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We Went to the Mikvah Together Before Our Wedding


By Shari Rabin & Matt Berkman

Note: MACoM is the only mikvah in Atlanta open to the entire Jewish community regardless of affiliation, observance level, sexual orientation, or capacity for physical mobility. The possibilities for traditional and modern immersions at MACoM are almost limitless. Below, Shari Rabin and Matt Berkman, who are faculty members at Oberlin College, share their experience immersing right before their wedding

Neither one of us had immersed in a mikvah before, but Shari had taught about mikvah many times in her Jewish studies courses and accompanied several friends and relatives as they immersed in preparation for their weddings. Matt is open-minded about engaging with tradition and agreed to go as well. We set up our appointments for the Thursday evening before our Sunday wedding. This was in early August 2021, just as the Delta variant was rising worldwide, and so the weeks leading up to our immersion were filled with stress as guests pulled out and we grappled with how to safely hold our already long-postponed wedding.

We were able to serve as each other’s mikvah guides, each of us undergoing the ritual with only the other present. While we understood that this went beyond the bounds of Jewish law, we were grateful MACoM allowed us to do this. During the immersion ritual, we each felt vulnerable, open, and powerfully rooted within Jewish tradition. It marked a moment of transition for each of us as individuals but serving as one another’s guides added an additional layer of meaning. That we were doing this amidst a global pandemic also felt momentous, honoring the fact that our bodies are more than just vectors for disease.

We came out of the mikvah to the cheers of our waiting family members, who whisked us away to a celebratory dinner. While COVID-related stress did not totally dissipate until after the wedding, at that moment we felt lighter, happier, and spiritually prepared to become a Jewishly married couple.

Celebrating Jews in Civil Rights


With the MLK weekend and the hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel still fresh in our minds, we want to lift up the historic role Jews have played in advocating and “showing up” for justice and human rights in America. What inspired them should inspire us — the Jewish imperative to seek justice, and the wisdom of Pirke Avot that “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21).”

Ready for Whatever Comes Next


Many Jewish leaders around the country tell me they are exhausted and dispirited. I am not.

It is a blessing to be a part of Jewish Atlanta. There is a generous spirit here, an optimism as tall as the buildings rising in Midtown, and as fresh as the burgeoning neighborhoods of our northern suburbs. These qualities have taken us from the darkest days of COVID to our current moment — not quite “normal,” but resilient, limber, ready for whatever comes next.

Jewish Atlanta thrives because of you. Not quite six months into the 2022 Community Campaign you have helped us pass 77% of our goal for the Partners Fund. Total Philanthropy is robust at $15.4M — well on its way to the $22.2M goal. All of our Targeted Philanthropy initiatives are more than 50% towards goal or higher. Atlanta Jewish Foundation is growing, helping more and more people do good in our community. These are all healthy signs.

As 2022 gets underway, here are some things that excite me:

  • Federation’s North Metro Making Jewish Places (MJP) initiative has been a huge success. It’s all about connecting people right in their own neighborhoods and encouraging local collaboration. In 2021, MJP engaged 7,000 individuals, awarded 80 Gather Grants, and 31 Organizational grants. We will be expanding the program to a new geographic area, soon to be announced.
  • Spearheaded by the Zalik Foundation and supported by generous community donors, the Jewish Community Professional High School Tuition Grant Program, continues as part of our effort to attract and retain great Jewish professionals. Full-time Jewish professionals, clergy, and educators are eligible to receive up to a 50 percent tuition reduction if their children are currently enrolled or have been accepted to a SACS accredited Jewish high school in Atlanta. It has created a new source of risk capital, enabling the day schools to fund new investments in educational and co-curricular excellence. It has been a token of appreciation and gratitude for the work Jewish professionals and educators do on behalf of our Jewish community.
  • Our teens are loving life in Israel. With generous second year funding from The Zalik Foundation for Gap Year programs in Israel, and new support for Root One from the Marcus Foundation, we are sending more young people to Israel than ever before.

Dreaming big about our community’s future, as I do, means securing big resources. We all know people who, for a myriad of reasons, don’t give to Federation and don’t feel connected to us. This is where you can help. If there are people in your social or professional network who might benefit from a thoughtful conversation with me about our impact and mission, please let me know. I would be honored to reach out and tell them about the good we do, and the things their generosity can empower. Email me.

If you have not already made a commitment to support the 2022 Community Campaign, or to any of Federation’s five Targeted Philanthropy options: AgeWell Atlanta, Jewish Abilities Alliance, Jewish Camp Initiative, Jewish Innovation Fund, and PJ Library, please make your gift now. You’ll feel great about it!

On a Mom’s Trip to Israel, Carla Takes the Mic

By Uncategorized

By Carla Birnbaum, Federation Relational Engagement Manager
I recently traveled as the Federation representative on the Jewish Women’s Connection of Atlanta (JWCA) Momentum Trip, along with 40 other women. Our group was one of several representing 300 Jewish moms from the US and Israel. Thanks in part to generous funding from Federation, the Atlanta contingent was the largest and we even had our own bus.

While you are on the bus, there is one strict rule — you must sit with someone new each time you board. Preferably someone you don’t know, or don’t know well, and it can’t be someone you’ve sat with previously.

As the bus became our home base, each woman had the opportunity to “take the mic” and share with the group. Sometimes it was something lighthearted about what’s going on at home (“You’ll never guess what my kids are eating for dinner tonight”). But more often we shared deep stories about our family history, growing up with Holocaust survivors, or meaningful lifecycle moments and memories.

Because of my role on the trip, our leaders, Julie Silverman and Batsheva Gelbtuch, encouraged me to take the mic early and often. These two women are beautiful souls. Their faith, dignity, and nurturing spirits give women space to grow. It is difficult for me to speak in front of large groups but on the afternoon of the second day, it was my turn.

I spoke about Yokneam and Megiddo, our Partnership cities in Israel and the programs we help support there. I spoke about Federation’s work within Atlanta and around the world, and our newest initiatives, including the one I lead, called Making Jewish Places. I spoke about my family and how I left corporate America to work in Jewish communal service, and my passion for working directly in the northern suburbs where I live.

One day I sat next to Hillary, who has a dry sense of humor like mine, and we laughed so hard we cried. We talked about our families and the adventures in parenting teenage girls (mine) and adult children (hers). We live five minutes from each other in Atlanta, but it took going to Israel for us to connect.

Marci & Michelle
I sat next to Marci and Michelle on a hard day. My youngest daughter had called at 3:00 AM Atlanta time, upset because she wasn’t feeling well. Hannah had gotten her COVID vaccine the day before. At 11, Hannah is not a baby, but she is, of course, my baby. My very capable husband had things well under control, but it was hard to be away while she was sick. Marci and Michelle both checked in with me all day. We all knew Hannah would be fine, and she was, but they still found time in between climbing Masada, swimming in the Dead Sea, and riding a camel to check on me (and Hannah) that day.

Stacey and I only sat next to each other for about ten minutes. Long enough for me to find out she’s always wanted to come on this trip, but she has a lot of professional commitments that would make it difficult. She said to me, “COVID made me realize that if I didn’t take the time for myself to do this now, I was going to miss out. So, I’m here.” It wasn’t until later that I found out that Stacey was a Judge and had to find not one but three people to fill in for her while she was away. Stacey and I also fell in love with the same Israeli Jewelry designer. And it’s a mitzvah to support the Israeli economy.

The Two Lisas
I sat with two Lisas. One celebrated her birthday on the trip. Lisa and I spent several days discussing the birds of Israel among other things – like her history in Atlanta (I think she knows everyone) and our families. The other Lisa sacrificed sleep to watch the Braves win the world series one of the first days we were there. At breakfast the next morning, she proudly wore her Braves shirt and hat and told us all the exciting news. She also patiently explained a thousand times why the Braves won the World Series, even though the teams are from the US and Canada only.

Israel Missed Us
I discovered that as much as Americans missed visiting Israel, Israel missed us! There were signs of welcome wherever we went, and people would stop us on the street to talk to us and talk about their families and friends in the States. And the places they visited when they traveled. And in the shuks and shops, and, of course, we did our best to support the Israeli economy. We also celebrated Rosh Chodesh and Sigd (an Ethiopian Jewish holiday), along with Shabbat in Jerusalem, and each of these holidays merits its own article.

“Family” in Israel
Shabbat in Jerusalem ends early, around 4:30. After a majestic havdalah (a ritual marking the end of Shabbat) at the Kotel, a group of us decided to walk over to Ben Yehuda Street. As we were walking, I heard a young man yelling my name. Now, remember I’m on a trip with a bunch of women. I turn around and it’s the 13-year-old son of a friend from Camp Ramah, who is studying to become a rabbi.

Again, I hear my name and this time it is a friend who made aliyah two years ago. She is happy to play tour guide and takes us through the shuk to the best stalls to get knafeh (a sweet pastry). As we are walking back toward the hotel, I’m explaining to the group that it’s common in Israel to run into people, and that I don’t actually know everyone in IsraeI.

I hear my name again. This time it’s a couple of our Atlanta gap year teens who were returning to Jerusalem from their home hospitality Shabbat experience. They joined the group and came with us to our hotel, and we all sat together talking in the lobby about their adventures and experiences (I also may have brought them Halloween candy and treats from home). We gave them all big mom hugs and well wishes from Atlanta, and a few of them came back the next night to visit again!

What It all Meant
In the end, here’s my big takeaway. We were all part of a shared community of women, all moms who are raising Jewish children. None of us are experts, and we learned and grew together. We opened a door when we started our journey, and have now returned more connected, more empowered, and ready to inspire others to jump on the bus and take a Jewish journey.

Learn more about Jewish Women’s Connection to Israel.

2021: A Year of Impact and Generosity


Thanks to Atlanta Jewish Foundation fundholders, 2021 was a year of

tremendous generosity and impact. They made grants totaling more than $40M to 5,4000 nonprofits in Atlanta, the U.S., and around the world. With $365.4M in assets under management, these investments and legacy gifts through Atlanta Jewish Foundation made big things happen.

In 2021, Foundation fundholders made 5,400 grants:

  • 70% went to local nonprofits
  • 16% went to overseas Jewish nonprofits
  • 14% went to national nonprofits

One local beneficiary was Creating Connected Communities (CCC), formerly known as Amy’s Holiday Party. This is a small local nonprofit that provides leadership training to Atlanta teens so they can effectively serve children in need. This year CCC received 43 separate grants from Atlanta Jewish Foundation totaling $93K, providing meaningful and sustaining funding for the organization.

Amy Zeide, Co-Executive Director and founder, expressed her thanks. “Creating Connected Communities is so thankful for the support we have received from Atlanta Jewish Foundation and its donors. Whether through monetary gifts, opportunities to attend and network at events, or spotlights in newsletters, Federation and Atlanta Jewish Foundation have supported CCC in countless ways over the years. It is an honor that Atlanta’s Jewish leaders and philanthropists have the confidence in our program and the impact we make in the community to so generally support our work.”

“It’s very special when we can speak with a donor and recommend a grant opportunity to a deserving nonprofit that aligns with his or her values,” said Jori Mendel, Chief Operating Officer. Such was the case this year when Repair the World Atlanta received a substantial gift from Dr. Craig C. White, who wanted to support Jewish social justice work. Lily Brent, Executive Director of Repair said, “This investment is game-changing for us in terms of cementing a sustainable future for Repair the World in Atlanta. This gift will allow us to grow our impact by increasing our ability to do what we do best: connect young adults to opportunities to live their Jewish values by meeting urgent needs in our community.”

“Although we never had the opportunity to know Dr. White personally, we are humbled that the impact of our fellows, corps members, volunteers, and partners inspired Dr. White’s generosity. We are honored to continue Dr. White’s legacy. We hope his trust in Repair will illuminate our work for others who are able to contribute to our unique approach to mobilizing the Atlanta Jewish community to support our neighbors through meaningful service and learning. We’re grateful to the Atlanta Jewish Foundation both for facilitating the connections that made this gift possible and for helping us raise awareness about our work.”

Never underestimate the power of your generosity. Speak with us about local, national, and international nonprofits where your gift will have tremendous impact.

Eat Environmentally & Deliciously on Tu B’Shevat


By Anastasia Pixler, Federation Social Media Coordinator
Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the month of Shevat on the Hebrew calendar, is known as the New Year for Trees. It begins on the evening of January 16th and continues the following day. In contemporary Israel, the day is celebrated as an ecological awareness day and is also commonly called Israeli Arbor Day. Another observance is the Tu B’Shevat seder, a meal that honors the seven agricultural species of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives, and dates.

I took on the challenge of using some of these ingredients to create a Tu B’Shevat inspired meal of Maple Pomegranate Roasted Chicken with a Barley Arugula Salad. The chicken has wheat, grapes, pomegranate, and olives. The salad has barley, figs, dates, and olives. I’ve also added goat cheese and date honey to honor Israel as “the land of milk and honey.” Enjoy the recipes!

Eliad Ben Shushan Completes Mandel Leadership Program


Eliad Ben Shushan, our Israel Partnership Director in Yokneam and Megiddo, has recently enjoyed some major milestones. Eliad completed a fellowship in the elite Mandel Institute for Nonprofit Leaders in Israel, and he and his wife are expecting a baby any minute! We wish Eliad mazel tov and have asked him to reflect on his Mandel Fellowship experience. (Learn more about our Partnership work in Israel here.)

Q: How has the Mandel program broadened your skills as a Jewish professional?
A: We had varied lectures and workshops in topics like management and leadership, challenges in Israeli society, creative writing, storytelling, and even public speaking and styling! We were led by inspiring people including Natan Sharansky, Morton Mandel (Of blessed memory, who is the founder of the program), several Israeli mayors, and members of the Knesset. For two years I also had a personal mentor, Yuval Elyagur, who worked with me closely on my management skills, team building, and defining personal and partnership goals.

I learned the most from the reflections we had after the workshops led by the director of the program, Vadim Blumin. I understood how beneficial it can be to hear different opinions that are far and different from mine. I learned how to listen carefully, to criticize with much respect, and to learn from everyone — as it is written in Pirke Avot: “Who is the smart person? One who learns from everyone!”

Q: How were you selected for the program?
A: I was a fellow in the first cohort of the Mandel Program for Excellence of the Jewish Agency for returning Shlichim (emissaries for immigration to Israel). I was one of seven people chosen out of 500+ candidates for a . The Mandel Program’s goal is to nurture a young generation of professional leadership in the Jewish Agency, to drive excellence and innovation, and help meet the future challenges of Israeli society.

Q: Tell us about the others in your cohort — how did their experiences contribute to the program?
A: Our cohort was diverse, coming from different Jewish Agency units like Personal Assistant to the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) CEO, Director of Marketing and Recruitment, Director of Global Customer Experience, Schlichim Alumni Relations Director, Social Media Manager, etc. Each meeting offered vast perspectives on the organization and on the entire Jewish world. I come from the Partnership unit and having fellows who are from the Shlichut Department raised many ideas of how to better connect our departments. I learned about other Federations that focus on bringing Shinshinim from their partnership regions, and about the programs that prepare the candidates.

Q: How will you use your new skills and insights in our Partnership work?
A: One of the workshops that influenced me the most was about creating mind maps — a theory developed by Tony Buzan for many large organizations. I use it constantly in my everyday Partnership work, from the staff meetings, personal work meetings with the organizations in the city, and especially now and in the Partnership’s work with the Ethiopian community. I find it beneficial to organize huge amounts of information and see a clearer picture of the changes we want to lead.

I also had the opportunity to learn a lot about the Jewish world and sharpen my senses regarding the real need of Kesher (connection) programs and how important It is to build connections between Israel and America.



NEW Feature: What I’m Reading

By Ecosystem

Ana Robins, Executive Director, Jewish Kids Groups 

If you are interested in contributing to a future issue about something you are reading (or listening to), please contact Rich Walter 

Teaching Religious Text in a Culturally Heterogeneous Classroom by Uri Bilmes 

In his article “Teaching Religious Text in a Culturally Heterogeneous Classroom,“ Uri Bilmes, a middle school bible teacher in Israel, sets forth a framework for how to navigate teaching Torah to 30 students from different backgrounds. 

He presents two strategies: “A Tapestry of Experiences,” and “Using Primary Sources,” that I believe to be central to reaching and engaging students. Like Bilmes’ classroom, Jewish Kids Groups Afterschool Communities serve students from different backgrounds. We, at Jewish Kids Groups, also have the added complexity of mixed-age and mixed-level classrooms. Additionally, some students attend only a few days a week while others come Monday thru Friday. As a result, our teaching team uses a variety of strategies to keep all our students engaged and growing Jewishly.  

Bilmes first strategy, “A Tapestry of Experiences,” asks students– right up front, before any new learning takes place– to share their personal experience, emotions, and associations on a topic, using a metaphor. For example, if the topic were Yom Kippur, students are asked early on, how do you experience this idea? What is an object that represents your experience? One student might choose an empty dinner plate, while another student might choose a giant fish, and another might choose a prayer book. 

“No one is saying what [Yom Kippur] is (or the Bible, or any other topic), but rather how it is subjectively experienced.” Bilmes explains, “Mapping out the spectrum of associations with the same story or subject is an effective way to reflect the complexity of the issue, while leaving the expression in the less confrontational form of imagery or metaphor.” The idea is to soften the barrier of exclusive thinking that often surrounds sensitive questions by showing the diversity of experience surrounding the issue at hand, without attacking a certain position. As a result, the groundwork is built for a more unguarded learning experience.  

This approach is like that of educational philosopher William James, who, in his book, Talks to Teachers on Psychology and to Students on Some of Life’s Ideals originally published in 1899, lays out the critical nature of activating the “native reactions” of our students by engaging them from within. James says that “You may take a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink; and so you may take a child to the schoolroom, but you cannot make him learn the new things you wish to impart, except by soliciting him in the first instance by something which natively makes him react.” Engaging children in their own opinions and experiences activates their native reactions, their natural curiosity, thereby increasing their engagement with the topic at hand. James would agree that Blimes is right on target with this strategy. 

Bilmes second strategy centers around using primary sources, “Invite and Engage Using Text.” Bilmes explains that sacred text “is a magical medium that suggests itself unapologetically to the learner and invites the readers to grapple with it. It is original and honest. It does not bite.” Bilmes writes about sacred texts specifically, but his approach can be extended to primary sources generally. 

In today’s world of constant commentary, opinion, and what has recently become known as the pervasive nature of “fake news” in our world, children desperately need primary source material in their learning. It teaches them that there is a source, that there is a bottom line, and that it is in the interpretation of these sources, where modern thought arises.  How else do we teach our students to dig deeper to find truth and meaning in today’s world of twitter, facebook, and instagram?  

The use of primary sources combined with activating native reactions through reflecting personal experiences opens the door to genuine conversations in a heterogeneous classroom. It is these types of conversations that we strive to consistently engage in at JKG, and why we believe our students develop close relationships to each other, respect for different perspectives, and personal connections to content. In 2022, with different forms of diversity in classrooms, utilizing strategies like Bilmes suggests in this article will increase engagement for all learners, as is our sacred duty and responsibility as educators.  

Gather Grants Made Hanukkah Even Brighter


It’s amazing what a mini grant of $180 can do! For Hanukkah, Federation awarded 70 Gather Grants of $180 to people in 18 zip codes throughout Atlanta and the Northern Suburbs. Applicants were invited to create welcoming Hanukkah events in their local communities. The warmth and friendliness of these events engaged people of all ages, and fully 92% of participants reported they feel a stronger connection to the Jewish community after attending them.

My Scorecard for 2021

By COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

Here comes 2022! I love how the secular new year gives us a chance to revisit the resolutions we wrestled with at Rosh Hashanah. Now, nearly six months later, I am taking a gentle look back at my August blog post which outlined Federation’s top priorities for 2021. They are all still Federation priorities, but the last 20 months and the last two weeks have taught us how quickly the virus can upend our progress. As our Yiddische sages said, “Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht,” — Man plans, G-d laughs.

As for planning, you’ll be interested to know that inside Federation all our professionals have adopted a business accountability and management model called EOS — Entrepreneurial Operating System. EOS disciplines us to establish goals and create scorecards to evaluate them with measurable inputs and outputs. So, through an EOS lens, I want to revisit our priority projects to see where we are, and where we are heading.

Israel Travel | (Uncertain)
People are hungry to travel to Israel, but Omicron has put a halt to it for now. We hope to move forward with our Men’s Journey, 40-Under-40, and other experiences in 2022.

Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC) | (Moving Forward)
JEC is doing bold work at Congregation Or Hadash to reimagine bar/bat mitzvah. Busy families at five local synagogues no longer battle traffic for midweek Hebrew as part of the Atlanta Hebrew Connection, where learning is done from home.

Gap Year Programs in Israel | (Thriving. Funding Renewed)
With generous funding from The Zalik Foundation, JumpSpark recruited twenty-five students from fifteen different Atlanta high schools who have received scholarships of $10,000 – $15,000 to attend a gap year program in Israel. They are thriving and sending incredible reports back home.

1440 Spring Street: A Center for Jewish Life | (Excitement Continues)
The building boom in Midtown makes our dream of turning 1440 Spring Street into a Center for Jewish Life very much alive. We envision a dynamic space where Jewish entrepreneurs and innovative nonprofits will interact and where cultural experiences will happen.

Toco Hills Housing Initiative |(Exploration Continues)
Exploration of the feasibility of building affordable apartments for older adults in Toco Hills continues.

Family Camp |(Happening)
An immersive family camp weekend for young families is planned for early April at Ramah Darom.

Tuition Assistance for Jewish Professionals | (In Effect)
Full-time Jewish professionals, clergy, and educators are now eligible to receive up to a 50 percent tuition reduction if their children are currently enrolled or have been accepted to an accredited Jewish high school in Atlanta. It has helped boost enrollment at our Jewish high schools and has been renewed for a second cohort of students.

Camp Scholarships | (Back for Summer 2022)
Camp scholarships helped send more than 1,000 kids Jewish camp in 2021. Applications for camp scholarships are open for summer 2022.