Skip to main content

Atlanta Israel Gap Year Fellowship

By Atlanta Jewish Community, Jewish Journeys, Missions, NextGen Atlanta

The Atlanta Israel Gap Year Fellowship offers a unique opportunity for Atlanta teens to expand upon their gap year experience with sessions developed to deepen leadership skills, connect with Israeli experts, and explore ways to apply what they learn after the Fellowship. This program is made possible by the generous support of the Zalik Foundation and Masa, our partners in Israel.

A few of our recent Gap Year participants shared their experiences with us. These are their stories.

Living in Israel and participating in a Mechina during the war has been one of my life’s most challenging yet profoundly rewarding experiences. This journey, filled with hardship and heartache, has also introduced me to some of the most remarkable people and unforgettable moments that have reshaped my perspective on life and humanity.

When I left home in August, I couldn’t have imagined the year that lay before me, and I barely had time to adapt to life at the Mechina before the war started. After flying home, it was clear I needed to go back and do what I could to help my country. We couldn’t go back to our moshav, so we spent the following 4 months traveling around Israel volunteering. Throughout that time, I met truly amazing people who taught me so much about life and our land.

What I thought would be a time defined by heartache ended up being a time defined by people. From friends who will forever be a part of me, strangers who showed me immense kindness, to those who’ve faced unspeakable loss who showed me the true meaning of resilience. In the face of tragedy, I saw love everywhere I went and learned that Israel’s strength comes not from its army but from its people—the unified spirit of Israel.

We were able to return home to Meitzar in January where now our time together is nearing the end. I’ve been looking back over this year, and despite the hardships, loss, and, at times, overwhelming sorrow, I feel immense gratitude for my time here and all the people I’ve met. As I look forward to what comes next, I will never forget everything this place and people have taught me, and I will carry the imprint left on my soul. Israel has shown me the true strength of the human spirit, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

– Ori Gal, Mechina Meitzar

How does a group of fifty 18-year-old girls celebrate Thanksgiving on their gap year in Israel? By picking grapefruit, of course! (And a large feast afterward).

When you’re spending the year in Israel, and it comes to milestones that you usually spend with your family at home, like Thanksgiving, knowing that you won’t be celebrating in your usual way can make it easy to feel detached and a little sad about being in a foreign country so many thousands of miles away. As I prepared to spend Thanksgiving at the gap year program I am attending this year, Midreshet Lindenbaum in Arnona, Jerusalem (a seminary with intensive Judaic study, fun trips, and volunteering), I assumed I would feel this way. Yet, when I discovered that we would pick grapefruit to help Israeli farmers, I was intrigued and enamored with the concept.

I like the idea of volunteering on Thanksgiving and giving back to your community as a form of gratitude. This year, with the war taking away crucial agricultural workers, farmers faced the dilemma of not having enough hands to pick their crops, risking losing their produce for that season and, thereby, a significant amount of their livelihood.

The community of Israel on the home front rallied together to aid the farmers, and with their help, a large amount of the crop was saved. Midreshet Lindenbaum was lucky enough to help a few times with this effort, and this was the perfect way to spend Thanksgiving. Plus, we got in some nice physical labor for our Midrasha-wide Thanksgiving feast scheduled for that evening.

The farmers were all very kind and eager to show us how to pick grapefruit. The man who instructed us was the son-in-law of the farm owner, a Sabra Israeli. His family has been in Israel since 1948, so his heart has been warmed by the volunteering of citizens during this war.

We each got a large bag with a long handle to wear cross-body; we would put the grapefruit into this bag as we picked tree by tree. Once our bags were full, we would put the grapefruit into large dumpster-like containers periodically placed along the paths between the trees in the orchard. The grapefruits were for juicing, so appearance didn’t matter— we were just supposed to pick any that looked ripe. We usually had to go inside the tree to really get all the grapefruit we could. There would be multiple girls picking from one giant tree, sometimes communicating from inside to outside the tree or from the ground to the branches. The more committed people had climbed up to get a better view and grasp of the higher-up fruit. We finished by the afternoon, ate lunch, and piled back onto the bus to return to seminary to prepare our Thanksgiving meal.

We had been preparing for Thanksgiving the whole week. Everyone signed up to make different dishes that they love and usually serve in their homes. I signed up to make cranberry sauce and stuffing, as those are staples and some of the most enjoyable parts of my family’s Thanksgiving. My granny, around whom my family’s Thanksgiving centered, would always make these meals; this would be my first time attempting them.

I had already finished the cranberry sauce the previous night, and the stuffing was about 20% done. So, my objectives after farming were to sauté the vegetables, combine them with bread, heat the consommé soup mix, pour into the two pans of bread and vegetables to make it moist— but not soggy— and put it all into the toaster oven to cook (the given mode of cooking in the communal kitchen with limited space). There were many of us preparing dishes that could only be done close to the meal, so there were a lot of us crammed in the communal kitchen, trying to make the most of our table and toaster.

After three hours, it became clear that there wasn’t much time left. It was twenty minutes before the Thanksgiving meal, I hadn’t gotten ready yet, and my stuffing still wasn’t cooking! My friends said they would keep an eye on my dish while I went to my room to get ready. When I returned to the kitchen, I found my stuffing adequately cooked, just in the nick of time for dinner. Phew!

After taking down my dishes to heat up, I entered the classroom my friends on the party-planning committee had decorated, and I was stunned at its beauty. It really felt like Thanksgiving, even though I was so far from home. There were some elements of this event that were new to me, however, such as the rule that we had to dress in fall colors (red, yellow, dark green, or brown) for dinner, the slideshow the committee had compiled of us all as babies for us to guess who was who, and the showing of the movie The Parent Trap after dinner. These were all welcome additions to my usual Thanksgiving routine.

At the meal, people shared their Thanksgiving traditions, and everyone gave backstories behind the dishes they’d made. Even the Brits and the Canadians participated in cooking delicious foods— they were just happy to be a part of the celebration! Of course, we also included Divrei Torah (words of Torah in speech form) because even though the day had technically been a non-learning day, at Midreshet Lindenbaum, the learning never really stopped. While it may not be a specifically Jewish holiday, Thanksgiving’s theme of gratitude is certainly an important Jewish value, which allowed the students who spoke and the head of our Midrasha to delve deep into the meaning and Jewish interpretations and teachings about gratitude.

When I look back at my Thanksgiving experience in Israel this year, I feel it encapsulates the best and most meaningful parts of my gap year. Admiring my friends’ hard work and willingness to pitch in when anyone needed help— whether on the farm or in the kitchen— reaffirmed how lucky I am to be a part of this community. I am so grateful that my gap year allowed me to live and bond with Jewish kids from far and wide and learn about their cultures, backgrounds, and family traditions. The fact that we all came together to learn the same Judaic texts each day is truly beautiful.

I also appreciated how Thanksgiving mixed the students’ relaxed, community-building events with awareness and service relative to the time. It has been important for us to do our part to help people in Israel and our home this year, especially as the war continues, and that has been such an essential part of my gap year experience. I have become a part of something bigger than myself, both in Israel’s civil society and within my seminary.

Jemima Schoen, Lindenbaum

We tried fruit in Rwanda when we stayed at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a sort of boarding school based on kibbutzim set up for children after the Holocaust. The village was founded by Anne Heyman, a young Judaean, for vulnerable children after the Rwandan genocide. In our free time, we wanted to document our time there.  

We also attended protests for the hostages.  

When our program switched to Tel Aviv, we had to learn to cook independently. We were pretty anxious about it, so we went to Sarona, bought the craziest things we could find, and tried to cook them to overcome our anxiety. 

On the kibbutz, we would volunteer with refugee children in Timna Park and always make videos to get more energized.  

We took a lot of videos of us dancing because the Israeli scouts in our program would always teach us the dances, and we got incredibly close with them because of this.  

Unfortunately, we received some hate comments, but despite that, the love we received from all around the world was overpowering. This account has been an essential part of our year and generally empowered us in our journey to Israel.

Catherine Mateyak, Year Course

My favorite Tiyul this semester was the sunrise hike at Masada. Waking up at 3 AM with all my friends felt odd but also surreal at the same time.

On the way there, instead of everyone sleeping, the excitement for the view we would see kept everyone awake and social. We got there an hour before sunrise and immediately hopped off the bus. Despite the low visibility, we were engulfed in calm, warm air, and it empowered us to start climbing. We made it to the top as soon as the sun cleared the horizon, and we sat in awe of the view.

I couldn’t believe the amount of landscape I was taking in with my own eyes. After some time, we learned about the history of the mountain, and we saw the summit from various viewpoints. While the history part was intriguing, I’ll never forget how my friend’s and I’s conversations were silenced by the sudden breathtaking view that sprung up once we reached the mountain.

Dan Hackmon, Aardvark Israel

After the events that transpired on October 7th, there was a sense of unease throughout our campus, Kiryat Moriah, and the surrounding community. As a precautionary measure, our program decided to impose restrictions on leaving the campus. This abrupt change in plans meant that the trips around Israel had to be put on hold indefinitely.

However, due to the uncertainty surrounding the situation, our community prevailed. Rather than allowing fear to prevail, my friends and the staff rallied together to adapt to the new circumstances. In lieu of off-campus excursions, alternative activities were organized within the confines of the campus grounds—these activities ranged from group games planned by our scouts to team-building exercises that brought us closer together.

After a while, restrictions started to get more and more relaxed. We were allowed to leave campus if we filled out a form saying who we left with and where we were going. We also needed to fill out the same form when we came back. Soon after that, things went slightly back to normal. We would go out without the form, trips around Israel were going again, and our daily schedule started taking shape.

Haiden Borak, Year Course

Because of You, Parents Like Susie Can Help Their Kids Connect to Judaism

By Atlanta Jewish Community, Federation News

“Our family has always been connected to Judaism. We’re longtime members of Congregation Shearith Israel, the in-town conservative synagogue, my kids went through religious school, and my oldest daughter, Stella, who’s now 20, grew up going to Camp Ramah Darom.

When Stella was in ninth grade, she was nominated to be part of a leadership learning program, a JumpSpark program called Strong Women Fellowship. JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship was an empowering educational cohort that provided female-identifying Jewish teens in Atlanta with unparalleled access to strong women leaders, thinkers, and voices shaping the world we live in today. This program exposed her to different partner agencies in the Atlanta Jewish Community and strong women within them.

Through that, our family learned about JumpSpark. I later met the director who invited me and other parents to meaningful programming and learning opportunities.

I’m sure I am just one of many parents who knew of the Jewish Federation but did not realize that JumpSpark is the Atlanta Jewish teen initiative at the Federation and serves as a hub for teen engagement. Knowing that JumpSpark works with teens, parents, and professionals to increase Jewish teen engagement through Atlanta is empowering.

This program inspired Stella to take the initiative to learn about Israel. She had never been to Israel, and it exposed her to the Jewish world in Atlanta outside of her intown community. This also led her to participate in The American Jewish Committee’s Leaders for Tomorrow (LFT) program.

LFT is AJC’s education and advocacy program for teens that empowers young Jews to speak up for Israel and the Jewish people. It helps high school students develop a strong Jewish identity and trains them as advocates for Israel, and to be voices against antisemitism.

It was eye opening for her to see Jewish communities beyond where she grew up. These programs exposed her to the greater Jewish world.

Later in high school, she joined the Amplify Israel Teen Fellowship, a JumpSpark program that connects Jewish teens in Atlanta to Jewish teens in Israel. The Federation’s partnership with RootOne and the Ramah Seminar provided Stella with the opportunity to travel to Israel. These programs exposed her to the global diversity of the Jewish community.

As Stella got older, I now had a parent cohort to connect with. JumpSpark has become a key resource for parents like me. Whether it’s about what’s going on college campuses, or how to best support our kids. It provides exposure and tools to better talk to my kids about these bigger, important issues.

This connection has helped to play a role in passing on Jewish education, traditions, and values to our kids. As a parent, my husband and I agree it is our responsibility to expose our kids to different opportunities. Kind of like, here’s your “menu of opportunities” of things to become connected to take part in if you want to.

JumpSpark has helped us provide these opportunities, by providing resources to us, and to our children. It has exposed us to other organizations, and connected us with other parents, including other Jewish teen parents. 

It exposed us to Project Launch, by providing programming on the transition from middle school to high school and high school to college. You could listen to a zoom or a webinar every night of the week, whether it’s an ADL program, AJC, Hillel, or JF&CS about teen resources on mental health, especially during COVID.

My parents gave us every tool, but really, what made us connect to our Judaism, feel proud, and want to explore more, was having the opportunity to do it with other Jewish teens, and also being able to connect with Israeli teens.

That’s what I love about JumpSpark; it’s not just coming from the parents, and it’s not just coming from professionals. It provides opportunities for kids to connect together and learn from each other, and it is helping make Atlanta a thriving hub for Jewish teens. 

The best thing about JumpSpark is that it didn’t just have a huge impact on Stella. We all sort of learned along with it.”

From Susie and other Jewish Atlanta teen parents: Thank you.

Because Of You, Local Black & Jewish College Students Are Coming Together

By Atlanta Jewish Community

Jewish and Black communities have interwoven histories, values, and experiences in the United States that many don’t realize. The friendship between Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is a shining example of how two individuals, despite their differences, came together and used their shared values to fight for equality. However, over the past several decades, the once-strong bond between the two communities that combated antisemitism and racism has faded. That’s why Dr. John Eaves decided to change that.

“It’s time to rekindle the relationship that Blacks and Jews have historically had,” said Dr. Eaves, who is a college professor, former political figure, and is both Black and Jewish himself.

Thanks to a 3-year Innovation grant, Dr. Eaves was able to establish Black and Jewish Leaders of Tomorrow, a grassroots initiative on a mission to bring together Black students from historically black colleges and universities and Jewish students from predominantly white colleges and universities. The goal is simple but powerful: bring them together for open dialogue about their experiences, perceptions, and commonalities so that they can break down barriers, find common ground, and build relationships that would likely never happen otherwise.

“I am interested in participating in this leadership forum because I believe that African Americans and Jewish people have a shared history of oppression, discrimination, and a goal of pursuing justice. Both communities have faced racism and prejudice where discussions in a forum like this can bridge connections and allow for conversations to take place,” said Mya, a student at Spelman College.

These gatherings take place in various settings, but the first event was a Unity Dinner which was funded by Federation’s Gather Grants. Thanks to the Innovation Fund, the nonprofit has been able to gain momentum and exposure, host more events, and is soon expanding its Unity Dinners to 20 cities across the United States.

“There is a cultivation of curiosity to learn more about each other,” said Dr. Eaves. “We are more alike than different.”

Because of You, Jewish College Students Find Solace at Hillel

By Atlanta Jewish Community

Over the past several months, we have all watched with worry as college campuses have been taken over by anti-Israel hate, fear-mongering, and aggression. But in this darkness, Hillels of Georgia has become a safe haven for Jewish students in need of support, guidance, and empowerment.

This is Ron’s story of how Hillel got him through this trying time.

“I am a 21-year-old junior at the University of Georgia (UGA) and President of Dawgs for Israel within Hillel. Being a Jewish college student on campus right now has been really difficult. Jewish students around the country have seen awful things and have been put in very uncomfortable situations. On my campus specifically, we had an assault case with a student being pushed to the ground and verbally harassed. It takes a lot of mental strength to be a Jewish student right now. Every day you wake up and your phone’s filled with messages, whether it’s about something that’s happening on campus next to you, whether it’s a protest or a BDS vote…it just becomes very mentally draining. 

These anti-Israel protestors break school policies consistently and there seem to be no consequences. We’re constantly sending emails addressing broken policies and it feels like nothing’s being done. I think the communication from UGA, and quite frankly, all administration around the country, has been very poor. The Red and Black, an independent, student-led, nonprofit news organization, serving the UGA and Athens communities, had zero posts about Israel Week, zero journals about Israel Fest, and zero journal entries about nearly every event that HillelUGA put on that semester. But at minimum, there were five articles about the anti-Israel protests. Even the UGA affiliate newspaper has almost been taken as a pawn in this movement. There seems to be very biased reporting on their end.

After October 7th, I felt lost and I didn’t really know what to do. But HillelUGA and its community has gotten me through. Being Jewish and Israeli is so special because no matter how sad and how stressed everyone is, we’re always able to find time to help each other as a community. The morning the encampments popped up on UGA’s campus, I received about 30 texts. Many students didn’t know if they could go to class that day. I’m a six foot two, 200-pound guy, so I’ve never personally felt physically threatened, but I still didn’t feel very safe or comfortable going to class when right outside my building, people were calling for revolutions against me and for intifadas, all while they are banging drums and chanting.

After October 7th, we were all struggling. No one was going to class. No one was thinking about exams. No one was thinking about what projects they had. I was trying to think of ways we could create a forum where people could come together and share openly about how they were feeling. I reached out to Jeremy Lichtig, the Campus Director at HillelUGA, and asked for a budget for coffee. I texted the student group chats and told them to meet at a particular coffee shop. The idea was simple: Let us get you a pastry, let us get you a coffee, and let’s talk about it. The last thing that we need is for people to stay silent and suppress these emotions because that’s when mental health issues come to light. 

Doing homework at Hillel versus in the main library on campus made a difference for me, too. It’s been very helpful being around like-minded students who feel the same and have ties to people in Israel who have been affected by the war. At Hillel, much of the time, we didn’t even need to speak about it; just being together was enough. It was literally just, hey, come in, there are snacks, there is coffee, come do your homework. And that’s what I did. 

Hillel’s devoted staff was always willing to drop everything they were working on to go pick you up to get coffee, to get lunch, and to talk to you. If you came in and you were having a bad day, they’d go have a one-on-one with you and ask how they can support you. That’s been very impactful. The Jewish experience on campus is very different from what it was last year. I don’t want to think about where Jewish students would be right now if we didn’t have Hillel and if we didn’t have those ties to the community. I really am so grateful.”

Important Update on Federation Leadership

By Atlanta Jewish Community, Atlanta Jewish Foundation, Federation News

Eric Robbins, who has served as the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta for eight years, has announced his resignation and will be stepping down. Eric has graciously agreed to stay on board through June 30th to support a smooth transition and will continue as an advisor to Federation as needed.

Eric has many notable accomplishments but more than anything, he has brought the Atlanta Jewish community together like never before. He has been a leader in the Jewish community through an extremely challenging past five years managing the organization through world events including the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Shooting, COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and most recently, the massacre of October 7 and the ongoing war in Israel. We are grateful for Eric’s leadership through these unprecedented challenges.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta has been the philanthropic heart and soul of the Atlanta Jewish community for more than a century. A committee led by Debbie Kuniansky, Matt Bronfman, and other regional leaders will soon commence a national search for a permanent CEO who will help innovate and accelerate our mission and vision and help to build the infrastructure needed for a thriving Atlanta Jewish Community for the next 100 years.

In the coming weeks, we will connect with all community stakeholders to answer questions, discuss any needed transition plans, and more.

Beth Arogeti, Board Chair, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta

Because Of You, 22 Israeli Children & Their Families Found Refuge at The Epstein School

By Atlanta Jewish Community, Atlanta Jewish Foundation

“We’ve never done this before, but that’s what you do as a Jewish organization. You jump in and help.”

After October 7th, dozens of Israeli families fled to Atlanta, some of whom had connections here and some who didn’t know a soul.

Many were able to come thanks to a local Chabad initiative that funded flights and arranged homestays for these families. But when it came to providing a safe and welcoming Jewish educational environment, it was Federation that stepped up to supplement the tuition and security so that 22 Israeli children could attend Epstein for the entirety of their stay.

Because of this, Epstein is one of the top schools in the country to absorb such a large number of Israeli kids in this short period.

From Pre-K to 8th grade, Epstein welcomed these children and their families with open arms, ensuring that they had what they needed to feel at home. One of the many things they did was bring in extra Hebrew-speaking teachers and support staff to help with translating, which was especially important for the younger children.

They also rallied their parent community to ensure that these Israeli families always had an invitation to Shabbat dinner, a holiday gathering, or a birthday party, and that children could participate in extracurricular activities like basketball. In every way, these families became a part of the Epstein ecosystem and developed relationships that will carry them forward for years to come.

“We got just as much out of this experience as the Israelis did,” said Dr. David Abusch-Magder, Head of School at the Epstein School.

Dr. D explained that, for some Epstein students and their parents, this was their first time connecting with native Israelis who were affected by the events of October 7th and the war that has followed. Epstein became a space for understanding, compassion, and friendship that would have never blossomed otherwise. While the circumstances are very unfortunate, many Epstein families now have a very personal connection to Israel that they did not have prior to October 7th.

“Epstein and Federation were able to do this together,” said Dr. D. “As Jews, we take care of one another.”

From the Epstein community and all of us at Federation: Thank you.


Women’s History Month with Beth Weiller Arogeti

By Atlanta Jewish Community, Federation News

March is Women’s History Month and we couldn’t miss the opportunity to highlight a woman who has shaped, inspired, and led our Federation community, Beth Weiller Arogeti, the Chair of the Board of Trustees at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. We asked her to share with us her journey, advice, and wisdom.

Rooted in a familial connection to the Atlanta Jewish community since the mid-1860s, Beth, a fifth-generation Atlantan, grew up at The Temple and was involved in community service through organizations like the Councilettes.  We asked her the following questions for Women’s History Month.

What inspired you to volunteer as Chair of the Board of Trustees at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, and how has your journey led you to that position? 

The Atlanta Jewish community has been here for me and my family since the mid-1860s. As a fifth-generation Atlantan, my journey mirrors that of others who have held the role of Board Chair, albeit with some unique aspects. Growing up in Atlanta, my family attended The Temple, where I was confirmed in 1970 from the Sunday School and became a part of the Temple Youth Group, marking my initiation into community service. As a teenager, I joined Councilettes, the junior division of the National Council of Jewish Women, laying the foundation for years of volunteering in the community.

Since my early teens, the Federation has been a priority for my family. I had an exceptional role model in my mother, Margaret Strauss Weiller, who worked for the Women’s Division (now Women’s Philanthropy). Following in her footsteps, I’ve volunteered in various roles within the Federation organization, serving as President, Chair of Women’s Philanthropy, and Chair and Vice-Chair of our Community Campaign.

Can you share a significant achievement or project that you are particularly proud of during your time as a Federation community member? 

As a Jewish woman, I believe that the simple act of one Jew asking another Jew to help a third makes you a leader. This philosophy has attracted many wonderful people to our organization, turning them into leaders and stakeholders. The difference between being a leader or staying on the sidelines often lies in the act of asking.

Who are some women that have influenced or inspired you in your Federation journey, and how have they impacted your approach to leadership? 

My mother, Margaret Strauss Weiller, remains the most influential woman in my lifetime, leading by example. Her friends, Marilyn Shubin and Lois Blonder, along with my friend, Viki Freeman, have served as role models and mentors, guiding and supporting me in my community endeavors. Additionally, the five women who preceded me as Board Chairs—Betty Ann Jacobson, Carol Cooper, Linda Selig, Lisa Galanti, and Lori Kagen Schwarz—have also been significant role models.

Has anything else inspired you on your leadership journey? 

Seeing my children, Michelle and Ian Stribling, Jonathan and Sarah, involved in our Jewish community each in their own way is inspiration for me to continue trying to make this community the best that it can be for generations to come.  Now with the recent addition of 3 grandchildren being raised here in Atlanta, I feel more driven to work harder so all young people can have a wonderful upbringing in this wonderful city.  Also, I recently discovered fascinating information about my great-grandfather, Joseph Hirsch, on my mother’s side.  He came from Gimbheim, Germany, a small town between Frankfurt A/M and Darmstadt, and served as the first President of the Hebrew Orphans’ Home in 1914. This revelation reinforced my sense of destiny in being a leader in this community.

As a successful woman, what advice do you have for other women aspiring to leadership roles within the Jewish Federation or similar organizations? 

My advice for those aspiring to leadership roles is to take advantage of all the opportunities the community offers. Be curious, ask questions, and find something that excites you. The journey is more enjoyable when shared with a friend.

Beth Arogeti’s leadership journey is a testament to her enduring commitment to our community, her strong familial legacy, and her love for Jewish life. From her roots in the Atlanta Jewish community to pivotal roles within Federation, Beth exemplifies the power of leadership grounded in a passion for service and a deep understanding of community needs. We hope that this narrative encourages the future generation of female leaders, especially during Women’s History Month, when we reflect on the contributions of women in the past and present.

Innovation Initiative and Jewish Abilities Atlanta Team Up

By Atlanta Jewish Community, Federation Innovation, Jewish Abilities Atlanta

Jewish Atlanta’s growth and development depend on our ability to address the ever-changing needs of our community with creativity, foresight, and courage. Federation’s Jewish Innovation Initiative offers local changemakers the opportunity to expand the dynamic ecosystem of our city and brings exciting global ventures into Atlanta. One such program is Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM), a global movement of communities that create and disseminate affordable solutions that address the challenges faced by people with disabilities, older adults, and more. Teams of volunteer “makers” join those who have identified a need in the disability community to create concepts, working models, prototypes, or products that are specifically designed to solve identified challenges.

Last week, Jewish Atlanta was thrilled to host the TOM Fellowship Kickoff Event. 75 students from around the globe,  representing schools in the U.S., Israel, and other countries worked across a variety of disciplines, from engineering to occupational therapy to meet, share ideas, and become inspired by the ways they can work together to benefit the disabled community. It was an incredible example of the many ways Federation supports the Jewish landscape in Atlanta.

TOM, started in 2014 and has grown from one community in Israel to dozens of locations around the world. TOM’S partnership with Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta started through Hillels of Georgia. In 2019, Hillel was awarded a grant by the Innovation Initiative to introduce TOM to Georgia Tech. Since then, in collaboration with Hillel, the Innovation Fund has supported TOM’s growth. In January of 2019, TOM presented at Federation’s Propel Pitch Competition and was awarded as one of the events finalists.

Over the past 4 years, Federation’s Innovation and Jewish Abilities Atlanta (JAA) initiatives have been instrumental in providing resources to TOM such as grant funding, training, and help to build relationships with our local community. On Tuesday, JAA’s Training Coordinator Lindsey Flax led an accessibility training session for the TOM fellows. JAA promotes an inclusive community that celebrates the uniqueness and abilities of every person across the lifespan and lifts the voices and perspectives of people with disabilities. The training taught fellows about interacting with people with disabilities online and in person. Topics included inclusive language and social media accessibility.

Society disables people by designing everything to meet the needs of only people who are not disabled. For social media accessibility, Lindsey spoke about how to make social media content accessible for users with disabilities.

TOM’s Director of Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning, Mikhal Kotlyar, says “The Jewish values behind TOM are so special, and it’s valuable to spread the idea of tikkun olam (repairing the world). The chance to have all our leaders and fellows in one place is unparalleled and allows us to capture the imaginations of these students in a different way.” 

A Federation Love Story

By Atlanta Jewish Community

Last Tuesday, we celebrated Tu B’Av, the Jewish holiday of love. Deborah Jacobs, our new President of Women’s Philanthropy, is part of a classic love story—and it couldn’t have happened without Federation! 

In early January 1988, there was a snowstorm in Atlanta. Deborah Jacobs, now the President of Women’s Philanthropy, was a young professional who had recently moved to Atlanta. Deborah grew-up in a small town in Mississippi and was raised to believe in helping the organizations in one’s community.  

“I always knew it’s important to build and maintain community organizations,” Deborah says. “The people you help through them are teachers, small business owners, healthcare workers. Being part of the community means supporting the community.” 

Deborah had become part of Federation’s Young Leadership Cabinet upon moving to Atlanta, and that Sunday, she was supposed to attend a volunteer calling session on behalf of Young Leadership Cabinet. She considered not going, because the weather was still bad. “I didn’t want to take the car out, but I felt so cooped-up from being in the house all week, I just had to get out.”   

Deborah arrived at the very busy bank processing center where the calling session was happening, settled herself in one of the few remaining cubicles, and started making calls to donors. Between calls she said hello to familiar faces and made jokes. When the session ended, a guy behind her struck up a conversation. He’d seen her talking with other people throughout the session and said “I knew you’d talk to me.” She exchanged numbers with the guy, Lou, and the rest is history.  

Deborah says she and Lou would never have met without that calling session—the social circles they ran in were entirely different. Now, they have two children: David, who lives in San Francisco, and Jonathan, in New York City. She hopes that young adults keep it in mind when they’re deciding how to spend their free time. “Volunteering is a social opportunity! You get to meet people who share your values.” 

She credits the good work Federation does with her determination to be involved when she first moved here. “Federation funds so many essential organizations and institutions. If I was going to be part of Jewish Atlanta, I had to get involved. When you’re part of a community, you have to help grow and maintain it. Federation is my dues to my community.”  

As the President of Women’s Philanthropy, Deborah hopes to give people more opportunities to learn about what Federation does and guide them toward philanthropic opportunities that spark their imagination. “I like being a connector—when someone tells me they’re interested in something, I make recommendations. I like to help them find an event or program that will speak to them, build relationships and bring them into a tighter orbit. I always say, ‘You have the piece to someone else’s puzzle.’” 

We’re all lucky that Federation could fit the puzzle pieces of Deborah and Lou so long ago! 

Summer Gather Grants Bring People Together

By Atlanta Jewish Community

Federation’s Gather Grants program has been celebrating all things summer! We love hearing the stories that our hosts and participants share with us every day. Gather Grants are gifts of $180 that participants can use to create a meaningful Jewish event. Hosts have complete control over the event, from the date and location to the attendees and activities. The photos and stories we receive from these events are simply amazing, and we can’t wait to share some of our favorites with you in the upcoming weeks. Today, we’re featuring a few stories from Honeymoon Israel participants who used our Gather Grants to connect with Jewish life in Atlanta!

One of our hosts, Ben, held a Guys’ Night Havdalah and Poker Tournament with 12 friends at his home. It was a special event, as Ben was able to share the personal meaning behind several pieces of Judaica. He even highlighted the Tallit he acquired on his Honeymoon Israel trip, which he plans to give to his child as a legacy gift upon their B’nai Mitzvah one day.  

Stacey held a pool gathering for friends, including two new babies! It was a fun way for Stacey to introduce new friends to older ones and build a micro community of Jewish connections. Even Stacey’s parents were able to join in on the fun and meet some of the friends they made on their Israel trip last year. And their daughter joined in and splashed with their friends! 

According to Corey, a Honeymoon Israel alumnus who hosted a Gather Grant in mid-June, our program is easy to navigate and does a great job of encouraging Jewish families to get together. If you’re interested in hosting your own Jewish event, you can apply for our Fall Gather Grants, which will open in September for gatherings to be held in October and November. Check out our website to learn more about our program and how we can help you create a meaningful event. 

Close Menu