The inaugural year of the Temple Israel Fellowship has officially come to a close. It began as a concept of underlying simplicity. Ten young Jewish professionals, brought together, given jobs and apartments, and instructed to attend the occasional educational program or community service event in an effort to promote Memphis as a destination for young adults. A simple idea among friends, born only about a year ago, has developed into an experience that exceeded the expectations of everyone involved. From my perspective, the unique qualities of Memphis influenced the evolution of the fellowship more than the founders even intended.
Throughout the summer, I cannot remember one evening when fellows were not together, be it cooking dinner, checking out local events, or just hanging out. Many of the most memorable moments of the entire journey were not planned or constructed, but rather were products of spontaneous initiative and goofy encounters among true friends. Somewhere along the winding path, the ten people – from New York to California, from law school to Teach for America, from age 20 to 25- quietly stopped being ‘fellow fellows’ and started to be a community – one that takes up for each other in conflict, laughs at each other in those awkward moments, supports each other through exams, birthdays, and goals, and leans on each other in times of need.
The quickly evident theme of the fellowship was the question, “What makes Memphis unique for young Jewish professionals?” For me, now more than ever, the answer to that question lies deeply in the community that Memphis offers. Being a native Memphian, I spent the past twenty years as a member of this Jewish community. That membership implies many things, starting with the doctors I visited and the youth group activities that pervaded my calendar. However, as has become more apparent this summer, the Memphis community goes further than a quick visit to my neighbor’s house when I sprain my ankle. In short, it means never being alone – in times of need or celebration. When ten young Jews move to Memphis on a mission to grow professionally and personally, the community leans in, offering all that it can to make the fellows feel comforted and supported in the city – be they life long or new Memphians. They even provided many of the opportunities that the fellows were able to take advantage of along their journey. That commitment guided the fellows themselves to form a kinship in the same spirit.
This experience forced me to take a step back. I experienced a city that has been in my backyard since the moment I was born almost as an outsider. With the influence of the group, I tried more, went further, and explored things I never knew existed in the realms of this city.
Memphis has a lot to offer for a young professional. There is nightlife, sports teams, concerts, restaurants, and great opportunities. However, none of that is particularly unique to Memphis, but rather a standard for any respectable city. So what’s my point? Memphis has enough opportunity and excitement to be a city that any young professional would and should be happy to live in. However, for any young Jewish professional, it has more than enough. The Temple Israel Fellowship served to remind me that living a post-graduate life enriched by Judaism is a top priority, and more than that, I’ve come to realize that a life in Memphis, Tennessee would undeniably provide me with just that. It inspired me to consider Memphis a viable option for my future home.