Photos by Steve Conroy

How do you bring people together from all across the Memphis Jewish community with one common goal? Well, it’s something a lot simpler that you might think: peanut butter and jelly. Sandwiches to be exact. A ton of them – we’re talking thousands!

Now in its third year, the Great Big Sandwich Make is making local history and feeding those in need one sandwich at a time. Baron Hirsch Congregation’s senior rabbi, Rabbi Binyamin Lehrfield, sparked the idea a few years ago. Upon moving to Memphis with his family, he learned just how bad the poverty level is in certain areas of the city and how many people are in need. He decided to spearhead a giant community service project around Purim time in the Hebrew month of Adar, to get people together to do something good for Memphis.

With donations of bread, plastic baggies, peanut butter, jelly and cash for more supplies, the first Great Big Sandwich Make exceeded its goal of 3,000 sandwiches. So, the following year, the goal was upped to 5,000 sandwiches – once again, that goal was crushed. This year was the goal-breaking 3-peat – with 600 loaves of bread and hundreds of pounds of PB&J – 5,956 sandwiches being donated to St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen in Downtown Memphis.

Rabbis Sarit Horwitz, Binyamin Lehrfield and Levi Klein

St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen has operated continuously since 1870. It serves the community’s poor, homeless and less fortunate, averaging more than 300 servings a day. “Our peanut butter and jelly donation this year was the largest one-time donation of sandwiches St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen has ever received,” says David Fleishhacker, Baron Hirsch Congregation’s Executive Director. “In fact, we even surpassed another large organization’s donation. The sandwiches we donated will last the soup kitchen for at least three months.”

Some changes to the program this year may have helped with that accomplishment. “Volunteers used to make the sandwiches in small batches at Jewish agencies around the community – at synagogues, the Memphis Jewish Community Center, Plough Towers and other locations,” explains Fleishhacker. “This year, the program was an initiative with all the area rabbis from every synagogue. On March 6, we all came together in one location, at Baron Hirsch, for one giant sandwich make with 250+ volunteer sandwich makers. There was lots of excitement, people of all ages and from every synagogue – everyone felt they had a good common purpose, that they were doing something special together.”

“The event was inspiring! I had several friends from Beth Sholom synagogue who had not been before join me,” says Sue Ann Lipsey, sandwich maker volunteer and Baron Hirsch congregant. “We all had a really great feeling participating.”

“As a community member and a staff member of the JCC, I am proud to have participated in this event for the past three years,” says volunteer PB&Jer Jeremy Weiser. “This year was especially inspiring because of seeing so many of our Jewish community members gather at one place, at one time to help care for the greater Memphis community of which we are a part.”

The project didn’t stop there, though. After Purim, Baron Hirsch’s Yeshiva University Fellows joined students and faculty at Bornblum Jewish Community Day School and Margolin Hebrew Academy to make yet another 2,000+ sandwiches bringing the total for this year to over 8,500.

By all of us coming together to help feed the hungry, we truly showcased what the Memphis Jewish community is all about – chessed and the tremendous good we can do when we join together.

Participating Organizations
Anshei Sphard Beth El Emeth Synagogue, Baron Hirsch Congregation, Beth Sholom Synagogue, Chabad Lubavitch, Or Chadash, Temple Israel, Young Israel