While some Southern Jewish communities are pondering ways to entice young professionals to move to their cities, some Memphis leaders believe all it takes is getting the word out to college grads about the abundance of opportunities the Bluff City has to offer.
And so grew the concept of the TI Fellowship program at Temple Israel in Memphis.
“Memphis is an amazing city in many ways,” expressed Rabbi Adam Grossman, who came to Memphis from Columbus, Ohio, to join the Temple Israel clergy in June 2008. “Memphis has been ranked among the top cities as a great place to work and buy a home, for its cost of living and family attractions. Young professionals have so many opportunities here to make a difference.”
The TI Fellowship program aims to give ambitious people the power to make a difference in the Memphis Jewish and general community by providing internship opportunities, subsidized housing, community activities and religious fellowship.
According to recent statistics compiled from the 2000-2005 Temple Israel confirmation classes, approximately 70 percent of Jews who graduate from a Memphis high school will leave the Memphis Jewish community permanently.
“There are a number of factors that contribute to this, yet two crucial points stand out – a perception that Memphis lacks a vibrant, young Jewish population, and that Memphis has a meager job market,” explained Rabbi Grossman.
In trying to find a solution to this issue, Rabbi Grossman alongside young professionals Jeff Dreifus and David Edelson, both investment bankers, and lawyer Sam Fargotstein, built the TI Fellowship, which seeks to change the image of Memphis by offering a meaningful summer experience to undergraduates, graduate students and recent graduates who are under the age of 28. And they hope that the quality summer work experience will lead to permanent employment through various company and organizational partnerships.
These three volunteers, who made their way back to Memphis after college, are an asset to Temple Israel and the community because they can speak from recent experience. They can talk to people their own age who have questions about moving or returning to the city, and they can explain how this pilot program can benefit potential companies and talk to financial donors.
“Traditionally, Jeff, Sam, and I like to begin our meetings talking about our backgrounds since they have had a significant impact on shaping the program,” explained David. “The three of us took vastly different academic and geographic paths post high school, yet all three of us were led back to Memphis for one main reason – JOBS.
“By providing meaningful opportunities to top, talented individuals, the TI Fellowship has the unique ability to shape the future of both the Jewish community and the greater city of Memphis,” he continued.
David has returned to Memphis twice. Most recently after receiving his MBA in finance from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 2011. He joined Randy Karchmer at Memphis-based Metronome Partners in January 2012.
“When I graduated from University of Texas in Austin in 2006, most of my friends picked a city they wanted to live in (New York, San Francisco, Atlanta) and moved there without a job, hoping they would find something once they arrived,” explained David. “Given the recent financial crisis, subsequent economic downturn and high unemployment rate, graduates no longer have that same privilege. The scarcity of jobs is a major concern, especially high-quality, well-paying jobs that are few and far between. We feel that offering quality, real-world working experience combined with compensation and free housing is an extremely attractive package, particularly in a world where the paradigm has shifted to the job dictating the city we live in, not the other way around.”
Sam Fargotstein thought his plans would include anywhere except Memphis.
“After college, much to my parents chagrin, I had grand plans to move to Israel,” said Sam, who spent the summer after graduating from University of Tennessee traveling Europe and spending time in Israel as an American guide on Taglit-Birthright Trips. “Somewhere along the way I had an epiphany: I have a great family, a great community, and a great home back in Memphis,” he said. “I asked myself ‘What am I running away from? Why would I put my parents through the torment of being so far away from their son? Where in the world could I possibly be happier or more secure than at home, in Memphis?’ So, I came back home, applied to law school at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphrey’s School of Law, got admitted, graduated and am now a practicing attorney at a great, Memphis-based, law firm, Ballin, Ballin & Fishman, P.C.”
Sam feels fortunate to have recently watched Memphis grow in exceptional ways. “Downtown has had a re-birth,” he said. “Midtown is as cool as ever. As an avid biker I have been so impressed with the City’s efforts in creating the Shelby Farms Greenline, creating bike lanes and enhancing our amazing natural park spaces.
“What I love about Memphis is that it is a big-little city,” he continued. “By that I mean it’s big enough to satisfy the needs of a modern, city-dwelling individual and small enough for anyone to come and make a big difference. Sure, New York, LA, Chicago, Atlanta are great cities, but I feel like my presence there would not change those cities for better or worse. I feel exactly the opposite about Memphis. Someone moving back to Memphis is recognized, appreciated, and their efforts can be seen in tangible ways throughout the community.”
Sam, David and Jeff agree that the TI Fellowship is an opportunity for other like-minded individuals to “effectuate real and positive growth in Memphis,” he continued. “By attracting intelligent and ambitious young Jewish professionals to Memphis the TI Fellowship can help to ensure a bright future for not only the dwindling Memphis Jewish community, but for the entire city as well.”
“The TI Fellowship is designed to give participants a sense of what all aspects of life are like as a young Jewish professional living in Memphis,” said Rabbi Grossman. “The program is perfect for young Jewish adults who want a head start on beginning a career in a great city, as well as the ability to make a profound difference in the lives of others.”
For more information visit http://tifellowship.org/
Applications (http://tifellowship.org/apply/for-students/) will be accepted through Feb. 1, 2013 for a fellowship extending from June 3 through August 9, 2013.
TI Fellowship hopes to:
- Provide young Jewish adults with job opportunities and the possibility of a sustainable future in Memphis
- Create a vibrant social and professional community of young Jews in Memphis
- Foster a community of faith among TI Fellows
- Empower the TI Fellows to make a difference in the Memphis community through social action
- Integrate young Jewish adults into the greater Memphis Jewish Community
- Help to ensure a secure future for Temple Israel and the continuity of the Memphis Jewish Community for years to come
TI Fellowship includes:
- $3,000 stipend; housing subsidy in hip Memphis areas
- Professional development in partnership with the Leadership Academy’s Summer Experience
- Social action projects geared to make a lasting difference in the Jewish and greater Memphis community
- Jewish learning striving to bridge one’s career and communal impact to Jewish values
- And, of course, experiencing the rich nightlife Memphis has to offer