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We Went to the Mikvah Together Before Our Wedding

By CARING, COMMUNITY

By Shari Rabin & Matt Berkman

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

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

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

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

Ready for Whatever Comes Next

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021: A Year of Impact and Generosity

By CARING, COMMUNITY

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

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

In 2021, Foundation fundholders made 5,400 grants:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eliad Ben Shushan Completes Mandel Leadership Program

By CARING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Gather Grants Made Hanukkah Even Brighter

By CARING, COMMUNITY

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

You Bring Light to Jews in Belarus

By CARING, COMMUNITY

As winter bears down in Belarus, it is not just the cold and darkness weighing on its Jewish community. Belarus is a nation where barely 25% of the population is vaccinated against COVID. Even though hospitals are filled with the sick and dying, many Belarusians believe the Coronavirus is a hoax. Russian and Chinese vaccines are the only options because Pfizer and Moderna are not available.

An additional worry is the uncertainty of being able to travel to Israel. The devaluation of the ruble has driven up the cost of living, and the uneasy political situation across Eastern Europe is a concern.

Despite these anxieties, Ilana Lomkin, who works for the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) in Minsk, is optimistic. “Belarus in 2021 is a different place than when I came here four years ago. Belarus had a rich Jewish life before the Shoah, but after the war Jewish life was decimated. Today it is incredible to see so many young Belarusians discovering and embracing their heritage after decades of concealing it, or simply not knowing they were Jewish. It is inspiring to see the younger generation studying modern Hebrew and dreaming of making aliyah (immigration) to Israel. We are doing all we can to prepare them for it,” Lomkin says.

Funding support from Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta brings impact and light to this community. Our dollars support The Jewish Agency’s Matmid (Permanence) Program which empowers young people to live Jewish lives and connect with their roots. Matmid teaches young people about Jewish life in Belarus before the war. Some train to become Jewish tour guides, showing people the homes of famous Jewish Belarusians like the artist Marc Chagall, Shimon Perez, and Israeli political leader Ezer Weitzman.

Another program funded by Atlanta supports a winter overnight camp near Minsk where 40-50 young people can learn about Shabbat and experience Jewish culture. The camp is usually staffed by young Israelis, and it is very inspiring for young Belarusian kids to connect with these Israelis who help teach them about life in modern Israel. “For many kids, camp is their first exposure to anything Jewish. Building Jewish identity builds a pipeline for making aliyah,” said Nir Buchler, a Jewish Agency  professional who works in Washington, D.C.”

Adults in Belarus are grateful for Atlanta’s support too. The JCC and the Chesed in Minsk provide social programs, lectures, and face-to-face social services for families and older adults. The dream of aliyah is not just for the young. There is a significant rise in people wanting to make aliyah all over the world, and places like Argentina, France, and Belarus are at the top of the list. Additionally, people are aware that in Israel they will receive better healthcare and social services.

The Makarov family is thankful for Jewish Agency programs. The father said, “We would like to express our deep gratitude to the Jewish Agency’s staff in Minsk for the incredible work invested in organizing aliyah seminars and meetings with families, for preparing classes for our children. Thanks to these meetings we learned about the traditions of celebrating Shabbat, as well as Hanukkah and Pesach. Each seminar, each meeting, was “While still in Belarus, our son learned about Jewish culture and gradually incorporated Jewish, traditions and holidays into his life and now he understands what this or that ritual stands for. The Jewish Agency became a true family for us, and its values are respected for one’s neighbor, love, and a desire to help in difficult times.”

 

 

Eight Lights of Gratitude

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

Remember back in 2013, when Hanukkah began on Thanksgiving Day? The mashup of holidays was dubbed “Thanksgivukkah” and we had fun with it. My friend Jennie Rivlin Roberts created a cool t-shirt for the occasion and donated thousands of dollars to charity from the proceeds.

You won’t be surprised to learn that a Jewish woman coined the name Thanksgivukkah. Dana Gitell, then a 37-year-old marketing manager for a Jewish nonprofit, trademarked the name and bought the URL. Given the quirks of the lunar Jewish calendar, another Thanksgivukkah is unlikely to happen again for 70,000 years! But this year we will come close with Hanukkah beginning on Sunday evening, November 28, just three days after Thanksgiving.

In the Thanksgivukkah spirit, here’s a list of the things for which I am deeply grateful this year.

  1. The COVID-19 Vaccine – This modern scientific miracle that delivers a safe and effective way to build protection against the virus was developed in record time and continues to save countless lives. I take pride knowing that Albert Borla, Pfizer’s CEO who led the company’s development of the vaccine, is the son of Greek Jews who survived the Holocaust.
  2.  The Braves are World Series Champions! — The ascent of the Braves, after so many years of disappointment, was pure joy for Atlanta — with the added bonus of three Jewish players! This win was exactly what we collectively needed after 18 months of pandemic isolation and anxiety.
  3. The 2022 Community Campaign — The Campaign is ahead of pace! As of today, we have reached 43% of our goal. I’m so grateful for our generous donors who continue to step up so we can meet urgent local and international needs. You can learn more about our 2022 campaign goals and donate here.
  4. $10,000 Israel Gap Year Scholarships for High School Seniors — I am delighted to report that The Zalik Foundation has renewed scholarship support for a second year to send graduating high school seniors to Israel. 2022-2023 applications for this year of personal growth and adventure prior to starting college open on December 6!
  5. The Resurgence of Midtown Atlanta — The Midtown construction boom continues with 16 active projects underway! The strength of Midtown real estate bodes well for our dream of transforming the Federation property at 1440 Spring Street into a vibrant center for Jewish life in the coming years.
  6. Federation’s Professional Team — It makes me especially proud to see Federation professionals blossoming within the organization. In recent months, several of them have stepped into new roles with added responsibilities. These transitions are a result of our culture of Excellence, Empathy, and Fearlessness, along with our commitment to professional development.
  7.  548 Commitments to After-Lifetime Giving — That’s right. As we conclude our three-year engagement with the LIFE & LEGACY™ endowment program, Atlanta’s Jewish schools, synagogues, and organizations have secured 548 letters of intent for legacy gifts with an estimated value of $35.2M! It brings me such nachas (Yiddish for joy) to see our community come together to ensure our future financial health. I extend a special thanks to The Harold Grinspoon Foundation for being a phenomenal philanthropic partner through camping initiatives, PJ Library, and the LIFE & LEGACY endowment program.
  8. Matt Bronfman’s Partnership and Leadership – As Board Chair, Matt has contributed a depth of wisdom and fresh insights during his Federation leadership. I deeply appreciate Matt’s commitment to strengthening our entire community.

$100 Off J-Screen’s New Genetic Cancer Screening Test

By CARING

No one likes to think about cancer, and you hope it won’t happen to you. But the fact is, half of all men and one-third of all women will get cancer in their lifetime. The numbers are particularly staggering in the Jewish community. Ashkenazi Jewish men and women face a 10 times greater risk of carrying mutations in their BRCA genes. This increases their risk for breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate cancers. The good news is that many of these cancers can be prevented if a person’s genetic risk is known.

JScreen, the national Atlanta-based genetic screening and education organization, has developed a new screening option called the CancerGEN test. This state-of-the-art test analyzes the BRCA genes along with over 60 other cancer-susceptibility genes to determine genetic risk for different types of cancer. This way, if testing shows a mutation in a cancer gene, action can be taken to help prevent cancer.

As always, JScreen’s ReproGEN test (for diseases like Tay-Sachs, cystic fibrosis and over 200 others) is available to those who are planning to start or expand their families. Both tests are done on saliva from the comfort of home, and telehealth genetic counseling is included.

Thanks to a Propel Grant from Jewish Federation Innovation and NextGen divisions, Atlanta residents can now get $100 off the already low JScreen program fee by entering the code ScreenATL at the JScreen.org checkout page. Go to JScreen.org to register for your test kit(s) or to order for loved ones.

The Joy of Face-to-Face Conversations

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

It has been pure joy to attend the in-person outdoor events that are gradually returning to the Federation calendar. Two weekends ago an amazing crew of BBQ pit masters, competing as Team Feederation, joined 18 other teams at the Atlanta Kosher Barbecue Festival at Brook Run Park. Thousands attended the festival and Team Feederation took first place in the chicken category!

Last week I attended two more in-person events — the launch of the new J-CREN (Jewish Commercial Real Estate Network) initiative and the Women’s Philanthropy Fall event. At both, there was a palpable sense of reunion and optimism as people came together for the first time in more than 18 months.

Talking to donors — and to “not-yet” donors — about the work Federation does, and the ways the community benefits from our work, sparks great conversations. Once someone understands our story and respects the strategy we’ve been pushing forward, they are eager to help us care for, connect, and strengthen our Jewish community

At the same time, it is humbling to encounter folks who know little about the resources and opportunities their Campaign gift empowers.

I am hearing that people are hungry to travel to Israel again. We are still hopeful that a 2023 Community Journey to Israel will happen, and we will share details as soon as we can.

I am hearing that people love the microgrants we’re giving to individuals and community groups who want to build community. The small but mighty grants of up to $200 have empowered friends and neighbors to build sukkahs, join together for community service, feed the hungry, and turn their neighborhoods into vibrant Jewish places.

People appreciate the culture shift in the way Federation engages with the community. They value our collaboration with the synagogues, camps, human services, and partner organizations that make up our Jewish ecosystem. They appreciate the priorities and the leadership that emanates from 1440 Spring Street.

At this moment of reconnection, I’m reminded that today would have been the birthday of my beloved sister Judy who passed away unexpectedly in 1978. Judy is the reason I went to Camp Barney Medintz and ultimately moved to Atlanta. She is the person who still fires my love for our city and our Jewish community. With Judy’s memory in mind, I am gratified to report that the 2022 Community Campaign is ahead of pace, at more than 32% of goal.

As always, I love to engage in good conversation about our community. Whether face-to-face, or by email, let me hear from you!

Expanding Inclusion is My Calling. Atlanta Jewish Foundation Helps Make It Happen

By Atlanta Jewish Foundation, CARING, COMMUNITY

By Michelle Simon
Atlanta Jewish Foundation Operations Committee

After our middle son Kyle was born, we quickly discovered that he had differing abilities. They were not always visible to others, but it was clear to us that Kyle had unique challenges. We were fortunate to intervene early and provide him with the supportive services he needed along the way. Today at age 24, Kyle has just landed a new job where he is highly valued by his co-workers. Though he lives at home, he is quite independent, and is the heart of our family.

I became a community advocate for people with disabilities not simply for Kyle, but because so many others in our community didn’t have access to these resources. It was tragic to me that they could not access the social skills support, occupational and speech therapy, and inclusion opportunities Kyle had. There are roughly 28,000 families in our Jewish community with disability needs. I try to be a cheerleader for all of them.

Today, I’m thrilled to report that things are changing for the better in Atlanta. The Jewish community is making inclusion a priority. This year, the Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) is one of the Targeted Philanthropy options for Federation’s 2022 Community Campaign, enabling you to direct your gift to disability needs. As a member of the Atlanta Jewish Foundation Operations Committee and Advisory Committee, I’ve urged many friends and community members to join me in using donor-advised funds and legacy gift planning as tools. It’s an effective way to ensure that your philanthropic vision for inclusion will impact generations to come.

The Jewish Abilities Alliance has completed a community-wide disabilities needs assessment. I believe it will be a game-changer. Funded by Federation and several passionate donors, the JAA survey is the basis of a strategic plan to implement the most promising recommendations. Armed with research-based data, we have a blueprint for action. Knowing where there are gaps, we are ready to identify potential partnerships and collaborations and invest in filling as many as we can.

JAA is working alongside community partners to prioritize and implement recommendations from the community study, some of which include: Inclusion of people with disabilities in committees and decision-making processes; An inclusion certification process for Jewish communal organizations; Support for an inclusive trip to Israel; Expanded inclusion training for camps, and for all Jewish educators and synagogue professionals. Ultimately, JAA collaborates with all our community service agencies to create a seamless path of support for families and individuals across the lifespan.

Now, with additional funds we can do more of everything – the possibilities are endless and necessary! Having served on Federation’s Innovation Advisory Committee, I helped bring Innovation’s micro-grant practices to JAA. This year JAA awarded more than $19,000 in mini-grants to support local inclusion projects. These grants have funded things like an automatic door at a synagogue, sensory equipment for classrooms, and accessible shuttle services at community events.

Atlanta Jewish Foundation’s fundholders granted out close to $40 million to support our community last year, some of which supported disabilities.

I take a strategic approach to philanthropy and tikkun olam (repairing the world.) I’m not just about Kyle. I’m about the whole community. This is my calling in life, to focus on disability needs and inclusion, and to discover people’s talents and priorities. We have incredible people here who want Atlanta to be the most welcoming and inclusive community. Together, I know we can do it.