Inspirational Giving: Four Questions for Debbie Mehlman

Why is the Jewish community of Greater Hartford so special to you?

I grew up in a small suburb of Trenton, NJ. Our family was the only Jewish family for miles around, and I was the only Jewish student in all of my classes. I always felt like an outsider. When I was 14 years old, we moved to Manchester, CT. I felt a little more connected to my Judaism because there were a few other Jewish classmates in high school, and I was active in USY. But I always wished we had moved to West Hartford, as the West Hartford USY group was so large and active. After I was married and gave birth to our daughter, Rebecca, we decided to move to West Hartford to raise her. Here, I truly feel a part of the Jewish community. There are so many ways to ‘do Jewish’ here, and so many organizations to be a part of…I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Did you grow up experiencing Jewish life in Greater Hartford?

I did not grow up here, but my husband and many of our friends did and still live here. I love hearing their memories of growing up in Hartford, going to High Holiday services and walking in Keney Park afterward, walking to the Crown and to the lox store – and so much more.

What values are you trying to pass on to your daughter?

We raised Rebecca in West Hartford. She had her baby naming and Bat Mitzvah at The Emanuel Synagogue, attended Camp Shalom, USY and BBYO. We taught her the importance of sharing holidays with family and friends and always inviting people who had nowhere else to go. She learned that, as Jews, it is our job to help repair the world and fight for those who have no voice. We taught Rebecca to be a mensch.

What inspired you to promise after-lifetime gifts to three Greater Hartford organizations to ensure their continued vitality?

I was inspired to make a LIFE & LEGACY commitment to the Mandell Jewish Community Center because I basically live there! It is my second home. I work out there almost every day, and I am on the Board of Directors. Whenever I walk in, I feel like I am home, I am where I belong. It is truly a Community Center. I am jokingly called the Mayor or Governor because I know so many people. I would like the Mandell JCC to be around for many years so other people can feel the same way I do. 

The Emanuel has been a part of our family since before I married my husband. He was Bar Mitzvahed there, we were married there, our daughter’s baby naming and Bat Mitzvah were there, and we have shared some sad life cycle events there. The Emanuel community has always been there for us and I am happy to now be there for them.

And the Federation is amazing. They go wherever there is a need. I am grateful that I can make a Legacy commitment to Federation to ensure the future of our Jewish community, and to aid and support Jewish communities around the world. 

Legacy StoriesInspirational Giving: Four Questions for Debbie Mehlman