Pictured above: Jerry Ehrlich and Josh Lipman
A Holocaust Memorial in North Mississippi? One might wonder how such a project was imagined.
The spark was ignited during a Horn Lake Middle School classroom discussion between teachers Susan Powell and Melissa (Swartz) Wheeler whose passion for increasing awareness about the Holocaust energized their students who then embarked on the “Pennies Project.”
The Pennies Project was a simple concept: collect one and a half million pennies in memory of the 1.5 million Jewish children (out of the 1.6 million who lived in German-controlled territories) who perished during the Holocaust. The students wrote letters to actors, athletes and politicians and asked everyone they could think of for donations. The following year, a local home school group, Gen SC, joined them..
The owner of Peabody Place Mall gave the students permission to scoop up all the coins in the fountain. There was a contagious excitement as the number of pennies grew.
After three and a half years, students finally achieved their goal: 1.5 million pennies in remembrance of the children of the Holocaust. The completion of this special project led to the formation of the Unknown Child Foundation, Inc., (UCF) organized for the purpose of creating a children’s Holocaust memorial.
UCF commissioned Israeli artist Rick Wienecke to create the sculpture of the Unknown Child, and engaged architect Doug Thornton of Hernando, Miss., to design the Memorial. UCF looks forward to building the Memorial remembering the beloved children of the Holocaust and showcasing the over 8,000 pounds of pennies collected by students.
Several Memphis Holocaust survivors, families of survivors and others have stepped forward to help further the mission of the Foundation by speaking to groups or becoming more involved as board members.
“Ten years ago, the Pennies Project began with the students and a small group of (Christian) adults cheering them on,” said founder Diane McNeil. “The goal was to collect the Pennies and showcase them in an appropriate manner that would tell the story of both those who collected and those being remembered. It was to be a gift to the Memphis and Mid-South Jewish community. Jewish families were the ones who suffered, and the Christians involved wanted only to honor them. However, a couple of years ago, it became very apparent that this was much bigger than we were. We invited the first Jewish member, who invited another, who invited another and another and soon there were four Jewish members of the Board. We didn’t know how this Jewish/Christian group would fit together, but now, none of us would change a thing. They know our hearts and we know theirs. The goal is not about any individual on the Board – it is about 1.5 million children.”
Most recently Memphians Josh Lipman and Jerry Ehrlich joined the none-member board – five Christian and four Jewish: Diane McNeil, Susan Powell, Michelle Thornton, Ken McNeil, Chris Powell, Peter Felsenthal and Marty Kelman.
“When Marty Kelman introduced me to the organization, I was completely unfamiliar with it,” said Josh. “Why did I get involved? There was something about the way the board looked at projects and opportunities. There’s a willingness to do more: to reach more people and teach more content. Though much of the focus is on the children who perished and the pennies memorial, the board has looked at its mission with a ‘broad scope’ and has a strong desire to ‘build’ programs with other partners.
Josh is a member of Lipman Holding International (LHI) and currently serves on the boards of Jewish Community Partners (Investment Committee), Dixon Gallery and Gardens (Visual Arts Committee), Temple Israel Museum, and the Tennessee Holocaust Commission. He received his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Pennsylvania.
Jerry also learned about the Foundation through Marty. Jerry is a second-generation Holocaust survivor. His mother, Dicky Weile Ehrlich, survived nine camps, but lost both of her parents during WWII. Jerry recently retired from the Facing History and Ourselves board after nearly 20 years and has presented his Holocaust films, Lives Restarted and Dicky’s Story to classrooms and religious groups throughout the Memphis area.
As chairman/executive creative director at The Brand Squad, Jerry brings his energetic and creative energy to the board. For more than 30 years, he’s helped dozens of well-known companies develop marketing strategies and creative campaigns. He’s won numerous national creative awards including a coveted Emmy and heralded as CEO/President of the Year by the Memphis Advertising Federation.
A graduate of the University of Tennessee with a major in advertising, Jerry started his career with John Malmo Advertising in Memphis, moved to Nashville where he held advertising positions with publicly held companies before moving back to Memphis to start his own business, which eventually became ChandlerEhrlich and finally The Brand Squad in 2008.
In 2016, he partnered with filmmaker, Waheed AlQawasmi, as executive producer for the documentary, Lives Restarted, which follows 11 Holocaust survivors after being released from prison camps and eventually arriving in Memphis. The film was accepted into a variety of prestigious film festivals, won an international Telly award and now appears on Amazon Prime Video.
Jerry has served on numerous boards across the Mid-South. When not working, you’ll find him and his wife, Karen, boating at Pickwick Lake, fishing with his son, Parker, in Michigan or teaching tricks to his two Havanese pups who accompany him daily to the office. He also plays guitar and keyboards in a ‘70’s cover band as well as a nine-piece contemporary church worship band on Sunday mornings.
For more information about Unknown Child Foundation, Inc. Unknown Child Foundation, Inc. or to make a donation, call 901.355.5799 or visit www.unknownchild.org.