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Antisemitism’s rise endangers all of us

By COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

By Eric M. Robbins as originally featured in the Atlanta Journal Constitution

One of the most dangerous undercurrents in the midterm elections was the rise in antisemitic rhetoric by some political candidates. In a country where we have witnessed celebrities like Ye (Kanye West) and athletes like Kyrie Irving publicly attacking Jewish people, it is sad to see some of our political figures and public officials continue to fail to condemn those actions and call out racists and those who propagate hate.

In the past few years, we have experienced the mainstreaming of antisemitism — from the Charlottesville rally to, horrifically, shootings in Pittsburgh and Dallas. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has played a leading role in the fight against antisemitism, recently reported that antisemitic incidents in the metro Atlanta area have doubled in 2022 from 2021.

According to the ADL, which fights all forms of antisemitism and bias, there is particular concern on college campuses, where there were 359 antisemitism incidents during the 2021-2022 school year. Indeed, during this year’s annual University of Georgia versus University of Florida football game, the words “Kanye is right about the Jews” were projected on the side of the stadium and on other buildings in downtown Jacksonville, Fla.

Antisemitism is being keenly felt on college and university campuses. College students report that anti-Zionism on campuses is rampant and that non-Jewish students conflate their feelings about the Israeli government with their feelings about their Jewish classmates.

Indeed, Jewish students are not only facing more prejudice from fellow students, but in some cases from faculty.

In September, it was reported that the University of Vermont is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education after a teaching assistant threatened to give Zionist students lower grades.

In an effort to help combat the increase of antisemitism on college campuses, particularly in Georgia, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta has partnered with the Hillels of Georgia, part of Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world. Hillel gives Jewish students a community on campus and tools to help them better address antisemitism from their peers. The Hillels of Georgia immediately reached out to officials at both the University of Georgia and the University of Florida following the incident at the football game to help mitigate the situation’s impact at both schools.

Combating antisemitism is a community effort and something that the Federation cannot do alone. We rely on our partners like the American Jewish Committee to engage with ethnic, religious and political leadership. We need the Anti-Defamation League to work with law enforcement as well as provide a host of education services and research resources that track extremist groups, ideologues and hate on digital platforms.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta meets regularly with leaders of Atlanta’s faith communities, and the Atlanta Rabbinical Association helps to inform our broader Jewish community.

Our ability to work together to advance this mission of ridding the world of antisemitism is important for our broader community.

The Federation also helps to fund the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Israel Campus Fellows program, which brings Israeli young adults to work on university and college campuses in the United States. Through this initiative, more Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are exposed to Israeli people to help diminish stereotypes and foster increased personal relationships with the people of Israel.

In partnership with the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, the Federation’s Community-Wide Security Program helps protect the entire Atlanta Jewish community, including schools, camps, synagogues and other local Jewish organizations.

This year, the, Federation helped local organizations secure $2.3 million in security enhancements.

The Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) is an initiative through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It provides support for physical security enhancements and activities, including planning and training, to nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of terrorist attack due to their ideology, beliefs or mission.

Jewish people are vibrant, diverse and strong, having overcome obstacles and survived tumultuous times. We are a part of the fabric of life in Atlanta and across the country and we are passionate Americans and believers in our democracy.

History continues to teach us, as Abraham Lincoln said long ago, that our country will not stand if it is divided. Hate for one group doesn’t just impact its members, it can and will tear us all down.

Stand with us to fight antisemitism and prejudice and hatred. Now is the time to rally together to protect the freedoms we all love as Americans, for each and every one of us.

jessie-schwartzman-at-camp-coleman-holding-torah

How Camp Led Me to my Career at a Jewish Nonprofit

By Jewish Camp Initiative

By Jessie Schwartzman

 

In the fall of 2007 I was watching a  presentation about a sleep away camp at my synagogue. The five minute video immediately captured my attention and shortly thereafter I was begging my parents to let me go. I somehow convinced my parents to say yes even though I didn’t know anyone else going, and by July 2008 I was off for my first year at URJ Camp Coleman. I came back from my first summer totally in love with the place and to this today it has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. 

Over the past 14 years Camp Coleman has given many things: the best memories, the truest friendships, and a sense of direction with my career choice. After my time as a camper at Coleman was finished I quickly applied to be on staff. I knew I wanted to give back the place that had given me so much. In the Summer of 2016 I started my journey as a camp counselor, it’s still till this day one of the hardest and most fulfilling jobs I have had. I also was just starting my sophomore year at Florida State University ,where I was very much involved in the student life at Hillel. 

After that summer at camp I knew my Judaism was important to me, I just didn’t realize how much until I was offered a part time job at that Hillel. During the year I was helping my peers and other students stay connected with their Judaism and over the summer I was doing the very same thing for my campers. After my second year on staff it had clicked for me that working in the Jewish non profit world was where I wanted to begin my career. 

Fast forward to the spring of 2019. I was about to graduate and I was vigorously applying for jobs. Through many hours and many different interviews I landed a job with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta…. JumpSpark Teen Engagement Coordinator. I was super excited about the opportunity to work with teens and I was even more excited that it was a unique combined position with Union for Reform Judaism. Over the last three years this job has allowed me to work with teens in the Atlanta community on so many levels, and the best part it allowed me to stay at camp a little while longer. I was able to sit on the Coleman year round team and influence the next generation of teens.

I am now starting a new full time position at Federation in the teen space and I owe this transition and success all to camp. Camp taught me the importance of giving back to my community, the importance of doing work that matters, and the importance of Judaism in everyday life. Because of camp I get to do what I love and I don’t think 10 year old me realized what was in store after that first summer at camp. 

Pride Reflections

By COMMUNITY

Pride lives in the present moment. It draws breath through whole-hearted people, here and now, celebrating the joy of love, and the freedom to do so without fear.

I want to take a step beyond the present moment of Pride and honor the struggles of those who led us here in their daring willingness to imagine an impossible future.

L’dor’v’dor (from generation to generation). I pass it on. I can imagine a future in which the freedoms I have as a white-passing queer woman surrounded by a community who accepts me are the norm. A future in which inclusive and safe workplaces like the Jewish Federation are standard. A future in which the brutal attacks on the rights and lives of trans and gender non-conforming people, particularly People of Color, have given way to a reality in which fear, and hatred melt into acceptance, even compassion. A future in which gender and sexual diversity open the door for every person to explore the multitudes within them, free of judgement, and released from the binds of other’s expectations.

I am fortunate in my career with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta to be able to work toward a regenerative future. Through my role on the Atlanta Jewish Foundation team, I get to help re-imagine what a community-wide support system can look like, and to serve those doing the work to realize this vision.

I want to be clear that though my instinct is to express a positive and hopeful outlook, I am absolutely terrified for the future. The right for trans people to simply exist in the world, let alone thrive, is under legal attack, as are the rights to bodily autonomy for anyone with a uterus. I lead with hopefulness and positivity, but I am also angry and afraid.

What gives me hope is parents raising children to understand and respect consent at an early age. I find hope in children who have no issue accepting gender and sexual diversity, because they were never taught the restrictive narratives to begin with that we are as a society are having to claw our way out of. Change and transformation are core tenants of nature. As queer activist, poet, and comedian Alok Vaid Menon so beautifully puts it: “Nothing in this world is fixed. Everything is constantly moving. And that’s the vibrancy and the joy of being alive.”

L’dor’v’dor. I cannot wait to learn from future generations.

Kaylin B.
Foundation Operations Manager

‘Nobody wins in a war’

By Eric's Blog, GLOBAL JEWRY

[This post originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on March 25th, 2022.]

Seeing the Ghosts of Our Grandparents

It’s a seven-hour drive from Warsaw to the Ukraine border crossing at Medyka where thousands of people are seeking safety and refuge in Poland. This is day two of my pilgrimage to Poland with Jewish leaders from ten U.S. cities. We are all here to bear witness to the modern-day refugee crisis that has displaced millions of Ukrainians in a matter of weeks. We are all here to do whatever we can to fund and support the massive humanitarian effort underway to save Ukrainian Jews and other displaced Ukrainians. We are committed to returning home and telling American Jews a story we never imagined would happen again.

Ironically, we are driving through our grandparents’ Poland — once home to the largest, most vibrant Jewish community in the world and the intellectual birthplace of countless Jewish thought leaders, rabbis, and artists. As our bus continues eastward, it is haunting to pass through towns with names like Lublin and Chelm, made famous in the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Sholom Aleichem. It is even more haunting to see signs for Polish towns like Oswiecim, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka — the places where our people were herded like cattle, tortured and gassed.

Only 10,000 Jews remain in Poland. But today, millions of refugees, Jewish and non-Jewish, are pouring into Poland seeking safety and shelter from the destruction, and brutality of Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine. This time, we are here for them.

Our Partners on the Ground

My fly-in to Poland and the Ukraine border was organized by Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) which coordinates the heroic on-the-ground work of our overseas partners, the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). These two organizations are doing lifesaving work to protect and support Jewish and non-Jewish refugees. Both have been deeply engaged with Jews in Ukraine for more than 75 years. Both have established a strong infrastructure as they work in coordination with each other and with other NGOs in eastern Europe.

For as long as there has been an annual Community Campaign in Atlanta, JAFI and JDC have received significant financial support from us. This support, along with a collective of Federations around the world, has allowed them to build a robust infrastructure that builds the Jewish communities of Ukraine and supports basic needs.

Returning to Warsaw After 20 Years

This is not my first time in Warsaw, Poland. Twenty years ago, I came here to visit the small village, now part of Lithuania, where my grandfather was born. On this unexpectedly warm and bright day, Warsaw impressed me with its combination of modern and historic architecture. There was a surprising calmness to the city, and strangely, it recalled the vibrant Squirrel Hill Jewish community of Pittsburgh where I had the privilege of growing up. My Pittsburgh Jewish community was created by Jews who fled Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. Still, it is eerie to be in this modern city where parts of the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto still exist.

The reality is that American Jews like me were born in the very best place, at the absolute best time in world history. How stunning now to be a 21st century American visiting a country that is absorbing millions of refugees, most of whom were living quite modern lives just a month ago. That so many of them are Jewish feels like an old nightmare.

In Warsaw, I was nearly hit by a bicycle while absent mindedly walking in the bike lane. I later met the individual who nearly ran me over in a nearby coffee shop and we had coffee together. He let me interview him and I recorded it on my phone. He was a Pole who was hosting refugees in his flat and had many friends doing the same. He was not surprised by the war in Ukraine and said that he knew it was brewing for years. The current situation reminded him of the world’s response to World War II and how long it took the world to wake up to what was happening. He said it was easy to imagine that we were like two people having coffee in Paris in 1939, talking about what was happening in Germany. It underscored the unpredictability of this war and all the possible scenarios that could play out.

As I walked the streets of Warsaw and neared the central train station, I saw refugees everywhere. Families without fathers were camped out on blow-up beds, resting on benches, eating meals, and getting supplies from temporary tents. Some were passing through and some were trying to settle in Warsaw. The scale of it was heartbreaking.

The Hope of Making Aliyah

On my first evening in Warsaw, I visited a Jewish Agency for Israel processing center set up at a local hotel. Anyone Jewish or related to someone in Israel could come in and learn the required steps to emigrate to Israel. Families of all shapes and sizes were getting the assistance they needed. Thousands had already landed in Israel. It was moving to see the State of Israel living out its mission to be a safe home for all Jews whenever they should need it. At the JAFI center, I heard stories of Holocaust survivors and righteous Gentiles choosing a future in Israel, and stories of people who left in such a hurry they had no documents at all. Here it did not matter. All who wanted to leave for Israel were helped. It was heartwarming to meet the many physicians and trauma counselors, so familiar with the wounds of war and displacement, who had come to help Jews and non-Jews find comfort, safety, and optimism.

At the Ukraine Border

Arriving at the Medyka border crossing was the emotional crescendo of my trip, where the enormity of this crisis became real. We stopped along the way at another processing center staffed by the JDC and JAFI where we donated more than one ton of relief supplies collected at home. We met many families. Perhaps because I am the father of an adolescent girl, I was most impacted by a mom and her 15-year-old daughter who left their home in Kyiv. Their story, like all the others, was horrendous. They lived in a bomb shelter for weeks and left Kyiv with the little they could carry and their pets. The young girl, Sophia, was withdrawn and distraught and her mom spoke between tears. When the mom finished speaking, she asked Sophia to talk about some drawings she had made. I will never forget how Sophia ran to get one of them and explained how they depicted her emotions and fears, and her dreams and aspirations for peace.

The border felt sacred in unexpected ways. Seeing the JDC and JAFI professionals in uniform alongside the other NGOs, I knew we were doing what we do best. A steady stream of families was coming across the border pushing strollers, pulling suitcases, and looking exhausted. It seemed utterly inhuman to me that all these people, no different than me, had been displaced. Some of them were in wheelchairs or were holding the hands of traumatized children with noticeable special needs. At the same time, I witnessed incredible gemilut chasadim (human kindness) in a way I had never seen before. Our partners were there to accept and embrace traumatized and brave people as they poured across the border. It was a scene I will never forget. The scope of the refugee crisis is immense. And there are literally millions who have chosen to stay or cannot leave Ukraine. What will happen to them?

Like Sophia, I do not and never will understand war. Nobody wins in a war and any life lost is one too many. History teaches us repeatedly that power, ego, and evil are destructive forces. Echoing the words of Anne Frank, I do believe that most people are good. Somehow, we need to fight the Amaleks who appear every generation, who are dedicated to darkness and destruction. I am thankful to be part of a community and a profession that is trying to do whatever it can to help people so terribly impacted by this unnecessary war. I will return to Atlanta from this brief fly-in and commit myself more deeply to do everything I can to help.

The Southeast is Making Jewish Camp a Priority

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Camp Initiative

In October 2021 the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) opened its Southeast Center in Atlanta. I am grateful to have been selected as its inaugural Director, and also to the Zalik Foundation for their support in helping the Southeast Center become a reality. During our first year, we have been primarily focused on Atlanta and the FJC Camps that are strongly tied to the community including Camp Barney Medintz, MJCCA Day Camps, Camp Ramah Darom, URJ Camp Coleman, URJ 6 Points Academy, In the City Camps, and Camp Judaea.
We are focused on building a strong professional Jewish Camp community by listening and learning the needs of each camp. Since nearly all seven of the Directors serving Atlanta are new, we offered them and their Facility Managers a Southeast Jewish Camp Tour. It was a wonderful way to learn about the camps and deepen the connections between our camp professionals. Additionally, the FJC-Southeast Center has been collaborating with Hillels throughout the SE to plan camp staff recruitment events and explore other ways that we can work together to strengthen our camps and campuses. 

It is also very exciting that FJC Leader’s Assembly 2022 will take place in Atlanta, December 4-6, 2022. FJC Leader’s Assembly consistently draws 750 or more attendees from throughout North America and even overseas including camp professionals, Board Members, Foundations, donors, and many others working closely with the Jewish camping community. Our local host committee is committed to sharing our city’s unique elements, culture, and talent with those who will be joining us from throughout North America and the world. 

 Bobby Harris spent 36 years serving as Camp Director/Jewish Educator at Camp Young Judaea-Sprout Lake, JCC Camp Arthur-Reeta, and 30 summers as Director of URJ Camp Coleman. Bobby is now working to strengthen Jewish camps in the Southeast.

Bobby Harris

Director, Foundation for Jewish Camp

Jewish Atlanta Turns Out in Big Numbers for Security Training

By COMMUNITY, Secure Community Network

420 people attended an online security training, Countering an Active Threat, presented on Sunday by Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. Neil Rabinovitz, Community Security Director, conducted the training, along with Jimi Horne, Deputy Community Security Director.

The training educated participants on how to commit to action if they encounter any type of active threat. There was a review of best practices including:

  • The definition of an active threat
  • Knowing the difference between security and safety
  • Learning the three modes of action in an active shooter incident: RUN, HIDE, FIGHT
  • Understand how to prepare for an active threat
  • The importance of additional training

One recent participant in the security trainings explains how it was memorable and how it helped them:

The information was easy to understand and there were clear suggestions on how to react to an active shooter situation.

It was so helpful to see and hear from someone who survived the Tree of Life shooting and the actions he took that saved his life. That was very compelling and memorable. Seeing videos of active shooter situations and hearing the comments of the security trainer was very helpful.

For information about upcoming security trainings, or to request a no-charge security assessment of your facility, visit Federation’s Security Planning page.

students in a sceince lab - jewish atlanta

Atlanta Jewish Community High School Tuition Grant

By COMMUNITY

Atlanta Jewish Community High School Tuition Grant

High School Students To Recieve 50% Tuition

Atlanta professionals working at eligible Jewish non-profits may receive up to 50% tuition at an SACS or SAIS accredited Jewish high school — Atlanta Jewish Academy, The Weber School, and Temima: The Richard & Jean Katz High School for Girls.

WHAT: A grant covering up to 50% of tuition at any of Atlanta’s SACS or SAIS accredited Jewish high schools for the children of Jewish community professionals who meet specific criteria. The tuition grant is guaranteed for the duration of the child’s attendance at Atlanta Jewish Academy, The Weber School, or Temima: The Richard & Jean Katz High School for Girls. These grants are funded by members of the Atlanta Jewish Community with appreciation and gratitude for the many contributions these professionals make. Each school is allocated a pool that is distributed per capita to eligible students.

WHO: Jewish community professionals who work full-time (32+ hours per week) for an eligible Jewish non-profit institution in Atlanta. Eligibility criteria can be found at the link below (where it says “CLICK HERE”).

WHEN: The tuition grant will continue for the 2022–2023 academic year for current and new Jewish high school students whose families meet the eligibility criteria. The grant will apply for the duration of the child’s attendance at one of Atlanta’s SACS or SAIS accredited Jewish high schools.

CLICK HERE to learn more about eligibility criteria and other frequently asked questions.

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