Category

CARING

Rising Leader: Robin Sysler

By CARING, COMMUNITY

Robin Sysler likes to say she has “a Federation heart.” “I was trained by the best of the best in the Greater Metro West Federation,” she says with pride. “From my college field placement with JESNA, the former Jewish education agency, to getting a Federation scholarship for my master’s degree in social work at the Wurzweiler school, Federation has been a huge influence. Learning from the professionals at Federation informs how I think about programs, how I see the big picture, and how I reach out to engage people.”

Robin was an active leader in Federation up north, and though she’s been in Atlanta for less than two years, her “Federation heart” kicked in immediately. Before officially moving here, a passion for Holocaust education led Robin to become a docent at The Breman Museum. It’s work she had done previously with the Holocaust Council of Greater Metro West. There she helped write Holocaust exhibition materials and gave talks and tours to groups of all ages.

Federation connections deepened when Robin went on the Women’s Philanthropy mission to Cuba. “I had been to Cuba before and understood the issues. It was the friendships we forged that were so powerful.” Poised to become the next president of Women’s Philanthropy, Robin reflects, “My passion for Federation is being hands-on, and seeing what we can do together. I want to diversify our membership and increase involvement in a significant, tangible way. I want every woman to experience the warm welcome Atlanta gave to me.”

Atlanta Jewish Foundation Expands Team & Services

By Atlanta Jewish Foundation, CARING, COMMUNITY

We are proud and excited to announce a significant expansion of the Atlanta Jewish Foundation (AJF) professional team and services as we seek to grow philanthropic assets for the Jewish community. In 2020 the Foundation spearheaded a massive philanthropic response to help stabilize and support the Jewish ecosystem throughout the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Our fundholders gave more than $38 million in grants to over 1,000 organizations, much of it directed to.

We have added two newly created positions and an enhanced mix of service offerings to serve our fundholders better in 2021. “There is huge growth and investment happening in the Jewish community,” says Christy Butler Eckoff, Chief Foundation Officer and Managing Director of AJF. “People are seeing first-hand how their generosity sustains the causes they care about today and for generations to come, ensuring a more vibrant, vigorous Jewish Atlanta and a better future for the world.”

Jori Mendel has been named Deputy Director where she will bring her sales, marketing, and innovation experience to lead efforts on direct outreach to potential individual fundholders and grow and steward the Foundation’s planned gift portfolio. Staci Eichelbaum has been named Director of Philanthropic Advising where she will bring her expertise and training on family philanthropy, philanthropic advising, giving circles, and NextGen engagement to lead efforts with existing fundholders on their personal philanthropy, family philanthropy, educational events, and collaborative giving.

They strengthen our team of experienced professionals. Kathy Evans, Director of Foundation Operations, brings several years of operations and finance experience in the for-profit sector and leads operations for the Foundation. Cindy Weik, Donor Services Associate, has been with the Foundation for 14 years providing excellent customer service and leading gift acknowledgment and grants. Rachel Rosner, LIFE & LEGACY® Coordinator, brings years of executive experience at large retailers and leads efforts around the LIFE&LEGACY program and Foundation marketing.

AJF currently manages and stewards $330 million in assets for the Jewish community and has a goal to grow its portfolio to managing $1 billion over the next decade. “Our goal is to make AJF the go-to place for philanthropic funds, family and personal philanthropy, planned giving, asset management, and Jewish generosity,” Christy Eckoff explains. “AJF has a deep understanding of community needs and the organizations that are addressing them.”

Jewish Educators Bounce Forward, Not Back

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Education Collaborative

What will Jewish education look and feel like when the trauma of this pandemic is finally over? Will religious school simply return to “normal”? And if it does, will it meet the needs of Atlanta’s students and families?

In the field of psychology, there’s a concept known as “Post-Traumatic Growth” (“PTG”) which proves that it’s possible to grow stronger, more driven, and more resilient, because of the trauma we face. Ultimately, it’s not the trauma itself that causes growth, but rather how individuals and organizations interpret and respond to it.

One path after trauma seeks only homeostasis, to restore balance and return to life as it once was. That might sound nice, but it would ignore the lessons we have learned throughout this challenging time and would not lead to progress.

There is also a path after trauma, that, with support and intentionality, can lead to meaningful transformation. PTG holds a very important idea: We don’t bounce back from challenges, we bounce forward.

Jewish educators can plan and strategize for the future we want to build beyond the present reality. But we cannot – and should not – simply bounce back to the ways of the past.

Jewish educators in Atlanta are using the framework of Post-Traumatic Growth to think about how we move ahead in Jewish education.

  • How can we view the current situation as both a trauma with consequences, and an opportunity to “reinvent” or improve on the status quo of Jewish education?
  • How can the pandemic serve as a catalyst for growth and change?

Leaning into creativity and learning from the successes and failures of the past 10 months, Jewish educators are focusing on new ways to meet the needs of Jewish families today. They’re embracing and exploring:

  • Educational Technology
  • Social-Emotional & Values-Based Learning
  • Relationship-Building
  • Family Learning & Engagement
  • New Places, Spaces and Times to Learn

From PTG we learn that individuals and organizations can achieve a higher level of functioning as a result of addressing and learning from trauma. With time, Atlanta’s Jewish learning, and Jewish community, can emerge stronger than ever.

A Vital Boost for Jewish Preschools

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Education Collaborative

For many families with young children, Jewish preschool is their first meaningful step into Jewish communal life – a welcoming and safe space to explore Jewish tradition and meet other Jewish families. Atlanta’s 22 Jewish preschools have provided exactly those kinds of connections; however, when the COVID-19 virus hit, many Jewish preschools closed, teachers were furloughed, and families felt stranded. 

Preschool directors and teachers worked hard to maintain a strong connection with their families athey navigated the best way to reopen their schools. But in reality, the schools were hit hard with lower enrollment numbers and rising costs for staffing, COVID-safe adaptive spaces, and PPE necessities.  

Thankfully, Federation’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund provided crucial funding for reopening. It allocated $100,000 to assist with reopening costs, including, but not limited to: new sanitation supplies and PPE including masks, gloves, disinfectant, cleaning supplies, no-touch thermometers, electrostatic foggers, and washing stations.  

Following a second organizational needs survey, the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund directed an additional $100,000 in scholarships to families at 12 of our Jewish preschools. Sixty-five families and 98 children have received scholarship assistance and the impact has been profound. 

The global pandemic and financial impacts are still unfolding and creating significant needs for scholarships in the Jewish preschool sector. Families are finding themselves in serious financial distress due to under employment, and at the same time, they count on Jewish preschools for their children’s care. Jewish preschools are often at the core of a family’s connection and belonging in the Jewish community.  

Federation’s funding strategy was to invest in preschools that are sustainable, have strong leadership, and support from their host institution (when applicable). Criteria were developed in order to evaluate eligibility for preschool re-opening grants. Ultimately, the goal was to keep as many children enrolled as possible and allow parents to remain in the workforce. The funds were made available so that families enrolled in the fall are able to continue into winter and, in some cases, new students can join in winter as well. This funding is a one-year infusion of additional support for tuition assistance needs during the 2020-21 school year. 

One grateful family said: Unfortunately, due to COVID19 our financial situation was significantly impacted when my spouse, the main provider in the family, lost his job back in April 2020. This has resulted in losing over 70% of our household income resulting in a challenging financial reality for us in general and questions about our ability to continue covering our son’s daycare costs specifically. Thanks to your generosity my son is able to continue attending his preschool, he is happy and we’re happy knowing he is in a safe environment dedicated to continuing his Jewish education.“ 

Becoming a Changemaker

By CARING, COMMUNITY, NextGen

Earlier in 2020 Federation recruited more than 25 young adults from metro Atlanta to join the inaugural Jewish Changemakers Fellowship, a three-week online leadership development experience hosted by Jewish Federations of North America. One participant was Zoe Katz, a 2019 graduate of Agnes Scott College who interned with JFNA’s Israel Action Network to combat the delegitimization of Israel and BDS on college campuses.

I took 78 pages of notes throughout my three-week Jewish Changemakers fellowship. Looking through those pages now, there is one quote from my notes that sticks out as I reflect on my experience. I listened to a podcast about supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities. As the podcast encouraged me to use my own story and challenges to create change, the podcast guest mentioned the Jewish proverb: “I ask not for a lighter burden, but broader shoulders.”

As one of 500 fellows between the ages of 20-25 from around the world, I listened intently to rabbis, leaders of Jewish organizations, activists, community and coalition builders, and my fellow fellows. In Zoom breakout rooms, we discussed Rabbi Hillel, Theodor Herzl, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and John Lewis, who passed away during the fellowship. At times, I was in awe of the content. Who was I to participate in these conversations? I am no agent of change. Some of the Changemakers were established professionals, writers, and activists with large followings. I had less than 200 Twitter followers. Yes, I always considered myself a leader and was recognized as one in college. But was I an agent of change? What did it even mean to be a changemaker?

It meant broadening my horizons. It meant broadening my shoulders.

The fellowship was split into three sections: the Story of Self, a week of personal and professional development; the Story of Us, a week of learning about the global Jewish community; and the Story of Now, a week of service and advocacy. It was okay that I didn’t think of myself as a changemaker –  these three weeks would guarantee that I would learn.

Week one started with us writing down a “six-word story of self.” In essence, it was a tagline for ourselves and a thesis statement for who we hoped to become over the course of the fellowship. On day one, I scribbled down, “finding my story, always staying myself.” By Friday, the sentence read, “passionate storyteller and value-focused Changemaker.”

It was a vast improvement.

At the beginning of the fellowship, I was most excited for week two,–  the Story of Us. In college, I studied Jewish history. (Specifically, I wrote my senior history thesis on Jewish Pirates–  yes, really.) In my research, I got to visit the Jewish community of Jamaica, which sparked a passion for learning about global Jewish communities. And wow, did the curriculum deliver. From learning about Cochini Jews in India to discussing the question of ‘Who is a Jew?’ with my cohort, I drank in the content and conversation like it was water and I had just finished wandering the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.

My favorite elective of the fellowship was that week, too. Entitled Finding Your Narrative in the Israel Conversation, I spoke passionately in our breakout rooms about my frustrations with the Israel conversation on campuses. Facilitated by JFNA’s Israel Action Network (IAN), I also worked up the courage to ask the Director of IAN for an informational interview to discuss Jewish organizations and my career. Now, a few months later, I’m interning for IAN, and I’m specifically working on programs to combat the delegitimization of Israel and BDS on college campuses.

By week three, I found friends in hundreds of fellows. We texted each other and made memes about the content we were learning. I organized a writing group and conducted a writing workshop on Sunday. Through Facebook groups, we organized extracurricular video chats — as if we were in a conference center, and we could hang out after sessions in the lobby, just chatting about anything and everything. On the last day of the fellowship, I was selected to ask Representative Maxine Waters a question about solidarity and coalition building in front of all 500 fellows, the president of JFNA, and other Congress members. It was terrifying and exhilarating. It was change-making.

It’s been a few months since the fellowship ended, but I continue to be amazed by the relationships I formed. We champion each other on social media, we network, we work together to create and advocate. I simply would not have the tools, the vocabulary, or the inspiration to do this work before the Changemakers fellowship. Before, my shoulders were narrow. I often collapsed under the weight of uncertainty, and the sheer amount of work there was to make a more just world. Now, my shoulders can bear the weight of change. I have the muscle to get the job done. And they continue to broaden more and more—all thanks to the Jewish Changemakers fellowship.

Gifts That Continue Grow

By Atlanta Jewish Foundation, CARING, COMMUNITY

Elaine and Jerry Blumenthal’s oldest son Matthew was five years old when he was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. Matthew’s special needs, and a deepening commitment to Jewish life set a chain of events in motion that had a profound impact on the whole family.  

“I grew up in a warm, orthodox Jewish family in Savannah,” Jerry says. “Elaine grew up in Topeka, Kansas where there were only about 100 Jews in the whole town, but she was active in NFTY, the Reform youth movement. It wasn’t until we attended a retreat at Camp Barney where Rabbi Irving (“Yitz”) Greenberg was the scholar in residence, that our family began to walk a road to greater Jewish observance. It became clear to us that Matthew and all our kids really belonged in Jewish day school. The Hebrew Academy, which is now Atlanta Jewish Academy, was the community day school that made sense for us. Matthew attended from first grade through graduation. Eventually, with the encouragement of Rabbi Goodman at the Ahavath Achim Synagogue, we decided to have a kosher home.”

“Matthew’s positive experience showed us how day school could knit a Jewish community together,” says Elaine. “Hebrew Academy enrolled kids from every denomination. When Matthew was in his bar mitzvah year,he attended his classmates’ simchas (celebrations) at every single synagogue in town. When it was his turn to become a bar mitzvah, we were members of Temple Sinai, but even the more observant students came. They took a hotel room together so they could walk to synagogue and celebrate with us. They were among Matthew’s best friends.”

“After Matthew died at age 24, the head of school at Hebrew Academy knew we were looking for a way to memorialize him. Mathew’s grandparents, Saul and Adele Blumenthal, z”l, donated the seed money to start up the Matthew Blumenthal M’silot (Pathways) Program supporting children with special needs. With their sustaining gift, and support from our endowment fund at Atlanta Jewish Foundation, the M’silot program continues at Atlanta Jewish Academy.”

“To this day we depend on Atlanta Jewish Foundation to manage and grow our investments, not only for M’silot, but for The Jewish Home, JF&CS, Birthright Israel, Hillels of Georgia, Limmud Atlanta, and non-Jewish charities as well. When you have your funds put away in an endowment you can continue to support the things you care about. You don’t have to worry that the funds won’t be there or that current income won’t be adequate. You can use stocks, bonds, and appreciated assets to build a solid foundation for your charitable portfolio.”

“Federation supports things we don’t even know about! By using the tools provided by Atlanta Jewish Foundation like donor-advised funds and endowments, we feel like we’re securing the Jewish future.”

Adapting Camp Culture

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Camp Initiative

Atlanta’s Jewish day camps have had months of experience perfecting fun, safe, and engaging programs for kids during COVID-19. Now, In the City Camps and MJCCA Camps are using everything they’ve learned about combining fun and safety to plan memorable summer experiences in 2021 — both virtually and in person.  

In the City Camps pivoted to virtual Jewish family programming right away in March, as schools closed and families began quarantining.  Last summer they moved into both virtual camp and in-person camp at The Weber School. For summer 2021 In the City Camp will host inperson camps at Chabad on the BeltLine for three weeks in June, and at The Weber School for four weeks in July. Virtual camp will also be an option. Registration begins in January 

MJCCA Day Camps also pivoted immediately to meet the needs of families, offering daily virtual programming that included arts & crafts, cooking, sing-a-longs, STEM projects, and more. For the first four weeks of summer, MJCCA Day Camps hosted virtual camps and then pivoted again to offer in-person camp. Director Jodi Sonenshine said, “When we realized the pandemic was not going to be short lived, we reviewed all public health guidelines and planned a safe in-person camp that still had all the magic, fun, friends, and adventure of summer. We reimagined the entire day, from temperature checks in the morning, to small groups, no mixing between groups, masks indoors, and more. Campers were outside as much as possible enjoying our pools, lake, bumper boats, fields, ropes course, and more on our 52-acre campus. Our campers had the best summer and their parents were so thankful.”    

Both programs have developed their own unique formulas for a winning camp culture.  

“2021 will be In the City Camp’s 10thanniversary year,” said spokesperson Tali Benjamin. “We’ve perfected a program that puts the best parts of overnight camp into an intentionally Jewish day camp package. We are uniquely based on Jewish values, connection to Israel, and Hebrew language in a kidfriendly way. We continue to help kids build self-confidence through choices, so they discover what they are good at, and try new things too.”

As a result, In the City Camps has built a large community of families that loves doing Jewish things together all year long. They meet virtually for Shabbat, Hanukkah candle-lighting, and havdalah. Even summer staff members who are away at college sometimes join in! You can get a taste of In the City Camps and meet some of their lead staff, at their free virtual pop-ups held twice a month. Information here. 

The MJCCA also leveraged its strengths. When many schools announced a virtual start, the MJCCA reimagined their Club-J afterschool program as Club-J Your Way. They took the proven framework and protocols of in-person day camp and created Club-J Your Way — a full day, or school day program with an after-school option. Kids are in small groups, in dedicated spaces, wearing masks, while their virtual learning is facilitated. They get to enjoy amazing activities during learning breaks and when the school day is over. 

“Club-J Your Way kids appreciate the structure of our school-like atmosphere and also love being able to enjoy camp activities all year long,” Jodi Sonenshine says. “Parents tell us how thankful they are to have a safe, engaging place for their kids so they can be back to work.”

MJCCA Day Camps is gearing up for Summer 2021 and will offer campers CIA Summer Days @ the J, Sports, Performing Arts, Theme, and Teen camp options. MJCCA Day Camps Summer 2021 registration begins January 10 at 10am. Club J Your Way registration is ongoing. 

Be Part of the Impact

By ALEF Fund, CARING, COMMUNITY

When DeKalb County Public Schools announced that they would start the 2020-21 school year virtually, Susan and Scott Rosenbaum were worried.  

“We were desperate for a safe, highquality, face-to-face learning option. Our second-grade son had a miserable spring with worksheets and videos. He needed a small class and a real live teacher. Our daughter was entering kindergarten. We wanted her to learn with other kids, not on a computer. We toured The Epstein School and loved their model — two teachers in each classroom, small class size, and the wonderful mix of Judaics and secular studies. But tuition for two kids was not do-able for us. When we learned we qualified for scholarship support for both kids through ALEF Fund we were overjoyed.  

Susan and Scott were contributors to ALEF Fund even when their kids were in public school, years before they transferred to a Jewish day school. They knew it was an easy way to take the state taxes they’d have to pay anyway and turn them into scholarships supporting 20 different Jewish day schools and Jewish preschools in Georgia. “Everyone should support ALEF Fund,” Susan says. “Right now is the time to do it at aleffund.org.

ALEF Fund has tremendous impact on Jewish education and depends on taxpayers like you to generate scholarship support. Hurry and renew your pledge. You have until December 31 to apply for a 2021 tax credit. Don’t miss this opportunity to support Jewish education.  

ALEF’s website, aleffund.org, is open for pledges. Renewing is easy — just log on as a returning user and follow the prompts. If you need assistance, call Rachel Rosner at 404-870-1879 and she will be happy to assist you. 

Oh, How We’ll Miss You, Brenda!

By CARING, COMMUNITY

After 34 years of loyal service, Federation’s Office Services Associate, Brenda Hamilton, is retiring on December 31. Miss Brenda is not only our longest-serving Federation professional, she is a living repository of Federation history, sharing stories of how things used to be, and how much we have changed. Even more, Brenda is someone who understands and lives our mission.

Two years ago, Ms. Hamilton shared this personal story with us. “When I started at Federation in 1986, I was newly divorced, with three kids under 13, and just out of business school. Early on, JF&CS helped me through two rough patches: first helping with my phone bill, then with a rent dispute. That’s why I’ve worked here for 32 years and am also a Silver Circle donor (25+ years of giving). Giving is automatic to me. When I needed them, they were there for me. Donating to Federation supports the work they do in lifting people up in times of need, Jews and non-Jews alike.”

We asked community members and Federation colleagues what they love about Brenda, and their answers are wonderful!

Eliot Arnovitz: When Edward Levine, who had cerebral palsy, worked in the Federation mailroom, Brenda gave him a new lease on life. Instead of sitting in a residential home, Ed looked forward to coming to work.  Brenda was instrumental in his success and happiness at being around people and making a big difference.

Robin Glaubman: Ms. Brenda has boundless patience with me whenever I try to mail something in the mail room and -again- forget how to use the stamp machine.

Ligi George: What struck from the minute I met Brenda was her wealth of knowledge and how much she leads with her heart. Her life has truly been in the service of others professionally and personally. She is simply an institution and will be so deeply missed!

Daniell Nadiv: Ms. Brenda was the first person I met at the Federation, her warmth and attentiveness shows through in everything she does. I will miss sitting beside her in the lunchroom and hearing stories about the past four decades.

Cindy Weik: I have known Brenda for 14 ½ years. We have seen so many changes over the years. We shared pictures of children and grandchildren and my grandson Mikael (now 14) used to love to come to the office just to see Miss Brenda. She would take the time and do crafts with him to keep him occupied. Good luck on your retirement, Brenda, time to live life to the fullest!

Dakota Penza: My first desk at Federation was directly across from the mailroom. I would hear Brenda laughing all day, every day, and it always put a smile on my face. I have never met anyone so positive, patient, and willing to help. Brenda is the brightest light!

Jodi Lox Mansbach: Brenda always makes me laugh and I loved watching shows with her in the break room!

Marsha Hurwitz: Always smiling, always lending a helping hand, and so proud of her family!

Nathan Brodsky: Brenda is amazing, she’s kind, thoughtful, and clever. Whenever she tells a story about her family, her history, or Federation from decades ago, I stop what I’m doing, put down my phone,and truly listen to her.  She is willing to help anyone and honestly believes in what we do. I will miss working with her.

 

Using Foundation Tools to Build the Jewish Future

By Atlanta Jewish Foundation, CARING, COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

Elaine and Jerry Blumenthal’s oldest son Matthew was five years old when he was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. Matthew’s special needs, and a deepening commitment to Jewish life set a chain of events in motion that had a profound impact on the whole family.  I grew up in a warm, orthodox Jewish family in Savannah,” Jerry says. “Elaine grew up in Topeka, Kansas where there were only about 100 Jews in the whole town. It wasn’t until we attended a retreat at Camp Barney where Rabbi Irving (Yitz”) Greenberg was the scholar in residence, that our family began to walk a road to greater Jewish observance.It became clear to us that Matthew and all our kids really belonged in Jewish day school. The Hebrew Academy, which is now Atlanta Jewish Academy, was the community day school that made sense for us. Matthew attended from first grade through graduation. Eventually, with the encouragement of Rabbi Goodman at the Ahavath Achim Synagogue, we decided to have a kosher home.”

“Matthew’s positive experience showed us how day school could knit a Jewish community together,” says Elaine. “Hebrew Academy enrolled kids from every denomination. When Matthew was in his bar mitzvah year, he attended his classmates’ simchas (celebrations) at every single synagogue in town. When it was his turn to become a bar mitzvah, we were members of Temple Sinai, but even the more observant students came. They took a hotel room together so they could walk to synagogue and celebrate with us. They were among Matthew’s best friends.”

After Matthew died at age 24, the head of school at Hebrew Academy knew we were looking for a way to memorialize him. Mathew’s grandparents, Saul and Adele Blumenthal, donated the seed money to start up the Matthew Blumenthal M’silot (Pathways) Program supporting children with special needs. With their sustaining gift and support from our endowment fund at Atlanta Jewish Foundation, the M’silot program continues at Atlanta Jewish Academy.”

To this day we depend on Atlanta Jewish Foundation to manage and grow our investments, not only for M’silot, but for The Jewish Home, JF&CS, Birthright Israel, Hillels of Georgia, Limmud Atlanta, and non-Jewish charities as well. When you have your funds put away in an endowment you can continue to support the things you care about. You don’t have to worry that the funds won’t be there or that current income won’t be adequate. You can use stocks, bonds, and appreciated assets to build a solid foundation for your charitable portfolio.”

“The Foundation supports things we don’t even know about! By using the tools provided by Atlanta Jewish Foundation like donor-advised funds and endowments, we feel like we’re securing the Jewish future.”