Category Archives: Memphis

Life Lessons from a Southern Jewish Congressman

By: Jack Gross and Jacob Barondes

We weren’t sure what to expect when our staff told us we were meeting with a congressman yesterday afternoon. Was it a glorified photo op? A lecture on how we should live? A stump speech explaining why we should believe in his platform?

Turns out, it was none of the above.

Congressman Cohen didn’t preach to us, he didn’t talk down to us. He shared with us lessons from his experiences that left an impression that will stay with us long after our Summer of Service on AJSS is over.

Lesson 1: The two most important things are the brain and time.

Don’t waste your brain with drugs, educate yourself, and find a reason and a way to use your brain.

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Camping in the Ozarks

After a long week of hard work, we had the opportunity to wind down in a tranquil place. The Missouri Ozarks were a new experience for all of us. For some, this was the first time to have slept outdoors, for others this was the first time swimming in rapids or making banana boats. Coming to this weekend, we knew that this would not only be a chance to catch up on sleep but also to see a new side of each other. From hiking to Johnson’s Shut-ins, to learning to use a bow drill to start a fire, we did it all.

This new experience had its ups and downs. We saw plenty of confederate flags along the way after spending so much time learning of the oppression that has accompanied it, but we were immersed in Mother Nature’s beauty as well. Going to bed to the sounds of the frogs and crickets and waking up to the sounds of birds chirping and the morning light shining in our tent we knew this would bring out the best in us.

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Guerrilla Gardens and Adventure Playgrounds

A Reflection on Our Time with Grow Memphis
By Sydnee Sicherer, Jack Gross, Zach Goldman, and Ron Melamed

Memphis is a city on the verge of change. It’s not obvious. Vast amounts of people still cling to old ideas and traditions. But underneath this stagnation, men and women are hard at work.

One such person is Adam Guerrero, a freelance gardener, educator, soap maker, bee keeper, bio fuel maker, and so much more. Adam has occupied several vacant lots around Memphis, and turned them into “Guerrilla Gardens.” Many of these lots have been purchased, but many are partly owned by banks, the municipal government, and private landowners in California, none of whom are concerned with local community needs.

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Breaking Bias

By: Zach Goldman, Jack Gross, Ron Melamed and Sydnee Sicherer

Today was our third day in Memphis, TN. We were extremely fortunate to speak with Jennifer Stollman, Academic Director for the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. With the backdrop of the gorgeous, serene Mississippi River behind her, Jennifer talked to us about the Winter Institute’s efforts to educate the public and fight for racial reconciliation across America.

One thing that Jennifer said that stood out to us was the difference between racism and racial anxiety. More specifically, our inherent biases towards people different from ourselves. As she continued educating us on ways to remove racism, it became apparent that improving ourselves and those around us would be a difficult yet rewarding task. To remove bias from our psyche, we have to gradually immerse ourselves amongst people of all races and creeds. Yesterday, while we built a playground at Libertas School of Memphis, a public charter school, we found ourselves working alongside volunteers from a nearby church and from the school itself. Although many of them were different from us in religious identity and race, all apprehensions were put aside and we managed to finish a large part of the playground in record time. It is only through experience that we can remove the biases we have long held, and achieve a truly equal world.

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