With new leadership in place and a second campus in its repertoire, Hillels of Memphis continues a decades-long tradition of serving Jewish college students in Memphis.
Rabbi Jeremy Simons, aHebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion graduate and experienced educator, has arrived in Memphis to serve as Campus Director for Greater Memphis Hillel, overseeing Hillel chapters at University of Memphis and Rhodes College. His appointment marks Rhodes College’s formal affiliation with Hillel International for the first time. Greater Memphis Hillel is a program of Memphis Jewish Federation (MJF).
Rabbi Jeremy comes from the Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Mississippi, where he was Director of Rabbinic Services for more than 40 synagogues in 13 states.
As Campus Director in Memphis, Rabbi Jeremy will engage students on both campuses. He will facilitate programming, recruit student leaders, serve as a liaison to campus administration and promote a welcoming Jewish community.
“I have a passion for working with young adults, and I’m thrilled to serve these communities in Memphis,” said Rabbi Jeremy. “I’m inspired by the community’s commitment to these two campuses, and I look forward to expanding on the work of my predecessors.”
Rabbi Jeremy was chosen after an extensive search committee process in partnership with Hillel International. The committee was chaired by Wendy Rotter and staffed by Jewish Community Partners (JCP) President & CEO Laura Linder and Director of Community Impact Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein. Committee members included Lawson Arney, University of Memphis Hillel Advisory Board; Carol Casey, Dean of Students for Rhodes College; Victor Coonin, Professor of Art History for Rhodes College; Hal Fogelman, chair of University of Memphis Hillel Advisory Board; Debbie Lazarov, JCP Board of Directors; Daniel Saharovich, Rhodes student; Rabbi Feivel Strauss, Senior Educator for Temple Israel; Stephen Tabachnick, University of Memphis professor and faculty advisor for Hillel; Merit Pinker, Jewish Student Organization president at Rhodes College and Justin Waldrip, past student president and past Interim Director for University of Memphis Hillel.
Through expansion onto a second campus, Greater Memphis Hillel continues a storied legacy dating to the middle of the 20th century. Harry Samuels, a founder of Hillel at University of Memphis, recounts its beginnings.
“I was a member of B’nai B’rith in the late 1950s,” Mr. Samuels recalled. “A couple of Jewish students said they needed money to fix a public address system. So Marvin Posner, who’s since deceased, and I took off our hats and passed them around. That got me started.”
Today, the Morris S. Fogelman Jewish Student Center at Hillel of Memphis boasts a kosher kitchen, regular Shabbat dinners, and programming throughout the year. Hillel’s fundraiser, the Yiddishe Cup miniature golf tournament, has become a popular annual date on the Memphis Jewish community’s calendar.
At Rhodes College, the Jewish presence on campus is newly re-energized after the university’s administration prioritized attracting Jewish students. With the arrival of a Jewish professional on campus, Jewish life will thrive.
Robert Shankman, Assistant Director of Athletics for Rhodes, became involved in the 1990s managing the group that was known as the Jewish Student Organization (JSO).
“Our purpose was to provide access to High Holiday services, that kind of thing,” Mr. Shankman said. “It’s not one of those campuses where you have 20,000 students, but it’s important to provide Jewish students with the ability to connect with other Jewish students and celebrate Shabbat and holidays.”
“Our ability to create a formal affiliation with Hillel International at Rhodes is due to the foundation that was nurtured by Coach Shankman,” said Laura Linder. “We couldn’t have come this far without his work.”
The soft launch of the group as a program of MJF and a formal Hillel chapter began in spring 2017 when Amy Israel Pregulman was hired as a consultant to facilitate student programming on campus. Students enjoyed a Purim program with Rabbi Joel Finkelstein of Anshei Sphard-Beth El Emeth, which included hamentashen baking and a Passover Seder conducted by Allen Israel.
“Hillel’s expansion into Rhodes is a clear example of how we’ll continue to give Jewish college students a home away from home,” said Aaron Canales, student board president at University of Memphis Hillel. “It wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of everyone involved, and especially the insight of our incoming director.”
“Rabbi Jeremy is going to be an incredible leader and an excellent addition to the Jewish community,” said Merit Pinker. “He’ll be a great resource to Jewish students, no matter their religious background or observance level, as well as to the Rhodes interfaith community.”