Frequent flyer miles mitzvah; Remembering Lynne

St. Louis native Beth Wilensky’s recent viral tweet led to a deluge of donated frequent flyer miles for separated migrant  families.  

Ellen Futterman, Editor

The tweet heard ‘round the world

To hear Beth Wilensky tell it, donating airline frequent flyer miles to help reunite refugee children who had been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border was an easy gesture — tikkun olam, helping to repair the world. Never did she expect her tweet about it would go viral, as in it being retweeted more than 31,000 times, with many asking, “How can I do this, too?”

“I am beyond stunned,” said Wilensky, who graduated from Ladue high in 1991, celebrated her bat mitzvah at Congregation Shaare Emeth and now lives with her family in Ann Arbor, Mich., where she is a law professor at the University of Michigan.

“There are a lot of people doing a tremendous amount of work to help these families,” she added. “I feel a little uncomfortable getting this much attention for what feels, relative to what other people are doing, a small thing.”

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Wilensky had become part of a grassroots effort called Michigan Support Circle, which looks to help families affected by the Trump administration’s border separation policy. She explained that 53 children taken from their parents wound up in Michigan because the federal government has a contract with a social service agency in the western part of the state.

“My husband travels a lot,” Wilensky posted on Twitter. “Downside: he’s gone a lot. Upside: frequent flyer miles. We just used some to fly a 3-year-old and his dad, who had been separated at the border, from Michigan (where the son had been taken) to their extended family.”

She then asked people to “DM” (direct message) her if they had miles to donate.

“I thought maybe I would get a handful, but it just snowballed,” said Wilensky, adding that in the past week, multiple media outlets have interviewed her, including CNN, ABC, CNBC, Buzzfeed, Business Insider and Travel & Leisure magazine.

In addition to Michigan Support Circle, Wilensky directed people to a two-year-old nonprofit called Miles4Migrants (www.Miles4migrants.org), which relies on donated frequent flyer miles and money to reunite refugees worldwide who have been separated from their families because of war and persecution.  

“In the first year and a half of their existence, this organization received 1.5 million miles total,” said Wilensky. “This week alone, (after her tweet went viral), they received 13 million miles.”

One of the co-founders of Miles4Migrants told Buzzfeed that with these donations, the organization expects to help about 400 people and reunite them with their families. 

Wilensky, by the way, is the daughter of Kent and Debbie Hirschfelder of St. Louis.

Lynnie’s light for life

Lynne Isaacs Palan passed away in April at age 50, but her legacy lives on in the hearts of family and friends. Palan served the St. Louis Jewish community both as a dogged volunteer and professional before succumbing to breast cancer. She battled it hard and fiercely, and was generous about sharing her story when I interviewed her while working on a series for the Light on hereditary breast and ovarian cancer and the BRCA genes.

As a way of remembering not only Palan, but also supporting the Jewish organizations who help women in their fight against these cancers, Palan’s family, Nishmah and the Jewish Community Center invite the community to participate in “Lynnie’s Light for Life” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5 at the J’s Day Camp Pavilion. The date was chosen to coincide with Palan’s birthday, Sept. 6. 

“Lynnie loved her birthday. Last September we threw a bash in honor of her 50th,” said Debbie Kaminer, who is Palan’s sister.  “The most memorable part of the celebration was when everyone launched a wish lantern into the sky.  We knew that we wanted to keep Lynnie’s memory alive in a meaningful way.  It seemed only fitting to create an event that would happen annually on Lynnie’s birth day, bringing light to some darker issues and to benefit the community that she cared for the most.”

Palan championed the work of Nishmah: The St. Louis Jewish Women’s Project and Sharsheret Supports, which helps women and families of all Jewish backgrounds facing breast and ovarian cancer. Proceeds from Lynnie’s Light for Life will help to ensure Sharsheret Supports is there for women in all stages of breast and ovarian cancer — from understanding one’s hereditary risk to grappling with a diagnosis to undergoing treatment.

The Sept. 5 event includes a reception, tribute to Palan and a special lantern lighting to honor her and her commitment to those in need. To attend and/or contribute, visit Jccstl.com/lynnie and register by Aug. 24. Entry to the event is free and open to all ages. Donations of any amount are accepted. 

To participate in the lighting ceremony, wish lanterns are available for purchase with a tax-deductible donation of $100 per lantern. Lanterns will be distributed and dedicated in honor or memory of loved ones the night of the event. Those unable to attend are encouraged to purchase wish lanterns to be included in the community display.  

For more information, contact Shira Kraft, director of Nishmah, at 314-442-3111 or [email protected]

Parties with purpose

Two of my favorite ladies, Sheri Sherman and Faith Berger, seem to be beyond busy. Both are serving as co-chairs for two upcoming fundraisers, each within a few days of the other.

First up: Midwest Children’s Burn Camp, which provides a free, weeklong summer camp experience to youngsters 6 to 17 who have been hospitalized for severe burns. The two are co-chairing the fundraiser, along with Rachel Weiss Kalina and Amanda Winters, which begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, at Neiman Marcus. Tickets start at $75. 

Among the highlights is a fashion show; KTVI Channel 2’s Jasmine Huda will serve as emcee. For details and more information, call 314-939-1550 or go to   Brsg.org. 

The second event also takes place at Neiman-Marcus and features Huda as emcee. “Beauty Buzz,” an annual fundraiser organized by the St. Louis Press Club, raises money for scholarships for local journalism students. Chaired by Sherman, Berger, Ellen Soule and Miran Halen, Beauty Buzz takes place from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15. Expect mimosas, light bites and demonstrations from beauty experts, along with free samples and the chance to win some cool prizes.

Tickets are $60 for adults, $20 for students. For tickets and more information, call 314-449-8029 or go to www.stlpressclub.org.

Music to your eyes

In case you’re missing Jewish Federation’s major donor event Sunday with iconic jazz trumpeter Herb Alpert and his wife, Lani Hall, you can still view his art. A selection of works from the “Herb Alpert: A Visual Melody” exhibition will be on display in the Grand Hall at the Grandel, 3610 Grandel Square, Aug. 17-19. 

The exhibit consists of abstract mixed-media paintings and large and small-scale bronze sculptures by Alpert, who is a prolific artist as well as an eight-time Grammy Award winning musician. 

An opening reception will be held from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 17. The exhibition will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18 and from 6:30-7 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 19.

News and Schmooze is a weekly column by Editor Ellen Futterman. Email Ellen at: [email protected]thejewishlight.com