Similar to my peers, I wasn’t really sure of what I was getting into by applying for the TI Fellowship. The idea of being a part of a program through an only vaguely familiar community felt uncomfortable, but it seemed like a great opportunity and I was encouraged to apply. I knew everything post-graduation from Rhodes College would change, but my imagination didn’t cover this possibility.
Coming from Austin, Texas, I was at home with my Jewish community, and over the past four years in Memphis, my community included Rhodes and the connections I made through volunteering and interning around the city, but nothing tied to religion. Boy, has that changed. The TI Fellowship has done an impressive job of bringing together people from, or loosely tied to Memphis, and introducing them to various aspects of the city they hadn’t seen before. Everyone in the program has become acquainted with a different novel feature of the city, and for me, it’s the community.
To an outsider, Memphis seemed to be just another decently-sized metropolitan area. Now, the city feels like a small town because literally, all of the Jews know each other. All of us. Yes, that happened in Austin as well, but here the connections are on the next level, and it’s beautiful. Everyone is family.
The same thing happened with my organization, Roots Memphis, in the agriculture and food scene. Roots Memphis is a nonprofit organization that farms on its own 5.5 acres in Shelby Farms Park and has a farm academy to teach local individuals the necessary skills to own and work a farm. The food grown by both the organization and the farm students is used in weekly produce shares and is also sold at the Cooper Young Farmers’ Market. Through Roots, my social worlds have begun to collide, as I see people from the downtown Memphis Farmers’ Market, where I worked last summer, in a typical day at work this summer. Everyone in the community knows each other, and it is a dedicated and interwoven family in and of itself. As a biology major interested in plants and food policy, I didn’t know much about actually working on a farm. I still have no idea what my dream job involves, be it plant research, working on an inner-city farm, or going into policy making. But as a part of Roots, I’m surrounded by individuals that work tirelessly toward our common goals and truly strive to make a difference. By sharing the food and flowers we’ve worked countless hours on, I like to think that we’re bringing people together.
Every day that I work on the farm or in our midtown office, I not only learn about crops and farming, but through people, I learn more about Memphis’ strengths and how, as a community, we can work together. Especially this week with our farm going through an injury in the family, tomato blight, and rampant deer, our limits have been tested. But even still, we make it work together.
Even though it’s only been a month, I feel like family with both Roots Memphis and the TI Fellowship. I’m so grateful to have been welcomed into the communities and to have finally found a home in Memphis, Tennessee.
It’s been almost a month since 19 other TI Fellows and I started the journey of being young professionals in Memphis. As a native Memphian, I am accustomed to spending my summers here, but this experience is one that is much different than previous ones. For starters, my family is from East Memphis so having the opportunity to live in Downtown Memphis is something that I and the other fellows are enjoying. I had never experienced, in depth, downtown Memphis’ culture, and there are numerous places, especially in Midtown and Downtown that have sprung up that I have yet to experience.
This past week we attended a happy hour at Local Gastropub’s downtown location, just minutes from our apartments. Getting to socialize with other likeminded young Jews is a great way to wind down the workweek, especially when we get to experience new bars and restaurants at the same time. Friday we had a meeting and discussion with life coach, Jen Frank. The discussion was helpful in showing us the art of networking by using hands-on, concrete examples. Another recent event that stands out in my mind was our tour of the FedEx hub a few weeks ago. We had an opportunity to see the massive operation that helped earn Memphis’ reputation as the “logistics capital of the world.” It was very cool to see in person, despite us getting to bed at a not-so-reasonable hour.
The TI Fellows with Life Coach Jen Frank
One of the reasons I decided to come back to Memphis was my belief in the TI Fellowship’s mission of creating a professional and social community of young Jews in the city. In the past, I thought of Memphis as a “boring” city and that maybe I should experience life as a young professional somewhere else. For a long time, the city was losing out on bright young professionals to other cites, but we are experiencing a resurgence of Memphis. Through TI programs and being able to live downtown, I am able to see the city from a totally different perspective, and I cant wait to experience more exciting, new things with my fellow “YJPs.”