Sunday, May 13, 2018

Inspiration in Memphis

Writing from Memphis at the JCCA-Jewish Welfare Board convention. It’s a conference of rabbis serving the US Armed Forces, and the most inspiring group of people I ever get to be with. I love these people. They serve our men and women in uniform and the Veteran’s Association. They, with their families: parents, children, siblings, and extended families, sacrifice so much to ensure the religious freedom (and freedom from religion) for our service members, whether Jewish or not. I cannot say enough about how much these colleagues inspire me.

This year the conference is in Memphis, and OH that southern hospitality! The Memphis community is so welcoming and supportive of the work of our chaplains. Of course this isn’t only the JWB. The JCCA is here too, and the numbers gave the Memphis Jewish community the opportunity to show off their hospitality. And boy did they! I don’t even know where to start. 

The food - Barbecue! I’m from New York. To me a barbecue is the thing you light in the backyard. In the south it’s an entity unto itself. WOW! The setting was pretty cool too. The community rented out Graceland for us to spend the evening. Again, WOW! More on that later. Dinstuhl’s chocolates. If you have the opportunity to buy, eat, or hoard Dinstuhl’s chocolates, I cannot say this enough, PLEASE DO! Not only is the chocolate really wonderful, but the owners are some of the kindest, most generous, and welcoming people I’ve ever met. Besides the chocolate that seemed to flow through the conference (which they purchased; they do not take any money out of the company. They work, really work, at the factory without salary, and buy all their chocolate getting only the same employee discount as anyone else.) they shared with us their wonderful memorabilia collection. Again, WOW! The collection was amazing, but the people so much the more so. Simply, Wow!

So, Graceland, in our world Elvis is a bit of a caricature. Too much is made of his end days, and not enough of his true nature. Elvis was a man who grew up with nothing. When he had something, he shared everything he had with those around him - those he knew, and total strangers. He brought his parents and grandmother to live with him. He gave away, not only money, but memorabilia, cars, and so much more. At Christmas time he’d set up an office, and any registered charity could send a representative to get a check. All of them, regardless of mission. If you were a legitimate charity, you got a donation. Simply because Elvis was a generous person. Simply because Elvis could. He lived without, and he wanted to ensure, to the best of his abilities, others wouldn’t have to.
 The Chaplains - These are some of the most inspiring and fun people I know. They live a unique life of service. Rather than clinging to their roots, those same roots allow them to soar. They travel the world, ministering to our men and women in service. They serve our service people and their families. And with them, their spouses and families serve. No matter how far away they are I know I have a system of support around the world. They are my friends and my family. I know I can call upon them, the chaplains and their spouses, day or night to share sorrows and joys. I thank them for all they do, and I salute them.