Jayme and Jeff Kirschner often thought about a trip to Israel. One day, “someday,” they would get there. But then Federation called. Jayme vividly remembers getting the call from Karen Kaplan, the lead staff of the Gen X Mission. “I was so surprised when she asked if I might be interested in leading the trip, that I asked her if she was sure she had the right name and number.”

Jayme and Jeff have been involved with Federation and its agencies for years. Their daughter, Sadie, went to Israel two summers ago with the Teen Mission; their son, Garrett, will go with Tamarack Camps next summer. Jayme, herself, turned down two previous invitations to the Grosfeld Leadership Missions because the timing just wasn’t right for her family. But this Mission was different, and the timing was perfect.

“We know Federation does missions like no other,”said Jeff. “When Jayme and I first started talking about the Gen X Mission, the itinerary sounded like “Israel’s Greatest Hits” – thanks to the Wolfe’s personal favorite things to do, people to meet and places to see. We were in good hands with the Federation staff, both in Detroit and in Israel; and with our co-chair, Brian Satovsky, also onboard, we couldn’t have asked for a better leadership team.”

Mission leadership (l to r): Brian Satovsky, Karen Kaplan, Jayme and Jeff Kirschner and Amy Brody.

A past board member and well-versed in Federation leadership programs and mission planning, Brian Satovsky has traveled to Israel numerous times. “I was particularly excited about the Mission and its focus on Gen X community engagement.” he said. “It was my privilege to lead and share the experience with our first-time participants – as well as my co-chairs, (Jeff, who had never been, and Jayme who hadn’t been to Israel in over 30 years!)  Now that we’ve returned, my hope is that our journey together will continue, and our group will become an active cohort opening to new paths to leadership in our community.”

Eyes wide open

New to Israel and leading the way, Jayme and Jeff Kirschner both bring an impressive range of experience to the Gen X Mission. Jeff is an attorney in private practice in Southfield, covering the State of Michigan and specializing in workers’ compensation and social security disability. A Past Board Member of BBYO and Temple Israel, he currently serves on the Boards of Tamarack Camps and the Michigan State University Serling Institute for Jewish Studies. An active volunteer with Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy, Temple Israel and Threads, Jayme is an artist and designer who uses her talents for clients of Peace of Mind, Life Solutions, designing floor plans and specializing in downsizing homes and furnishings for seniors. Formerly the owner of Imelda’s Closet, Jayme still opens a pop-up shop called J*ME, featuring the spring and fall line of her favorite shoes.

Gen Xers in their prime: residents of West Bloomfield, parents of freshmen (Sadie at MSU and Garrett at West Bloomfield Hight School), avid MSU sports fans, lovers of art, cooking, good bourbon, travel and adventure. This is Jeff and Jayme Kirschner.  Here’s where we catch up with them two weeks before their Mission, February 20-27. 

In conversation with Jayme and Jeff Kirschner: Leaders on a Mission

On family & work

myJewishDetroit: Please share a little about your family background.

Jayme: Jeff and I (almost) grew up together. Our families lived just a couple of miles away, but never connected.

I grew up at Temple Israel – literally, I remember the groundbreaking; my grandparents were active there, and my mother was the Director of Early Education there for 34 years before her retirement three years ago. Jeff grew up at Temple Beth El and Shir Shalom. We were both in BBYO together – not that we, ourselves, recall, but I found an old photo of a retreat where we were both present.

I went to West Bloomfield High School; Jeff went to Andover. We went our separate ways to college: I have a BA in Fashion Merchandising and Design from Western Michigan University and attended the Fashion Institute of Technology  in New York City; Jeff is an MSU grad in Political Economy and Economics and earned his law degree at the Detroit College of Law.

myJewishDetroit: How did you meet?

Jayme:  The usual way before eHarmony and JDate . . . we relied on family and friends and were fixed up on a blind date. 

Jeff:  Jayme’s cousin was dating an attorney who I was close friends with. He fixed us up in 1996; we were engaged in ’98 and married in July ‘99. We’ve been married almost 21 years.

On community work

myJewishDetroit: How did you first get involved in community work?

Jeff: As a teen, I followed my brother’s footsteps to BBYO and to Tamarack Camps, where  I worked for five years, including one year at Camp Kennedy in the U.P.  I guess that laid the groundwork for my affinity for community work. I would say, too, that my law practice is about caring and helping people with critical legal and health needs.

Jayme:  I suppose my name may have first come up at Federation through Women’s Philanthropy and the Community Connections program. I also used to run the school store at West Hills (Elementary) where I recruited volunteers for lunches and that’s where I first met Karen Kaplan, who recruited us to the Gen X Mission.

As I’ve come to learn in our community, the more you volunteer, the more connections you make to open doors to incredible opportunities.

On your Mission

myJewishDetroit: Let’s talk about the mission, itself. . . who, what, where? And what was the process of recruitment?

Jeff:  The Andi and Larry Wolfe Gen X Mission to Israel included a 7-day tour from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, and from the Central Galilee Partnership2Gether Region to the Golan Heights.

Spots were available for about 30 participants, not counting the co-chairs (Jayme, me and Brian Satovsky), Federation staff members, Karen Kaplan and Amy Brody, and Naomi Miller, our tour guide in Israel. Travel expenses were subsidized generously by Andi and Larry Wolfe who also served as Advisors for the Mission which is set to occur every other year.  

Jayme: Participation was determined by an open-application process where we reviewed about 100 applications from prospective participants who submitted essays or videos, explaining why they wanted to have the experience and what projected impact it would have on their lives.

Jeff: Our group netted out to 33 first timers (those who had never been to Israel, or who had not been there in over 20 years.) We were a balanced mix of men and women, married couples, singles, friends, family – all traveling together. Age-wise, we ranged between 36 and 56. At the start, there was no one in the group who knew everyone, so we all set out on the same footing, ready to get to know one another, embrace the adventure and have fun. 

myJewishDetroit: In what ways has Federation prepared you for the Mission?

Jayme:  From start to finish, the Gen X Mission is an educational process that consists of pre and post Mission programs that cover different aspects of the community and the work of our Jewish agencies, both here and in Israel. As a group, we met three times before the mission. The Wolfes hosted our first in their home; our next two meetings were held in the Federation offices.

myJewishDetroit: When you first saw the itinerary, what were some of the highlights that most excited you?

Jeff:  I’d have to say it was everything– the whole experience.  Everyone I’ve ever met who’s been to Israel, comes back with rave reviews and profoundly moved.  

Jayme: Personally, I was excited to see Technion and looking forward to getting to our Partnership Region and meeting the families we’ve gotten to know through Tamarack Camps’ exchanges. The graffiti tour in Tel Aviv also excited me.  And, of course, I’m all about the food! A wine tasting in the Golan Heights, and a culinary grazing tour in the Jaffa Flea Market.

Jeff: Obviously, everyone in our group had different levels of involvement going into this and will have different expectations coming home. I anticipate that our experience will enlighten us and spark further interest in Federation, in Israel, in our roles in the community and what it means to be Jewish.

Favorites

Restaurants:  The Stage is our go-to neighborhood place. Downtown, we love Parc in Campus Martius and Table No. 2 on Livernois.  Jayme: I’ll add Beau’s, Sonny’s for omelets and brunch, and Beyond Juice in Birmingham.

Building in the Detroit skyline: Jeff: Ren Cen – the iconic landmark building in every silhouette you see of Detroit. Also, I like the architecture of the Penobscot Building, where I used to work.   Jayme: The Lafayette Coney Island and the Eastern Market.

Vacation places:  Every summer we do road trips, discovering the U.S. Our favorites include driving Nashville to Memphis, St. Louis to Chicago, the Maine coastline, and Portland to Seattle.

Sports: Tennis and everything MSU

Jewish food: Soup, corned beef

Jewish holiday: Any, all the food; I love Passover.

Guilty pleasures: Poker, bourbon and beer

Reading now: Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, by Yossi Klein Halevi (a Mission group assignment)

Watching now : Don’t F**K with Cats (way bizarre!)

Words to live by:  Jayme:  Be thankful.   Jeff: No matter what, be kind.

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