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Yokneam Opens Arms to Ukrainian Olim

By CARING, People in Need

By Eliad Ben Shushan, Israel Partnership Director
Yokneam has welcomed over 100 Ukrainian refuges who escaped from Europe, most of them carrying only a small bag and a lot of fear. I met with some of them, together with Yokneam’s deputy mayor Roman Peres (a native Russian speaker) who is also the leading professional in the municipality responsible for the absorption process.

Roman and other amazing staff and volunteers from Yokneam traveled to the hotels housing these families as they arrived. When I refer to “a family,” I mean mostly mothers and their kids, since the fathers ages 18-60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine and must stay and fight against the Russians. In the hotels they met with the families, listened to them, found out what they needed, invited them to come live in Yokneam, and offered support that some of it is given by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

As I gather with professionals from the welfare and education departments of the municipality, we talk about their needs, what the municipality and the government can give, and what is the support the federations can provide to make their absorption in Yokneam easier – things like help with summer programs for kids that the mothers will be able to go to work, mental support for kids and moms and coupons they can go independent and buy things they need.

Two months ago, I met with Georgy Chujik, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor from Ukraine whose home in Kiev was bombed in March. I learned from Roman before the meeting, that Georgy was born in Vinnytsia, Ukraine and his mother got him out right before the Nazis came. After they returned to their home, they realized that no one who remained in Vinnytsia survived. Georgy moved to Ukraine and when this conflict started 8 years ago, his home was destroyed, and he moved to Kyiv. This March his home was bombed by the Russians, and he had to leave. Three times in his life he saw his home destroyed and needed to escape.  Now at 88 he has chosen to come to Israel, and to Yokneam. He said his apartment in Yokneam is where he will stay.

I shared with Georgy the concept of the Partnership and that good people from the other side of the ocean are thinking about him and want to share their support and love. Georgy was moved by it and told me that it brings light to his soul, and he gave me a hug. I really felt like I was hugging a piece of history.

AURA Funding Needs Increase as More Families Arrive in Atlanta

By CARING, COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY, People in Need

As Ukrainian refugees make their way to Atlanta, there is an urgent need for funds to support them. Those lucky enough to leave the Ukraine and arrive here are in desperate need of housing, food, and access to jobs, healthcare, and other services.

They come with only the clothes on their backs. They are not eligible for any other government assistance programs — no food assistance, no medical assistance, and no access to government-funded services provided by the refugee resettlement program.

Federation has partnered with Jewish Family & Career Services to launch AURA a fundraising effort dedicated to helping displaced Ukrainians in metro Atlanta. Federation has set aside an initial $200K from the Emergency Relief Fund to support this vital work, but fundraising will continue to meet anticipated needs. Funds are currently supporting 56 individuals who have traveled to Atlanta to escape the war in Ukraine in coordination with volunteers at Atlanta area synagogues, temples, and other organizations.

The Lotner family, members of Congregation Or Hadash, opened their hearts and their home to one Ukrainian family lucky enough to have escaped. Click below to read their story

Jessica Lotner and her family have shared their experience illustrating just how important every bit of aid can be to Ukrainian evacuees. Read the story here: https://jfcsatl.org/news/volunteers-ukrainian-evacuees]

Confessions Of a Jewish Gap Year Mom

By GLOBAL JEWRY, JumpSpark

By Robin Rosen
My son Jack was just beginning to find his way socially when COVID hit in March of 2020. He is a fairly reserved kid with a late birthday, so he came to being social later than his peers. Camp had always been where he felt most comfortable socially, but COVID upended everything. It cancelled soccer, the prom, and his summer plan after Junior year to go on the Ramah Israel Seminar.

Just as Jack was applying to colleges online I heard about the JumpSpark gap year scholarship opportunity. I wanted to find a gap year program that was the right fit for him — religious but not too religious, a program where he could learn to make decisions for himself but with supervision. Social, but not a party program, with plenty of travel and experiences with Israeli kids. I wanted him to experience Israel, grow as a young adult, and come back excited to start college and still love being Jewish. After I researched and talked with a dozen different programs, I came to same conclusion that Jack had all along — Nativ was the right choice.

Once the volumes of paperwork were sent and sent again, we gathered everything on the packing list and tried to fit everything he needed for the year into two duffel bags. Lucky for us, he is a bit of minimalist, so we managed to fit everything in. I was ready for him to go.

I got asked often, “Aren’t you worried about sending him to Israel?” I wasn’t worried about Israel – I was worried about him making friends, that he got enough to eat, that he would do his laundry.  Things have changed a lot since I went to Israel as a student in 1989. There are no more payphones, tokens or collect calls. Jack had a cell phone with an Israel SIM card and could call or text when he wanted to.

It turned out that once or twice a week was what he wanted — and we were happy to get that! His calls were brief, his texts even shorter, but it was clear he was having a good time and busy. He was staying up late – his phone calls were often at 1:00 am Israel time. His credit card bills were mostly for food and occasionally a bar tab. Jack figured out how to do his laundry, how to navigate roommates who were as messy as he was, how to navigate the bus system and how to get invited to a friend’s house for shabbat.

I did worry when he got COVID so far away from home. Turns out that he ended up missing some programming he did not want to attend and played video games for a few days. In every picture that Nativ posted (no social media for my kid), he was smiling and surrounded by friends. I knew he was doing well. About six weeks after he got to Israel, he said to me, “Mom, you were right. I am so glad I am here.”

Mostly, I just missed him. Nine months is a long time to go without seeing your child. COVID prevented me from visiting him. We had a great trip planned but Israel shut their borders to tourists, just few weeks before our departure.

Jack returned home a bit shaggier, a bit taller, and much more attached to his cell phone. He misses his friends desperately. He is speaking up for himself more and he is working through his college online orientation without nagging. He set up his summer job and gets himself to work every day. He is much more confident in who he is as a young adult and as an American Jew. Now, I feel like he is ready for college and independent living. I am so grateful that he had this opportunity. It was a gift for him and for us.

To learn more about Gap Year scholarships and programs, contact Susie Mackler, or visit JumpSpark’s Gap Year Page.

ethiopian-jewry

Ethiopia: Where Jews Cling to Hope and Promise

By GLOBAL JEWRY, People in Need

In a trip that inspired a wide range of emotions, Federation board member Michael Kogon visited Ethiopia’s community of devoted Jews in Gondar. He, along with other Jewish leaders from Europe and Canada, were ushered into this remote region nestled beneath the Simeon Mountains, a range Kogon describes as both beautiful and foreboding. Michael Kogon’s account of his journey to Gondor brings you closer than ever to the great need of the Ethiopian Jewish community. Read the moving account of his visit, a true eye-opener.

That thousands of Jews have escaped the area’s abject poverty and famine to make Aliyah to Israel is a wonderful thing. Yet many more Ethiopians yearn to rejoin their family members already in Israel who they have not seen for years as they wait for permission to emigrate. Following his trip, Michael Kogon is spearheading an effort to raise money to support the Ethiopian Jewish community and to help fund flights to their land of promise. Your donations to the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ) Fund will help.

Online Hebrew Instruction for Unaffiliated Families

By CARING, Jewish Education Collaborative

Atlanta Hebrew Connection is growing! This exciting online program for Hebrew language learning is the product of a partnership between the Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC) and ShalomLearning, a nationally renowned Jewish education organization. What began as a pilot program involving learners from three local synagogues has grown to include six congregations for the upcoming school year. In addition, Atlanta Hebrew Connection will now be open to individual students who are not affiliated with a synagogue or religious school.

Atlanta Hebrew Connection focuses on teaching students to decode Hebrew, learn prayers, and understand their meaning. It offers small classes, flexible scheduling, and excellent instruction right at home. Key components include:

  • Synchronous, small group learning sessions (3-5 students in each)
  • Excellent curriculum and instruction methods
  • Top-quality teachers
  • Social connections among students from different parts of the community
  • Choosing a class time that works best for your family
  • NOT having to battle Atlanta traffic in the middle of the week!

“My son didn’t know Hebrew at all and now when we go to Shabbat services, he shows me all the words he can read. It’s awesome!”

“I love that I don’t have to rush through rush hour traffic. Yay virtual! My son LOVES learning Hebrew, and their teacher is wonderful.”

For more information about Atlanta Hebrew Connection, please contact Rabbi Elana Perry: eperry@jewishatlana.org.

Never Underestimate the Power of Jewish Day Camp

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Camp Initiative

By Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez, 
There is no question that summer is in full swing in Atlanta and summer means day camp for so many of Atlanta’s families. Each summer, approximately 3,000 children will attend Jewish day camps, where they will experience unique joyful Judaism and experiential education which they get to bring home to their families each evening.

“Jewish Day Camp is where my children can be most proudly, happily and authentically themselves,” says Eliana Leader. “They can be joyfully and loudly Jewish, explore their creativity, take chances, and expand their horizons. As a parent I love seeing the connections my kids make with their counselors as cool Jewish role models.”

Another day camp parent shared that they love that their children get to meet kids from a wide array of Jewish backgrounds, while other parents love that the language of Shabbat and kashrut is interwoven throughout the programming.

Jewish Atlanta is blessed to have so many phenomenal day camps to meet the needs of the diversity of our community. We know that the impact goes beyond the summer as these connections continue throughout the year and into the future summers and their families’ collective Jewish journeys.

Meeting the Moment Together

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

Summer is here and July lies before us with its promise of fun, family, travel, and leisurely light-filled nights. Friends, we have earned it! As Campaign 2022 closes, I am buoyed by the satisfaction of knowing that our Jewish community has again gone above and beyond to meet human needs in Atlanta and around the world.

It wasn’t easy. This year, unanticipated issues hit us relentlessly — the refugee crisis in Ukraine, deadly antisemitic acts in the U.S. and around the world, serious challenges that continue to face us in the aftermath of COVID-19, and the opportunity to reunite Ethiopian Jews with their loved ones in Israel.

None of these issues are “over.” All of them will require ongoing philanthropic support. But there is no denying that in 2022, Jewish Atlanta met the moment! Here are the incredible numbers:

  • The Partners Fund, which supports local, Israel, and overseas needs, is to exceed its ambitious goal of $14.2M.
  • Thousands of you stepped up to raise more than $2.6M supporting the urgent needs of Ukrainian Jews through the Ukraine Emergency Response Fund.
  • Today, as Ukrainian evacuees make their way to safety in metro Atlanta, you continue to support them through Atlanta Ukraine Relief Assistance AURA, in collaboration with our partner, Jewish Family & Career Services.
  • Atlanta Jewish Foundation fundholders sent grants of more than $51.7M to 1,169 grantee organizations. Atlanta Jewish Foundation fundholders directed 80% of their grants to Jewish organizations, and 70% of those dollars stayed local.
  • Funding for special projects in education, mental health, housing for older adults, support for Holocaust survivors, feeding the hungry, responding to antisemitism, and more, added significant revenue to Federation this year.
  • We tallied $23.5M in total philanthropic dollars, which includes direct fundraising, incoming grants, and donor advised funds.

With passion and purpose, Jewish Atlanta demonstrated its ability to pivot, to raise funds, and strengthen our people. I have never been prouder of us. Thank you.

 

Walking In . . . Reflections on My Trip to Ethiopia

By CARING, GLOBAL JEWRY

June 2022
By Michael Kogon

Why am I in Gondor, Ethiopia with Jewish Federation board members, Federation leadership from Europe and Canada, members of the Jewish Agency leadership, and community CEOs? Why is the Jewish Agency bringing us here to this place now?

Newly arrived in Ethiopia, it is still not altogether clear. Yes, I’m sure there is a Jewish family or 10 that want to get to Israel. Dollars are needed to make sure that while we rescue lives in Ukraine, we don’t leave the remnants behind in Ethiopia.

Walking In — I arrive for services bright and early; after a long flight, a long day before, no AC in our hotel, no tv, and no internet. Why? To see the few remaining Jews, to see another place that Jews USED to be, a handful of orphans and some elderly?

Walking In — I cannot believe my eyes, not a handful, not a few dozen, not even a few hundred, but 1,000, 1,500, maybe 2,000 people! Men, women, children, old, young, teenagers, mothers and fathers. There is an ark, a bimah, a mechitzah (partition separating men and women in prayer), tallitot, (prayer shawls), tefillin (small black leather boxes with leather straps containing scrolls with verses from the Torah), prayers that are as familiar as a day school and synagogue prayers. The tune may be different, but words of praise of our G-d hit all of us.

If you want to be in the presence of Zionists who love Israel with their soul, fly to Gondor and sing Hatikvah with Ethiopian Jews who pray with their hearts to one day be allowed to go to Israel, to step foot in the old city, to pray at the Kotel, to kiss the wall!

This is not a dying community. There are more kids here than most of our day schools back home have enrolled. There are more young mothers and fathers attending services and raising Jewish kids here in Gondor than in Sandy Springs, or Dunwoody, or John’s Creek or Intown. This community is working to be more Jewish, and we want to make sure that there is a Jewish Future for them. For a glimpse of a Jewish Community of Tomorrow, Jewish Continuity, look to Gondor.

It is surprising and delightful. Now I get why we are here and why we need to help get this community to the promised land. I am excited now to visit with this community and hear their story and talk about getting to Israel, packing, making plans, and their future in our Promised land.

Walking In…as we enter the courtyard that 8 families share; it hits you!

The poverty, the dirt, the unclean lavatory conditions. The eight one-room “apartments” or “human self-storage bays” — four to eight or more family members living on a shared mattress, footstools for chairs, a single light bulb, no privacy, no cleanliness What we are seeing is the day-to-day reality for the Community of Waiting in Ethiopia.

5 years, 10 years, 15 and 23 and more — years of waiting and longing and yearning. Not only to be in Israel but wanting, praying to be reunified with parents, siblings, children, cousins, and others that made it out. They are our Jewish family; our Community in Waiting. There are 15,000 – 20,000 or mor left behind Jews, separated Jews, some born after their families had already been separated, others that stayed to care for elderly, sick or young.

These are the Ethiopian Jews of today. They have been waiting. They do not have reliable work. They are living in poverty. And they want to be reunited with family members in Israel — some they never forget and others that they have never met.

This is why we are here! To help finish the work we have done. To allow mothers to hug their children again. For parents, to see that their children are alive and made it to Israel. To close the hole in thousands of families’ lives.

Atlanta Jews of Color Reflect on Juneteenth

By COMMUNITY

Juneteenth (the 19th of June) commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, and also is a celebration of African American culture. Originating in Galveston, Texas, it has been celebrated annually on June 19 in various parts of the United States since 1865. This is the second year that Juneteenth is an official federal U.S. holiday.

Atlanta Jews of Color Council will be co-hosting a local hybrid (in-person and Zoom) Juneteenth Celebration on June 17. It will center the voices of Jewish spiritual leaders of Color. All denominations and faiths are welcome to join for this cross community building experience to raise awareness about the multiplicity of Jewish identity. We’ll honor the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States through a Jewish lens. Services will be led by Rabbi Sandra Lawson, Rabbinical student Koach Baruch Frazier, Rabbi Joshua Lesser, and Victoria Raggs.

The in-person event will be held at The Distillery of Modern Art in Chamblee. The virtual event is free, but registration is required at Eventbrite.

We asked several local Jews of Color to reflect on the meaning of Juneteenth.

Jada Garrett is a consultant to Be’chol Lashon, an organization that strengthens Jewish identity by raising awareness about the ethnic, racial and cultural diversity of Jewish identity and experience.

Juneteenth is a reminder that the end of slavery was not about a moment in time but rather about a process of liberation. 157 years later, that process is still ongoing. As Jews who understand the power of the stories of the past, we need to learn from history and remain committed to changing the future.

Dr. Tarece Johnson, EdD serves on the Gwinnett County Board of Education. She is a womanist, entrepreneur, diversity and inclusion expert, poet, artist, author, activist, and advocate. This poem, “Juneteenth,” is from her book #ResilientHope

As we bask in the jubilation of freedom from slavery may we also reflect on the actions we need to take to continue to be FREE.

May we focus inwardly to accept and love ourselves. May we reach outwardly to authentically connect with one another and collaborate to build and maintain strong communities together.

May we deliberately seek to relearn our history to understand our truths and celebrate our contributions to the world. May we honor our ancestors and value our own beauty and glory.

May we reconnect with our motherland and rebirth the spirit of redemptive love, empathetic unity, purposeful peace, and resilient hope.

Victoria Raggs is Co-Founder & Executive Director of Atlanta Jews of Color Council. She is a cultural innovator, global justice strategist and consultant. Victoria also serves on the board of Jewish Family & Career Services.

To me, Juneteenth is a time for rejoicing and a time for our country to reckon with a very painful historical legacy that continues to impact our society today. Gaining a deeper historical analysis around this national holiday is useful for everyone experiencing true equity, justice, and liberation. The Jewish dimension of Juneteenth is that no people exist in isolation. Because our liberation is bound together by our shared humanity, no group is free until we all are free.

18Doors Offers Innovative Wedding Tool

By CARING, COMMUNITY

18Doors helps interfaith couples build confidence in their relationship with Jewish tradition. They have now created a brand new, first-of-its-kind wedding tool and script builder. It is designed specifically for interfaith couples who have chosen to have a friend or family member officiate their wedding ceremony— a growing trend among engaged couples today.

The script builder was actually piloted by 18Doors Atlanta, with a Propel Grant from Federation. After months of research, prototyping and development, it’s now available for free! While this tool will help interfaith couples bring Judaism into their wedding ceremonies and their lives, in Atlanta, 18Doors’ very own Rabbi Malka Packer-Monroe is available to interfaith couples as they plan their weddings and other lifecycle events, and when they seek to engage in Jewish life and community.