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A Call to Protect the Earth

By CARING, COMMUNITY

By Rabbi Jonathan Crane and Joanna Kobylivker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish Atlanta: Built for Limmud

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shmitah Year: A Call to Change

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Three Big Reasons to Give

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog, PHILANTHROPY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Built to Serve: Campaign 2022

By CARING, COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

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

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

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

ATL’s Moishe House Without Walls

By CARING, COMMUNITY, NextGen

We’ve shared stories in Fed5 about Atlanta’s four Moishe Houses (MH) where young adults live together and create meaningful, welcoming Jewish communities for themselves and their peers. Atlanta currently has Moishe Houses in Toco Hills, Virginia Highland, Buckhead, and a house for Russian-speaking Jewish (RSJ) young adults in Brookhaven.  

But Moishe House also impacts Atlanta through a growing network of Moishe House Without Walls (MHWOW) hosts. Here, individual hosts create Jewish experiences with support from the Moishe House organization. MHWOW hosts decide who they want to invite, where they want to host, what they want to explore in Judaism, and when they want to gather. Activities can range from Friday night Shabbat dinners, holidays, learning events, and cultural celebrations. 

In addition to MHWOW hosts in Intown Atlanta and inside the perimeter, we also now have three new MHWOW hosts in Kennesaw, Smyrna, and Cumming, thanks to the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s Making Jewish Places (MJP) microgrants initiative.  

Each host serves a different demographic and has a unique vision for their monthly MHWOW programming. programming. Additionally, an existing MHWOW host relocated from Los Angeles to Cumming in March 2021 and has been leading programming and building community.   

One host wrote about the vibrant and inclusive community she aims to create with ongoing MH support: “I want to engage with Jewish young professionals who are looking for a relaxed community of their peers. I am targeting those who may not feel comfortable joining a larger organization but want to socialize with a smaller group of friendly faces. My programming ideas are centered around the Jewish holidays, especially the lesser-known ones like Tu B’Shevat (terrarium making!), Shavuot (ice cream sundae bar!), or Tu B’Av (Galentine’s games!). For the more well-known holidayswe’ll try Sushi in the Sukkah, an interactive Seder on Passover, hamantaschen baking on Purim, a latke exchange on Hannukah, and themed Shabbat dinners.   

“My goal is to create a small but deeply connected group of openminded friends, who enjoy fun activities and celebrate Jewish holidays in a way that is meaningful to us, and to give back to our larger community through volunteering time/money.”   

In May, MHWOW host Zach Givarz took eight participants on a Shabbat weekend in the mountains. The group celebrated the beauty and love of Shabbat through food and celebrations.  

A group of women gathered, led by MHWOW host Leah Berryhill, to celebrate Shavuot and the spring harvest with roses and rosé wine. The participants made flower arrangements and took time to enjoy and connect safely outside at a local community park.  

MHWOW host Shira Colsky hosted an ice cream party with nine friends in honor of Shavuot. They discussed the history of this less-known Jewish holiday and enjoyed various homemade ice cream flavors! 

Learn more about MHWOW in our area, email: withoutwalls@moishehouse.org 

Mazel Tov to Cherie Aviv: AFP’s Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year

By CARING, COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

When the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Greater Atlanta Chapter hosts its 39th annual National Philanthropy Day event on November 4, 2021, Jewish Atlanta can take justifiable pride that Cherie Aviv will be honored as Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year. 

Cherie Aviv is a fiercely dedicated and effective fundraiser with a longtime interest in the arts, and a deep passion for social services in the Jewish community, older adults, clients with disabilities, and meeting the needs of our region’s Holocaust survivors. Her fundraising efforts and remarkable collaborative initiatives have raised more than $10 million to date to benefit people across the greater Atlanta community and beyond.

In 2016, after assessing the needs of Atlanta’s Holocaust survivors, Cherie spearheaded the partnership between Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS), Jewish HomeLife, Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA), The Breman Museum, Eternal Life-Hemshech, and Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta that created the Holocaust Survivors Support Fund (HSSF). Through Cherie’s efforts, the fund has raised just under $3 million, engaged more than 600 donors, and had a transformational impact on the lives of more than 135 Holocaust survivors annually.  

On behalf of Federation, Karen Botnick Paz nominated Aviv for the AFP award. In her nomination, Karen paints a rich picture of Cherie’s busy life. “It’s 5:30 a.m. and Cherie Aviv is quietly reading before she takes a morning run. Juggling up to four books at a time keeps her mind engaged, while running allows time for thinking. These hobbies provide a healthy balance to her full-time volunteer schedule which runs the gamut from fundraising, creating special moments, outreach, and hands-on activities.  

Cherie applies this same discipline and determination to everything she undertakes. Terri Bonoff, CEO JF&CS said, “Cherie’s approach is to respond to community needs with urgency and innovation. This was evident with the 2014 JF&CS Capital Campaign to Complete the Campus where the campaign raised $6.6 million, exceeding the goal by $1.5 million. Cherie co-chaired with John Perlman and made the matching lead gift 

Miriam Friedman, an MJCCA professional shared, “Cherie co-led a team of 15+ volunteer and staff solicitors and helped to construct the campaign framework from marketing materials to campaign structure and reporting, to board solicitations and grant writing. Cherie’s project management savvy kept the team on track and motivated, exceeding the campaign goal by over $1.5 million.”   

Mark Silberman, past Board Chair of Federation said, “Cherie has no peer when it comes to fundraising. Absolutely the best I have seen.” 

While serving as Vice President of Development at Jewish HomeLife, Cherie increased their annual campaign by 25%. From 2014-2016, as Co-Chair of Jewish Family & Career Services Capital Campaign, she helped secure $6.6 million. In 2018, she and her husband Gary chaired a record-setting Community of Caring luncheon, which raised $500,000. 

Cherie is not only generous with her time and expertise, she is personally generous, though her giving is often anonymous. Supporting letters for the AFP award provide story after story of her dedication and generosity and her engaging collaborative style.  

Tammi Parker, a friend, and volunteer observes, “Cherie is the ultimate player/coach. She creates the experience for the volunteer, makes it look easy and doable, and fills in any gaps that the volunteer is not able to cover.  Terri Bonoff addedOn one occasion, I joined 20 volunteers to make rugelach to give to survivors, caregivers, or clients with disabilities. These volunteer baking events are quite inspiring and there are waiting lists to join.” 

One thing is for certain, what Cherie has done for the Atlanta community and beyond is priceless. Her impact is everywhere. JF&CS can provide comprehensive support services for any senior in the Atlanta community through Aviv Older Adult Services. Jewish HomeLife is well known throughout Atlanta for its high quality of care at Aviv Rehabilitation Center. Thousands of older adults are cheered by birthday cards through Aviv Celebrations. Cancer patients feel the warmth through fleece blankets while going through chemotherapy delivered through her efforts. She has shared that she has more new projects in the works.   

Thank you, Cherie, for the abundance of wisdom, persistence, and chesed you bring to philanthropy. You have lifted countless lives! 

What We Learned About COVID Safety

By CARING, COMMUNITY

Making Jewish Atlanta Safe Again 
By Jeffrey A. Gopen, Chief Operating Officer Jewish HomeLife 

In May, the CDC reported 84% of US adults 65+ have gotten at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 71.9% have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Cases in nursing homes as of June have dropped to less than one per thousand from a high of 31 per thousand in December 2020. 

As much as this pandemic cost our organization financially, emotionally, and physically, Jewish HomeLife continues to support community-wide efforts to make Jewish Atlanta safe again. With over 85% of our staff and 95% of our residents vaccinated across all our residential communities, the vaccine, along with our other safety measures, has allowed us to achieve nearly full immunity. Consistent with our mission, we want to help Jewish Atlanta get there as well. 

Jewish HomeLife can now take our expertise and once again share it with you. We are the only senior care organization in Atlanta with the ability to self-vaccinate any new residents, staff, and families on demand. As a new vaccination site, we intend to assist our community partners. From preschools and camps to shuls and schools, Jewish HomeLife can help everyone in our community return to normalcy. This allows us to continue our mission of getting to 100% vaccination rates for our residents, clients, patients, and staff. 

Thanks to Federation and generous community support, Jewish HomeLife was able to spare no expense to protect our own residents and staff while offering access and expertise to Jewish organizations throughout Atlanta. When personal protective equipment (PPE) was in short supply, Jewish HomeLife provided access to our own strained supply chain so shuls and schools could safely set up their new virtual models.  

When access to testing was a challenge, our ability to move mountains with our local lab once again afforded access to synagogues, day schools, camps, and other Jewish organizations to provide fast and accurate testing so they could reopen safely. Most recently, after months of waiting for our application to be processed, Jewish HomeLife finally received federal approval to administer vaccines.  

I am in my third decade of serving the aging, first as a physical therapist, then as a nursing home administrator, operations director, and now in my fourth year as Chief Operating Officer of Jewish HomeLife. As a clinician and a business leader, the most important aspect of what we do is staying true to our mission – supporting all stages of The Aging Journey. Our community can be proud that its support of its own Jewish senior care organization makes us all safer. 

They Clicked from the First Phone Call

By Aging, CARING, COMMUNITY, NextGen

Brian M., who lives near the JF&CS office in Dunwoody, stopped in at the beginning of the pandemic and asked how he might be of help. He filled out a volunteer application and was directed to Vivienne Kurland, Program Coordinator of One Good Deed, JF&CS’ friendly visitor program supporting older adults. 

His timing was terrific. One Good Deed was quickly pivoting to a Phone Friend Program connecting volunteers with older adults who were at heightened risk of loneliness and isolation due to COVID-19 guidelines. 

Sharon Spiegelman, One Good Deed’s Program Manager, and her partner Vivienne Kurland, had a match in mind. They had met with a man named Leonard shortly before the pandemic and had a good feeling about Brian and Leonard being a great match.  

To quote Brian, “This was a friendship that clicked from the first call!”   

The pair quickly established a close bond around a common interest — sports. “We’d recap what happened in sports, with no judgments, no matter what teams we root for.” After a FaceTime call, Leonard said, “I get a vicarious thrill out of hearing what you’re doing at your job.”  

As soon as both Brian and Leonard were both fully vaccinated, they arranged to meet. Brian had previously said on a FaceTime call, “I look forward to the day when it’s safe enough to meet in person.” 

Now it’s happening! So far, the pair have enjoyed lunch together and a tour of Tucker, where Leonard lives. Brian reciprocated with an incredible treat for Leonard who had not been to a baseball game in four years — he got tickets to a Braves game, and they sat right behind the dugout, where both enjoyed complimentary food and beverages! 

Learn more about supporting an older adult through One Good Deed. We also celebrate Sharon Spiegelman who is retiring from the program she managed and sustained for more than 15 years. Thank you, Sharon!