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JumpSpark Signature Programs – Back for 5782

By COMMUNITY, JumpSpark

JumpSpark, Atlanta’s Teen Initiative, is excited to launch a new year with signature program: JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship, JumpSpark Teen Boys Program, and the Amplifying Israel Teen Fellowship.

JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship, now in its third fourth year, empowers female-identifying Jewish teens, grades 9-12,  by providing access to strong women leaders, thinkers, and voices who shape their world. Each month participants hear from community leaders and engage in relevant learning that speaks to what it means to be a woman in our time. The Fellowship helps young women grapple with the obstacles they face and prepares them to take on leadership roles now and in the future.

JumpSpark Teen Boys Program helps unpack the countless messages they hear every day about what it means to “be a man” and decide for themselves what male characteristics they want to emulate. The Fellowship encourages boys to examine various models of manhood and think critically about what means to be a man in today’s world. The group is a place for boys to decompress, learn tactics to deal with stress, and discover strategies for dealing with emotions in a society that tells them they should hold in their feelings.

Amplifying Israel Teen Fellowship. Last year JumpSpark added teen Israel travel to its portfolio and made it even more compelling with its Amplifying Israel Teen Fellowship. This bold initiative has strengthened Atlanta’s relationship with teens in our partnership region, Yokneam and Megiddo, and amped up demand for teen travel to Israel.

Just as we bring Shinshinim to Atlanta from our partnership region, we are now sending an Atlanta teen to Yokneam and Megiddo as part of her gap year in Israel. Last year our Amplifying Israel Teen Fellows worked with four identified teen leaders in Atlanta’s partnership region. They are ambassadors who are trained as social media storytellers for the program as they help to engage more teens in immersive Israel experiences and build excitement for Israel travel.

Visit the JumpSpark website for more information about programs.

A Call to Protect the Earth

By CARING, COMMUNITY

By Rabbi Jonathan Crane and Joanna Kobylivker

During the month of Elul, Jews blow the shofar daily in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. This year, the shofar’s distinct cry also heralded the beginning of another cycle, the shmitah year.

Shmitah is a biblically-mandated agricultural rule to let the land lie fallow every seventh year. The land’s rest, as the great medieval philosopher Maimonides reflected, makes the earth more fertile and stronger. Moreover, he says that observing the shmitah helps make people more compassionate, it makes civilization better. This may be because the shmitah year is like a shofar, a chance for the land, air and water to cry out, awaken us both to our vital dependence on and cruelty toward the natural world.

The advent of a shmitah year, like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, provides us a chance to take stock of our behavior. Every seven years Judaism encourages us to inquire about our “agricultural report card.” By all accounts, we merit a failing grade. Most credible evidence points to the overwhelming conclusion that our environment is worse off now than it was seven years ago. And scientific consensus confirms that it is human activity that is responsible for this global environmental deterioration.

The science is simple. The implications are serious. Sea level rise, longer droughts, more flash floods, more fires, slower moving and stronger hurricanes, more intense cold air outbreaks while the poles warm faster, hotter temperatures overall, increased desertification (including parts of Israel, many areas already fraught with tension over water rights), food and water resource challenges leading to climate refugees. It’s a serious list. And Judaism tells us we may not ignore this problem. We do not have that luxury.

Just as the Jewish new year holidays instruct us to acknowledge the harms we cause and to commit ourselves to doing better, so does the shmitah year. We are not at liberty to justify the environmental harms we have caused, or to downplay, deflect, or disavow them.

On the contrary, Jews are to muster the courage to be honest in our self-assessment. This is true in the ways we treat each other and especially in regard to the way we treat the natural world. It means exercising more restraint when it comes to using disposable plastic, taking a hard look at the amount of carbon we consume in the form of gas and electricity, considering the sources of the food that we eat, and reducing how much we discard. It means demanding better sustainable practices from our companies and stronger environmental protections from our governments.

We still have a chance to preserve the natural world and protect the health and lives of our neighbors, and by coming together as a community we can do just that. As Hans Jonas, a great 20th-century Jewish philosopher, put it: “Our descendants have a right to be left an unplundered planet.” This shmitah year, let us do what is necessary to make good on that right. We have no time—and no environment—to waste.

Rabbi Jonathan Crane currently serves as the Raymond F. Schinazi Scholar in Bioethics and Jewish Thought in the Center for Ethics at Emory University, is a Professor of Medicine, and is the founding director of the Food Studies and Ethics initiative at Emory.

Joanna Kobylivker is the Community Organizer for the Jewish community at Georgia Interfaith Power and Light (GIPL) and is the Founder and Chair of the Jewish Climate Action Network of Georgia (JCAN GA).

The Impact of a Gap Year in Israel

By COMMUNITY, JumpSpark

Sheryl Korelitz, Director of Gap Year Recruitment for Masa North America, works with JumpSpark and Federation to recruit students for gap year programs in Israel and match students with programs that suit their interests and needs. We asked Sheryl, the proud mother of two Masa gap year daughters, about the value of this experience:

Q: Why send your teen on a gap year program in Israel?

A: So many parents think of a gap year as a year off and worry that their kids will fall behind their peers when they get to college. Overwhelmingly, research shows that a gap year is incredibly beneficial for college success. Gap year alumni have higher GPAs in college and tend to graduate in four years. They are more focused in terms of their careers, and they develop a higher level of independence and maturity.

All types of kids grow during their gap year. Highly driven kids really benefit from time to breathe and flex different muscles. This gives them a year without expectations and less pressure. And kids who are not super students, who spent their high school years not feeling great about themselves because school wasn’t their best skill, they come back brand new! They walk taller, speak with confidence, and have had a year of tremendous growth and self-discovery.

Q: What are the benefits of deferring college to go on a gap year?

A: Kids have FOMO (fear of missing out), and I get it. They think their brain will wither, or that they’ll forget grammar if they take a year away. Some Israel programs have an academic base where you can earn college credit. But the truth is, your college peers won’t care where you spent the previous year. A gap year gives you a whole year to learn how to make all new friends — you’ll come to campus with that skill. You’ve learned to live with a roommate, you’ve done your own laundry, you’ll hit campus running. You’re not behind, you’re ahead.

Future employers will appreciate your experience, and the fact that you have friends from all over the world is a gift that you’ll have forever. And you’ll have BIG fun!

Q: What does a gap year mean for Jewish identity and future leadership?

A:  Parents are understandably anxious about the influence of the BDS (Boycott/Divestment/Sanction) movement on campus and students’ general lack of knowledge about Israel. A gap year is not meant to teach your kids how to be Jewish on campus or dictate a particular point of view on Israel, rather it lets them take ownership of their Judaism — discover how they feel about Israel, and what it all means. Their Israel experience empowers them to come from a place of knowing. They’ve lived it. They’ve met Palestinians. They’ve seen Israeli life and culture. The year empowers young adults to be strong in their Judaism. Being away from family, away from synagogue, helps students make their own decisions. Nothing is more powerful.

There is a strong correlation between Jewish campus leadership and an Israel experience. The Zalik Foundation, a funder of Atlanta scholarships These nine months spent in Israel are life-changing and I truly believe that they contribute to the Jewish future. I applaud The Zalik Foundation for seeing how impactful this can be.

 

Jewish Atlanta: Built for Limmud

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

Ana and I attended Limmud Atlanta at Ramah Darom just before the High Holy Days. It was great to be back, and even in the midst of the Delta variant surge, we felt completely safe and had a spectacular time.

Did you know that there are 97 Limmud communities around the world? Most are one-day events held indoors. Limmud Atlanta is one of a handful of multi-day Limmuds held over Shabbat in a beautiful camp setting. Most Limmuds went virtual when the pandemic began, but Limmud Atlanta was committed to returning to an in-person event as soon as it was safe. This August we had the distinction of holding the first in-person Limmud in the Western Hemisphere since early 2020!

Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me. Echoing the theme of our 2022 Community Campaign, “Built for This,” it’s clear to me Jewish Atlanta was also built for the diversity, volunteerism, innovation, and community building that is Limmud.

Diversity: Jewish Atlanta was built to create Limmud because we are a truly diverse Jewish community. Limmud deeply values all streams of Judaism and prioritizes intra-Jewish dialogue. Limmud core values require that every event meets the needs of people across the spectrum of Jewish observance. I will never forget the time a group from The Kehilla led the entire dining room in a rousing birkat ha mazon (blessing after a meal), or the many times we’ve debated Israeli politics with respect and civility. Intra-Jewish engagement is Limmud at its best.

Not only that, but Limmud is age and geographically-diverse. This year we welcomed folks from Knoxville, Augusta, Asheville, South Carolina, and Florida. It’s a place where toddlers, kids, teens, young adults, and older adults become a community together. With so much informal time to share meals and schmooze, it’s no surprise that that Limmud has led to marriages, babies, and lasting intergenerational friendships.

Volunteerism: Jewish Atlanta is blessed with incredible depth in volunteerism. So too, Limmud is a 100% volunteer-run event. Most presenters are unpaid. At Limmud titles like Rabbi, Doctor, and Professor are dropped. This non-hierarchical structure encourages people to show up and really take responsibility. Passionate, committed volunteers rise quickly within the organization.

Innovation: Atlanta is about learning, and it also prizes innovation. Sessions range from traditional text study to the truly offbeat. Limmud loves putting a Jewish spin on hiking, yoga, music, and culture. One beloved Limmud tradition is a post-Shabbat cigar and scotch gathering, held outdoors. This year we honored Limmud Atlanta’s first executive Director Naomi Rabkin, z”l, by bringing in an innovative Jewish farmer for a learning track on the shmitah year — its history and its relevance in modern times.

This year, fearlessly, Limmud Atlanta had multiple sessions on race, gender and Jewish identity, and the imperative to open doors across our institutions to Jews of color. These sessions were frequently raw and emotional. They tested us to live out our highest ideals and face our failings. I love that about Limmud too.

I urge you to open yourself up to the possibility of attending Limmud Atlanta next year. Limmud is one of those immersive Jewish places where all kinds of people, at all levels of understanding and experience, can find meaning together. It’s exactly what Federation has in mind with its Family Camp initiative, creating new ways to connect with other Jews and with Jewish tradition.

Limmud succeeds because it was built for all of us, by all of us.

Innovation JEDI Night

By INNOVATION

“Justice, Justice, you shall pursue!” is a well-known, biblical instruction. However, it was only last year when “Justice” was first included alongside Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in corporate, educational, and other settings dedicated to enlightened values (see Dr. Kimberly A Truong’s “From DEI to JEDI” here). So, if “Justice” is so important that it needed to be repeated in a biblical commandment, why has it only recently returned to popular consciousness? I think there are two important considerations: 

  • Justice for all is an aspirational value because of America’s individualism and our complex modern society. It is important to note the active voice in “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue!” rings true millennia later. Then and now, we are pursuing Justice with the knowledge that we may never capture it. 
  • Last year was a tumultuous period of survival as we weathered (and continue to weather) a global pandemic while grappling with societal inequities that exposed “essential workers” and other marginalized communities. The shift from DEI to JEDI was urgent and necessary; I encourage you to click through Dr. Truong’s article referenced above for more context and nuance.  

For similar reasons, Equity for all is also an aspirational value. We lead with “JE” at the front of the JEDI acronym to signify their greater demand of our attention. In 2021, Diversity and Inclusion should be a celebrated and strong baseline that enables our community to do the more challenging work. 

If you embody a JEDI value(s), either as an organization or an individual, please consider responding to our Call for Presenters. The form will be open until end of day, Friday October 8. 

Any questions? Contact our Director of Innovation, Russell Gottschalk.

Facing Eternal Challenges

By COMMUNITY

By Rabbi Joshua Heller, Congregation B’nai Torah
For some, these High Holidays 5782 have elicited the response. “Oh no, not again!” — though I suppose that some feel that way about the holidays every year! We assumed that this year would be different from last year, and yet we are facing some of the same challenges again.

Our Biblical role models suffered the same repetition, and their experience may offer us some clarity. In every generation in Genesis, younger siblings earned the favor of their parents and the jealousy of their older siblings. Consider the rivalries of Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Leah and Rachel. Twice, Sarah was taken from her husband by a foreign king with ill intent, and then Rebecca suffered the same fate. On Rosh Hashanah, we read how both Sarah and Hannah struggled with infertility. Abraham went through a total of ten tests.

Scholars offer explanations for this phenomenon, from the literary to the mystical. As we enter 5782, I believe there is another lesson we can learn, which is that life continues to challenge us with the same tests until we pass. From year to year, we may encounter the same conflicts and obstacles in our personal development, our families, organizations, and workplaces. Those who battle addiction must fight that fight every day. It is true for our Jewish community and larger society as well. We face the same challenges of conflict and fragmentation that threatened us a year ago.

Those tests, as challenging as they are, offer an exceptional opportunity. The essence of repentance is that we are given the opportunity to “re-test” and to improve upon our answers to life’s questions. This is not only true for our Jewish nation or for our community, but for us as individuals. This year we have the opportunity to do better than we did last.

Shmitah Year: A Call to Change

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

 

When I joined Federation five years ago, Steve Rakitt, a past CEO of our Federation, congratulated me by sending a big, green plant. It thrived in my office until we left to work remotely, then it dramatically wilted and turned brown. I consigned it to our HR Director Jeanette Park, who spent months lovingly nursing it back to life. Today my plant is smaller, but thanks to Jeanette, it’s green and growing.

The plant’s comeback hints at one of the most revolutionary ideas in the history of humankind — the shmita or sabbatical year. Shmitah is the Torah’s commandment that humans take responsibility for the earth by letting the land lie fallow every seven years. A shmita year is also about justice — we are commanded to forgive all debts and let those who are hungry glean the grapes, olives, and crops that have not been harvested.

Rosh Hashanah 5782 ushers in a shmitah year and it has me thinking that for all the ways we have adapted and pivoted these past 18 months to survive the pandemic, what, if anything, have we done to truly change? This Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I believe that we stand at the brink of a major moral opportunity. There is no going back to normal. Everything around us has been disrupted and yet we cling to old habits, worn strategies, and puny expectations. A shmitah year, especially after a pandemic, is a reset, a moment to commit to radical change.

Let us use this brilliant opportunity, the shmitah year, to reevaluate our priorities and address them with fresh and bold thinking. It has never been more relevant or more urgent than right now.

 

 

Three Big Reasons to Give

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog, PHILANTHROPY

The stunning success of the 2021 Community Campaign demonstrates to me that you, the Jewish community of Atlanta, are believers and builders. Your generosity is what propels us forward toward an even brighter collective future. It’s obvious to me that the Community Campaign is the very best vehicle for keeping that momentum going.

Last year’s Community Campaign closed with totals that exceeded our goals in every category, allowing us to amplify our impact. As our economy rebounds, I know we can do even better in 2022.

Federation is built to do big things. Here are my top three reasons to ask for your generous support for the 2022 Community Campaign:

1) Your support during COVID was magnificent. Jewish Atlanta deserves a pat on the back for how we met urgent needs during the pandemic, how we continue to come through COVID, and how we have learned from it. This kind of help is what Federation was built for and what a great community does.

2) You have helped us build one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in North America. We are the home of world-class partner agencies. We have a growing Jewish population, attracting young people after college and older adults who are moving to join their adult children. Our demographics have attracted innovative national initiatives to locate in our city:  Repair the World, OneTable, Honeymoon Israel, 18Doors, and B’chol Lashon are all thriving here.

3) Our tradition teaches over and over again that being a part of a community means supporting that community. This is the price we pay for the privilege of living in a community that has our back. It’s that basic. Please make your gift today and see all the ways you can channel your support to the things you care about most.

Built to Serve: Campaign 2022

By CARING, COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

It’s a privilege to volunteer on the 2022 Community Campaign, to serve with Debbie Kuniansky, Chair, and a team of hundreds of volunteers and professionals. My reasons for volunteering bring to mind a story from my years as a camper at Camp Barney Medintz in the foothills of the Appalachian Trail in North Georgia. I attended a campout with my cabinmates and counselor. After dinner, we pitched our tents and went to sleep. After sleeping for some time, I suddenly woke my counselor up and asked, “What do you see?”

Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he said, “I see the majesty of God’s creation in the stars and moon, the wonder of nature and miracles of life in the mountains and streams around us.” I responded, “Our tent is gone.” This story reminds me that we need to keep one eye focused on the possibilities, the big ideas and a second eye on the essentials – security, safety, shelter, and caring for one another. With all the challenges in the world, we cannot be so consumed that we focus only on ourselves and on today. Because without planning for the future, our children and children’s children will ask, “What did we do when it was our time to act?” Even worse, they might say, “Why did you not act when you could or should have?”

As a parent of children who graduated from one of our community’s amazing Jewish day schools, I marvel at the depth of their Judaism – the way they honor Shabbat, how they engage in deeds of loving kindness, and their pride in Jewishness. Unlike their Marano ancestors who practiced their Judaism in secret, they live rich Jewish lives. Together with Israel, Jews in North America comprise 90% of world Jewry. We are living in the Golden Age of Jewish life. How do we express that Judaism? By taking care of those less fortunate than us, building on the foundation that our parents and the many generations before them built for us. Together we can do this. We are built for this! Please join us in the 2022 Community Campaign, because we cannot do it without you. Not only for tomorrow but now, today.

I Know What Community Means

By COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

Growing up Jewish in Bangor, Maine was a tremendous life lesson in the power of community. The state’s Jewish population was/is tiny, and I was almost always the only Jewish kid in my class. But as a fourth-generation Jewish “Mainer”, my parents and grandparents instilled in me a strong Jewish identity and connection through active participation in our synagogue, JCC, and Jewish day and overnight camps.

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