and shomer Shabbat and all of that, it’s not going to go well. So I enjoy it, and I think that’s why I’ve been fairly good at what I do.”

The one aspect she doesn’t enjoy is recruitment. “People already know what BBYO is to a certain extent, so it’s just trying to find parts of the Memphis Jewish community we haven’t reached before and picking out why they haven’t joined yet, what they don’t know, and how to get them there. But there are people who are much more likable than I am who do that!”

Outside of BBYO, Gabby enjoys reading, competing in Science Olympiad at school, and volunteering at a veterinarian’s office. “I’m currently training a service dog. He’s a maniac!”

This spring, Gabby will participate in BBYO’s March of the Living, a two-week program that unites Jewish teens to bear witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust in Poland, then celebrate Israeli Independence Day in Jerusalem. And next year?

“When I’ve been looking at colleges, one of the things I always check is do they have a Hillel. BBYO doesn’t continue past high school, unfortunately, but I feel like Hillel is a natural place to go for Jewish enrichment.”

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Zehava Shneor is a 20-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces; a resident of Shoham, Memphis’s partner city in Israel; an Israel tour guide; and a past participant in a MOMentum journey for Jewish mothers in Israel. She is also— like many Israeli citizens— a bereaved parent. In October 2003, Zehava’s 19-year-old daughter Sarit was killed in a terrorist attack on her army base in Gaza.

Recently, in a program of the Memphis-Shoham Partnership, facilitated by Memphis Jewish Federation, Zehava traveled to Memphis to share her story of personal pain and to make personal connections with the Memphis Jewish community. During her time in Memphis, she explored the city, enjoyed home hospitality from community members, and interacted with a broad swath of demographics— from middle school students to seniors and everyone in between.

Zehava shared with community members her family’s approach to loss. In Sarit’s memory, Zehava and her husband Shimon established the Returning Home race, an annual event in which 12th grade students at Shoham High School compete in a 2-day relay race which begins at Sarit’s army base on the Gazan border and ends in Shoham— a distance of 56 miles. The race symbolizes values of dedication, determination, and love for the land of Israel, and also serves as preparation for students’ upcoming army service.

“I wish to thank you for the privilege I have been given to visit the Memphis community and for all those who attended and listened,” said Zehava from Israel, reflecting on her trip.

“During my visit, I met different and diversified groups from the community: middle school and high school students, young people, retirees, women from MOMentum who traveled to Israel, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform and many more. I went on this exciting journey in order to share my daughter’s story— Sarit, of blessed memory. To tell about the yearly memorial ‘Returning Home’ race which is held and carried out by Shoham high school students and teachers, where Sarit graduated. We talked about the values which are the core of this race that represents Sarit and who she was: determination; perseverance; memory; friendship; helping others; the connection between army and civilian life.”

Jewish Memphians have connected with Zehava’s story even before she came to visit. As a project of the Memphis-Shoham partnership, Memphis Jewish Federation helped produce a short film, available on YouTube with English subtitles, following student participants in the Returning Home race and showing the impact the race has had in establishing Sarit’s legacy. Additionally, in the weeks leading up to Zehava’s visit to Memphis, 90 Memphians participated in a Memphis Jewish Community Center fitness challenge to run, walk, or cycle for a total of 56 miles in Sarit’s memory.

In Memphis, Zehava spent time with Hillel students at Rhodes College; teen participants in Jewish Foundation of Memphis’s B’nai Tzedek program; religious school students at Beth Sholom Synagogue; middle school students at Bornblum Jewish Community School and middle and high school students at Margolin Hebrew Academy; members of Temple Israel Sisterhood and Temple Israel seniors group; participants in Memphis Jewish Federation’s 2018 and 2019 MOMentum journeys to Israel; and Jewish Community Partners’ Board of Directors. She also led a Taste of Memories program for two separate groups, in which participants came together to cook one of Sarit’s favorite dishes and learn about her life. At a closing ceremony for the fitness challenge, participants in the challenge heard Zehava’s story firsthand and viewed the Returning Home film.

“Zehava Shneor’s visit to our Teen Talmud Torah program was deeply meaningful for our students,” said Danny Kraft, Director of Education & Youth Engagement for Beth Sholom Synagogue. “They reflected on the importance of remembrance in their own lives and in Zehava’s, and considered the ways that memory is a part of Israeli, American, and Jewish culture. All the students I spoke to shared that speaking with Zehava was powerful and worthwhile, and enabled them to think more deeply about the legacies of those we remember.”

“It was a pleasure and an honor hosting Zehava on her first visit to America,” said Stuart Lazarov, a member of Memphis Jewish Federation’s Memphis-Shoham Partnership steering committee and one of Zehava’s home hospitality hosts. 

“She brought to life the importance of Sarit’s service to her country and her life as a soldier in the IDF. The race from Gaza to Shoham, ‘Returning Home,’ now in its 16th year, brings the community high school seniors of Shoham together in solidarity. It enables them to know Sarit and her story while preparing them for their service in the IDF. The students learn about commitment and sacrifice as they prepare and train for the 56 mile race.  Zehava was able to engage a broad segment of our community and bring us together, as well, in appreciation of her beautiful family and their story.”

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Memphis Jewish Federation announced that the Memphis-Shoham Partnership is bringing to Memphis Zehava Shneor, mother of fallen Shoham Israeli soldier Sarit Shneor.

While in Memphis, Zehava will interact with a broad swath of the Memphis Jewish community, including Beth Sholom teens, Bornblum middle school students, Margolin Hebrew Academy middle school and girls high school students, Temple Sisterhood, Temple seniors, B’nai Tzedek teens, Young Adults, MOMentum Moms and other community members. 

Zehava will also have a special private reception for community members who met the “Collecting Miles for Sarit” 56-mile fitness challenge sponsored by the Memphis Jewish Community Center.

On October 24, 2003, while in her army service as an Observation Post Commander, Sarit was killed in a terrorist attack on her army base near the Gaza border.

Her parents decided to honor her memory by establishing an annual two-day relay race, called “Returning Home”, in which Shoham High School seniors, right before their army service, run from Sarit’s army base to Shoham, a distance of 56 miles.

“We have already been so inspired by Zehava’s commitment to keeping alive the memory and legacy of her daughter,” said Scott Notowich, Memphis chair of the Memphis-Shoham Partnership. “We are looking forward to hosting her in Memphis and deepening our connection to Israel through her personal story of tragedy and triumph.”

Members of the Memphis-Shoham Partnership Steering Committee will host Zehava in their homes February 9th-16th.

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“Thou Shall Not Want, The 7 Species of Sukkot” is a striking mixed-media art piece created by renowned local artist and arts educator Carol Buchman and inspired, she says, by a recent visit to Memphis’ partner city of Shoham in Israel.

The canvas is now hanging in Carol’s “Words Matter” exhibit in the Shainberg Art Gallery at the Memphis Jewish Community Center (MJCC), where the MJCC and Memphis Jewish Federation will co-host an Artists Lunch and Learn on Thursday, January 23 at 12:00 pm. Carol, who traveled to Shoham in October as a visiting artist to participate in Shoham’s Muse Festival, will discuss how the experience inspired her work. The Lunch and Learn is open to the community. Participants are invited to bring their own lunch; drinks and dessert will be provided.

Memphis Jewish Federation, operated by Jewish Community Partners, organized Carol’s visit as a program of the Memphis-Shoham Partnership, launched by Federation in 2016 in an effort to facilitate meaningful people-to-people relationships between the two communities.

Carol’s stay in Shoham was immersive— she connected with artists and community members by staying in the home of a local family, meeting with artists in their homes and studios, and conducting a mosaic workshop at a senior center.

At the three-day Muse Festival, Shoham’s landmark annual cultural event which draws thousands of people from throughout Israel, she engaged festival attendees in creating a multi-piece community mural. Two pieces of the mural are also on display in the “Words Matter” exhibit. The third piece is in Shoham for community enjoyment.

“It was an uplifting, inspiring, and memorable week,” Carol recalled in her announcement of the gallery opening, “doing mostly community art projects and getting to know the warm and talented artists and people of Shoham.”

The Memphis-Shoham Partnership has strengthened Memphis Jewish connections to Israel through school twinnings, delegations to both cities and other joint projects.

In February, the partnership is hosting Zehava Shneor, mother of fallen Israeli soldier from Shoham Sarit Shneor. Community members have the opportunity to honor Sarit’s memory by joining a fitness challenge to log 56 miles by February 9 – the length of an annual race in Israel in Sarit’s memory. Learn more here.

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Photo and interview by Jimmy and Natalie Jalenak

Part of Memphis Jewish Federation’s ongoing efforts to connect Memphis and Israel, the 70 Faces of Memphis and Shoham project was designed to form real connections between the people of Jewish Memphis and the people of Shoham, Israel, Memphis’s partner city through the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership 2Gether program. The project serves as a way to connect Jewish Memphians to each other by showcasing their unique character and contributions to the community.

The bedrock of every community is formed by people who are willing to pitch in and do the work of holding the community together. The Memphis Jewish Community has been fortunate for upwards of five decades to have had the commitment, dedication, and service of Fred and Elaine Miner. It would be difficult to calculate the number of hours this couple has contributed to a host of organizations – all while raising three children. And in many of their commitments, they worked together.

Since their marriage in 1962, the Miners have been members of Baron Hirsch Congregation, but not merely members. Early on, Elaine rose to the presidency of the Sisterhood while Fred was an active member of the Men’s Club. Both of them took leadership roles in developing the Young Marrieds’ Group.

Their early commitment to the congregation continues today. For the last eleven years, Elaine has been in charge of a monthly luncheon for Seniors at Baron Hirsch. And Fred chairs a Lunch and Learn program for Torah study with the rabbi. Elaine also leads a weekly yoga class – and it’s free! Thus, it’s no surprise that in 2008 Elaine received the Chesed Award for service to the shul. And in 2010, Fred was Baron Hirsch Member of the Year.

Elsewhere in the community, Fred has coordinated a monthly B’nai Brith Men’s Club luncheon at the Memphis Jewish Home & Rehab, providing speakers, entertainment, and companionship to the male residents. Elaine’s assistance at Jewish Home sing-a-longs involves singing and dancing!

Their support and involvement in community endeavors extend to Hadassah, Sam Schloss B’nai Brith, and Jewish Community Partners. The success of all these organizations owe more than a little to the dedication of Fred and Elaine Miner.

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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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Renowned local artist and arts educator Carol Buchman embarked on an amazing adventure, traveling from Memphis to Shoham, Israel in October, serving as a cultural ambassador on behalf of Memphis Jewish Federation to cultivate connections between the two communities through art. The centerpiece of her visit was a key spot at the city’s annual three-day Muse Festival, a major cultural event taking place during Sukkot.

Memphis and Shoham are connected through the Partnership2Gether Peoplehood Platform (P2G), a program of JAFI (Jewish Agency for Israel). Memphis Jewish Federation launched the partnership in 2016 to facilitate meaningful connections between Israelis and the Memphis Jewish community through unique programs like school “twinning”, teen and young adult leadership projects, programming for young families, and real people-to-people relationships.

“Art can be a cultural descriptor,” said Carol. “Sharing space while you’re doing art is a beautiful way to bond. Art serves as a memory because of what you’re left with.”

Carol’s time in Shoham was immersive and broad. She stayed with a couple and their children in their home; shared meals with them, their friends, and others; met with other artists at their homes and studios; conducted a mosaic workshop at a local senior center; and made public art at the festival, involving Shoham residents in the process.

“I had so many deep conversations with people,” said Carol. “There wasn’t a wasted moment. But I think most importantly, I just felt like I was greeted with the open-hearted kindness of family.”

 “Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze Ba-Ze – All Israel is responsible for one another. This is one of the most quoted Jewish phrases,” said Anna Berkman, Israel-based director for the Memphis-Shoham partnership. “The partnership enables us to fulfill this mandate. Through the connections between our communities, we’re creating a safe space to ask the tough questions. We can articulate, sometimes for the first time, what it means to be Jewish for me and also for others.”

A Shoham-based animation artist hosted a gathering of artists in her home, where Carol showed a PowerPoint of her Jewish themed paintings and spoke to the group about her experience as a former New Yorker moving to Memphis and grabbing onto her Jewish identity when it felt threatened in the unfamiliar and largely non-Jewish community.

“I really wondered if this collection of Jewish inspired work would translate and speak to them, because this was a fairly secular group,” said Carol. “I talked for an hour and they barely said a word, and they loved it. At the end we had this incredible discussion, everyone talked about their own story and how they related to it, and things in their society that as artists might make them react. Questioning whether there are things you push back from or towards in your work because of the society that you live in.”

Check out the art she discussed here.

“We talked about them taking their Jewish identity for granted,” she continued. “The vocabulary they use about secular and religious, it’s a different usage of words than we use here. Their version of secular would be considered observant here. Shabbos is a part of their life, holidays are part of their lives, they get a Jewish education. Their whole culture is based on Jewish rhythms. It was really interesting because in my host family’s sukkah, there was an Etrog in a beautiful box, no one touched it, no one said a word about it, almost like it was an heirloom. And they consider themselves to be secular.”

In January, the MJCC Shainberg Gallery will exhibit Carol’s work, some of it created during and after her visit. Two large canvas murals which were conceived by Carol but created by her and countless festival attendees in Shoham will be keystones of the exhibit, as well as work yet to be created and inspired by the new ideas, connections, relationships, and experiences she brought back to Memphis from her journey.

“The Memphis-Shoham partnership is all about making authentic connections between the people of both communities,” said Scott Notowich, Memphis Jewish Federation Vice Chair, Israel and Overseas and chair of the Memphis-Shoham Partnership steering committee. “Art is a language that can be understood by anyone, and is a perfect medium for making these connections. When Carol was selected to go to Shoham for the Muse Festival, we knew we had an ideal ambassador to take Memphis to our friends in Shoham, and the perfect person to bring a little Shoham back home to us.”

“Moving forward, we’re excited to partner with Carol to find ways to infuse her enthusiasm for the Memphis-Shoham partnership into Memphis Jewish life,” said Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein, JCP’s Chief Strategy Officer.

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Part of Memphis Jewish Federation’s ongoing efforts to connect Memphis and Israel, the 70 Faces of Memphis and Shoham project was designed to form real connections between the people of Jewish Memphis and the people of Shoham, Israel, Memphis’s partner city through the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership 2Gether program. The project serves as a way to connect Jewish Memphians to each other by showcasing their unique character and contributions to the community.

By Gali Du

Dessie grew up in the small community of Cager Island, Missouri and attended Washington University. A friend in her dorm room introduced her to Lester Sewell, and they married a year later on June 19, 1949. After graduating, the two moved to Memphis, TN. “I’ve been here going on 67 years.”

In July 2018, Dessie celebrated her 89th birthday, but her age does not keep her from being an active member of the community!

“I am a joiner, an attender and a supporter to the best of my ability.”

She goes to Baron Hirsh most every Saturday and attends the Torah Portion class weekly. She is still an active supporter of both the Federation and Hadassah. “I began supporting the United Jewish Appeal Women’s Division (Federation) during college in 1946. I remember taking from my allowance— it was $25 for a year.”

In the 60s, she was the vice chairman for the Federation. “I called people and visited people at their homes to collect money. My mother-in-law was national vice president, and my daughter just finished serving as regional president.” She is a part of the Hadassah book club, in which the members select books to read and meet monthly to discuss their thoughts. Another group that she supports is Soul to Sole for Breast Cancer. “I try to support most everything.”

At Baron Hirsch, she was awarded the Louis Turetsky Chesed Award in recognition of her achievements and dedication to chesed (acts of kindness) in our community.

“This is what you do, you help other Jewish people.”

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Part of Memphis Jewish Federation’s ongoing efforts to connect Memphis and Israel, the 70 Faces of Memphis and Shoham project was designed to form real connections between the people of Jewish Memphis and the people of Shoham, Israel, Memphis’s partner city through the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership 2Gether program. The project serves as a way to connect Jewish Memphians to each other by showcasing their unique character and contributions to the community.

Interview and photo by Gila Golder

David Ross is a Junior Achievement volunteer for over 25 years teaching communications skills at local high schools, currently Cordova High School. David was an advisor to BBYO’s Peres AZA for 13 years. He works as an insurance agent at State Farm Insurance and has held leadership roles for the Raleigh Cordova Civitan, Jewish Historical Society of Memphis and the Mid-South, the advisory board of the University of Memphis Jewish Student Union, the BBYO advisory board, and other organizations— “that’s enough,” he says with a shrug after rattling off the list. But despite his many obligations, you’ll always find him at Cordova Bowling Center at 4 pm every Monday, exchanging friendly hugs and greetings with over 100 Special Olympics athletes.

In 1980, David’s infant daughter Julie contracted encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. She recovered, but the condition left her with permanent intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics, an organization that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition to children and adults with intellectual disabilities, was instrumental in improving Julie’s quality of life— thanks to Special Olympics swimming lessons, “she could swim before she could walk.”

David and his late wife Jane launched the Special Olympics bowling league 20 years ago. “For all the time Julie spent in Special Olympics, we wanted to return the favor, and we thought it was a good opportunity because there was not a Special Olympics bowling league in Memphis.” Every athlete, no matter what his or her disability, can participate. Lanes are equipped with ramps for athletes who have cerebral palsy or other physical challenges.

While the athletes bowl, their parents or caregivers can socialize, run errands, or enjoy a rare moment of alone time. “When Julie was living at home, it was 24/7. Special Olympics programs gave us the freedom to do things without worrying about her. So this gives these parents the opportunity, some of them will stay and visit with other parents, and some parents will drop off their sons and daughters to the lane and they can do things without having to worry.”

Retired seniors and volunteers from local high schools help ensure the athletes are safe and the program runs smoothly. Often, the athletes form meaningful relationships with the volunteers. David reports that some student volunteers have chosen to pursue careers in special education as a result of working with the athletes and their families. “That’s one of the more rewarding and certainly unforeseen results.”

The program runs September through May, and at the end of the year, there is an awards ceremony. Athletes receive medallions, volunteers receive certificates, and there is a $500 college scholarship for the high school senior “Volunteer of the Year”, established in Jane’s memory.

“It’s a wonderful tribute to her and hopefully she would be happy to know that the program is still continuing…I come in every Monday and I see the athletes just having a wonderful time and enjoying themselves. It’s my favorite hour of the week.”

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