The Lion Behind the Pin: Betsy Saslawsky’s Hands-On Philanthropy

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Memphis Lion of Judah Betsy Saslawsky prefers a hands-on approach to life, generally, and insists upon it in her philanthropic pursuits.

A Lion since 2018, Betsy’s connection to philanthropy stems back to her childhood dinner table, where conversations between her parents, Judy and Nick Ringel, made an early impression on her.

“They have both been involved in the Memphis Jewish community as long as I can remember,” said Betsy. “There would be conversations about volunteering at Federation’s Super Sunday, or programs at Temple Israel, where my Dad is a Past President. I specifically remember an emergency Federation campaign during the Yom Kippur War, when my parents and their peers were called to make an additional gift to support Israel at that crucial time.”

As a child, she was less aware of the financial side of her parents’ activism, but witnessing the doing of it affected her deeply. Long before she became a Lion, she took her first steps down her philanthropic path, plugging into volunteerism and philanthropy 35 years ago with a tireless energy and passion. She’s filled the years with impact, committing her mind, time, and energy to causes supporting Jewish Memphis, Israel, and projects outside of her Judaism, particularly in education equity in Memphis.

“I have been involved with Shelby County Books from Birth, I was on their board for several years. And I spearheaded the Team Read program at Temple Israel.” she said. “I feel that education is the key to solving so many problems in the community.”

“I’m proud to be a supporter of the Jewish agencies of Memphis, and philanthropy that supports Israel and Jews in need all over the world,” Betsy said. “I’m proud to support organizations that are good for Memphis, whether it’s giving through Federation, or to the Wendy & Avron B. Fogelman Jewish Family Service and Temple Israel. I give for altruistic reasons, and feel very fortunate to help people access the services they need, whether that’s medicine, a clean place to put their head at night, or religious freedom.”

After decades of activism and involvement, Betsy doubled down on giving back when she decided early this year to enroll in a Master’s program, from which she will earn a Non-Profit Management and Leadership certificate.

“I’ve been involved in so many non-profit organizations, and for so many years, and I just needed to stretch my brain,” she said. “I’m learning about philanthropy from the academic vantage point, versus what I’ve done on the ground the past 35 years, and I’ve learned about what makes donors tick. There are people who donate for tax reasons, others because of altruistic reasons. I give because I want to improve the world and to help those who are less fortunate than me.”

Betsy appreciates recent Lion efforts to involve the sisterhood in hands-on volunteering, which has shifted into high gear during the second half of the pandemic era. She is looking forward to more events such as the Lion of Judah-initiated Baby Shower supporting the new Fogelman Jewish Family Service Baby Pantry, and LOJ’s Caring Casseroles program benefiting food-insecure college students.

Asked about fostering a sense of activism in the next generation, Betsy points back to those conversations around her childhood dinner table, and the example set by her parents.

“When my children were younger, especially as they entered their teenage years, Andy and I found charitable causes that were meaningful to them, rather than directing them to donate to or volunteer with organizations that were important to us,” said Betsy. “Our oldest, Joel, worked with the West Cancer Foundation, in memory of his grandmother who was a West Cancer Center patient, to put together items to keep chemo patients and caregivers, and their children, busy while at appointments.  Our daughter, Erin, organized weekly game nights at a shelter for women and children, and as a 3rd grader, our youngest, Matthew, came to us to ask how to donate his piggy bank savings to the American Cancer Society.”

As her kids have gotten older, Betsy has seen them grow into their activism and lean into philanthropy.

“I think about my son and daughter-in-law who live here, and are starting to get involved in charitable causes,” she said.  “My advice is to get involved, try on programs and organizations and see what causes hit your hot button. I hope I have set an example for all my children, in terms of giving back. My hope is that my children will continue the legacy for their children, and that philanthropy will be an important part of their lives, as it is for me.”

“I’m grateful to be a part of a group of women that feel philanthropy is what defines them, and who make a point to give back in every way they can,” she added.

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