These waning days of the month of Elul signal that Rosh Hashanah and 5779 will soon be here. I look forward to this season of introspection that runs up until Yom Kippur. And I love when after midnight, on the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah, Jews begin reciting Selichot, Hebrew prayers of forgiveness, putting us collectively into a mindset of setting intentions for the coming year. Notice that I said, intentions. I make a distinction between the resolutions we make on December 31, and the authentically Jewish way of embracing change at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As Jews we commit to change and the repair of relationships through tshuvah, which is not simply repentance, but also the revelatory idea of returning to our true and best selves. This is how Iframe my soul work for the high holidays.
What does tshuvah and repair mean for our wider Jewish community? How does our collective work this past year on The Front Porch reveal where we can grow and how we must also return and be faithful to our core values? Here’s my sense of what we can build on, using our strengths to become an even more vibrant and relevant Jewish Atlanta.
- Keep our commitments to strengthen each other.
How to build on it: The Community Campaign is the engine that powers all of Jewish Atlanta. It’s how we engage, care for, connect and strengthen each other. So, we must prioritize the unrestricted campaign and widen our donor base, but we also need bigger vision for generating generosity. I want to see us grow Jewish philanthropy in Atlanta through legacy giving and investments in Atlanta Jewish Foundation. We’ll keep diversifying ways for donors to support their personal interests in the Jewish community. This is what it means for Federation to become a Philanthropic Champion for the whole community.
Our institutional infrastructure is impressive, but we must be open to using brick and mortar spaces in new ways — what programs can we locate in our synagogues during the week, in our day schools after 3:00 pm? Let’s think about redistributing Jewish services to bring them closer to where people already are. How can we leverage technology to bring people together and strengthen neighborhood connections where people already live? How can we deploy more people as warm connectors and “concierges” who can expand our outreach. We have amazing camps — let’s send more kids there, and while we’re at it, let’s create more camp options for immersive Jewish summers.
- Open our minds to innovation.
How to build on it: Atlanta already has an innovative culture. Our Jewish community has caught the spirit and is becoming a laboratory for the new ideas and initiatives Jewish Atlanta needs. Let’s keep nourishing promising prototypes and awarding startup grants to local innovators. Here at Federation we hold a monthly FedLab to generate new ideas, we’ve hired our first ever VP of Innovation, and we’ve created two elementATL co-working spaces on the BeltLine and in Dunwoody to foster collaboration and idea generation.
We must turn up the juice on how we welcome people and become a radically welcoming Jewish community! I want to see openness and welcome become the prevailing culture in all our organizations. It means moving from thinking there is just one way to be Jewish, or that affiliation and membership are the only ways to measure engagement, to new options. Let’s explore pay-as-you-go models for engagement to put living Jewishly in reach for everyone. I’d love to see more families find scholarship support for our day schools, and more families gaining access to supplemental Jewish education. Let’s also change our language so we’re not just talking to ourselves, but instead inviting all Jews and their loved ones to learn, participate and feel part of our community.
- Deepen our connections with Israel and Jews around the world.
How to build on it: In the coming year we’ll see more people-to-people partnerships with our global Jewish community affirming that Jews are all one people, one family. We’re committed to care for our people, wherever they live. We’re taking our second Atlanta mission to Cuba and Atlanta students volunteer to be summer counselors in Eastern European Jewish camps that build Jewish identity. We’ll use Israeli innovation and resilience to inspire us. Starting in October a new Atlanta/Israel Accelerator is helping a select group of women launch startups for the good of the whole community, using Israeli style tactics, and business models. We’ve expanded the Shinshinim (young educators) program from two students last year, to eight students. They’ve just arrived in Atlanta to connect our schools and camps with the vibrant culture and spirit of Israel. They’re living with host families all around town and their enthusiasm is infectious. And how cool is it that the Maccabi Games will be hosted at our own MJCCA at the end of July 2019.
These are not “resolutions,” they are intentions for how I want to make 5779 a year of Jewish community health, fulfillment, prosperity and growth. Our Jewish Atlanta is magnificent — brimming with opportunities for spiritual growth, service and connection. For these coming holy days, my hope is that every one of us finds a pathway and a place for nourishment, wholeness, and renewal right here in this community.
Ana, Sasha and I wish you, shanah tovah — all the sweetness the new year can bring!