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Winter Bears Down on Ukrainians

By CARING, GLOBAL JEWRY

Winter is quickly approaching in Ukraine, and sadly, the war continues. In recent weeks, critical infrastructure that provides power and water throughout the country has been destroyed. Meanwhile, refugees continue to flee the region. As it gets colder, their situation will be more dire than ever. Though the war is taking up less space in American newspapers and airwaves, our brethren still need our help.  

Since February, Jewish Atlanta has raised more than $2.5 million to assist people directly impacted by the war. Combined with the fundraising efforts of other Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and the Joint Distribution Committee, North American Jewish communities have provided $73 million to aid over 39,000 refugees—both Jewish and non-Jewish. 

You can help mitigate the tragic and traumatic losses experienced by our Jewish family in Ukraine, Russia, and neighboring countries. Continued humanitarian support is vital to rebuilding the Ukrainian Jewish community and ensuring safe passage for those seeking to resettle in Israel, Poland, the United States and elsewhere. 

Federation is accepting donations on behalf of Ukrainians who have been displaced and who are weathering the unrest in their country. So far, donations to Federation have already helped over 12,900 Jews evacuate a war zone. As winter bears down on Eastern Europe, your generosity can mean the difference between life and death.  

As one Ukrainian volunteer remarked, “It is a Jewish value to help others; please don’t stop. We cannot get tired.” 

Fighting Antisemitism on College Campuses

By CARING, COMMUNITY

This past Saturday night in Jacksonville, Florida, following the University of Georgia (UGA)/University of Florida (UF) football game, there was yet another high-profile instance of antisemitism in the United States. The words, “Kanye is right about the Jews” were projected onto the side of the stadium, as well as other downtown buildings.  

For weeks, the American Jewish community has endured a parade of hateful messages. In few places is this more keenly felt than on college and university campuses. Current college students report that anti-Zionist sentiment on campuses is rampant, and that non-Jewish students conflate their feelings about the Israeli government with their feelings about their Jewish classmates.  

In October, the Anti-Defamation League reported that there were 359 anti-Israel incidents on campuses during the 2021-2022 school year. And on Saturday in Jacksonville, an event between two universities was marred by American antisemitism. 

Wayne Keil, Interim CEO of Hillels of Georgia, awoke at 3:30 am on Sunday morning to a phone call about the incident in Jacksonville. He and his UGA Director, Jeremy Lichtig, spent the morning speaking with officials at UGA, UF, University of Florida Hillel, and the Anti-Defamation League, among others.  

Hillel works to support Jewish students, faculty, and staff on college campuses, and Keil says in moments like this, he sees the value of their daily work. “We’ve been preparing for this, not knowing what ‘this’ would be.” 

“What I found to be most impressive was the ability of so many different people from different organizations to quickly come together,” he says. “Hillel has managed to build bridges into the administrations at these schools so they could quickly speak to each other and release a joint message.”  

That solidarity is extremely important for Jewish college students, who face prejudice from other students, and sometimes even faculty, on campus. In September, AP reported that the University of Vermont is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education after a teaching assistant threatened to give Zionist students lower grades.  

So what can we do? Federation supports programs and organizations, like Hillel, that work with college students. Hillel gives Jewish students a community on campus and gives them tools to address hot-button issues with their peers.  

Federation also funds The Jewish Agency for Israel’s (JAFI) Israel Campus Fellows program, which brings Israeli young adults to work on university and college campuses. The Fellows work to expose Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to real Israeli people in order to diminish stereotypes and help them develop a personal relationship with the people of Israel.  

In the face of rising hatred, it is vital that Jewish people are able to tell our stories and care for our community. The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s Community Campaign is currently open, and your donations will directly help Jews in Georgia and beyond. When you give to Federation’s Partners Fund, you’re supporting Hillels of Georgia, Israel Campus Fellows, and more. 

Jews are a vibrant, diverse, and strong group of people. We have overcome obstacles and lived through tumultuous times. The way our community mobilizes in a crisis is beautiful and powerful, and today you can be part of rallying against antisemitism. Please visit our website, read about the work of our partners, learn about our own programs, and consider donating to our Community Campaign 

As Keil says, “They can try to divide us, but they won’t be successful. They never are.” 

We are united against the forces of bigotry. We Are Jewish ATL.  

Federation Celebrates Sukkot!

By CARING, COMMUNITY

Nothing says “fall” like sitting under your sukkah with your loved ones and enjoying a beautiful evening. Last week, Federation celebrated Sukkot in a variety of ways, including through Gather Grants and our social media sukkah competition!

Gather Grants are a joint initiative of three Federation Programs: Making Jewish Places, Next Gen and PJ Library Atlanta. Gather Grants award microgrants of $180 to individuals in the Atlanta metro area who are hosting gatherings in their community.

Here’s what a few people who attended Gather Grant events had to say:

“This event was very meaningful and memorable, not only did I have fun, but I also learned more about the holiday. What a beautiful event!”

“It was creative and everyone enjoyed interacting. New connections were made and it was a wonderful atmosphere in the sukkah. The hostess was well prepared with supplies and encouraged and interacted with all the participants who were of varied ages. Everyone young and old enjoyed.”

“I watched my son teach his friend how to shake the lulav. We don’t have a sukkah at home, so I had no idea he knew how! My heart is full.”

We also asked our Federation Family to send in pictures of your fall festivities for our Sukkah Competition, and you delivered. Here are our three favorites. We loved seeing the beautiful and creative sukkahs of Jewish Atlanta!

Atlanta Created Federation’s Model for Disaster Relief

By CARING, COMMUNITY, People in Need

You probably know that the Jewish Federations of North America are uniquely poised to respond to domestic disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires, and terrorist attacks. But did you know that the infrastructure for this rapid response was developed in Atlanta?  

Barry Swartz and his family arrived in Atlanta in July 1989. Now, Barry is the Vice President of Conexx, the America-Israel Commercial Alliance, but at the time he worked for the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF). In September, just before the High Holidays, Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, South Carolina. Hugo affected approximately 2 million people in and around Charleston; 67 people lost their lives, and the storm inflicted $11 billion in damage. 

The continental Jewish Federation system quickly discovered they had no plan to respond to domestic emergencies. Lois Frank, a senior volunteer leader at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, traveled with Barry to Savannah, where they connected with a small group of national Federation leaders. The group then drove to Charleston to meet with community leaders and view the devastation first-hand. 

Barry worked with Marilyn Shubin and David Sarnat from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta to coordinate the delivery of needed supplies. Thanks to Barry’s national Federation ties, Atlanta became the Jewish epicenter for providing material aid to the region. Power tools, industrial generators, kosher food, and challah for Rosh Hashanah were all transported to the disaster zone. The Charleston Jewish Community Center became the American Red Cross distribution hub for the entire area for food, water, diapers, and other necessities. The idea of using Jewish facilities as a hub for the community as a whole would be modeled in many other emergencies over the next thirty years, including Hurricane Andrew in South Florida.  

The national Jewish community raised millions of dollars for the general relief effort and to repair Jewish institutions. The area was rebuilt thanks to the generosity of Jews throughout the country. And crucially, Jewish Federations developed a method for responding to domestic disasters that is still used today.  

We are thankful for the work of these leaders so many years ago as our friends and family in Florida recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. While the storm has passed, the cleanup efforts will be ongoing for months. You can donate to the national Federation recovery effort and be part of getting Jewish Florida back on its feet. 

My Rosh Hashanah Reflections

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

It’s the start of a new year, 5783, and I find myself asking, “Where do we go next?”

A new year offers a blank slate, a chance to make one’s mark. After the tumult of the last two years, the unknown can be intimidating. But when I think of how Atlanta’s Jewish community has handled recent challenges, I feel ready to face the new year and whatever it brings.

Last year, we faced many challenges that still aren’t resolved. The war in Ukraine isn’t over—every day, thousands more people are forced to leave their homes or to wonder where their next meal will come from. COVID isn’t over—new variants continue to put people at risk, and the pandemic has changed our world in many ways that we cannot yet define. But I also know that our commitment to each other has not ended.

Over the last two years, I’ve seen priorities shift for individuals and organizations. Many things we used to want are no longer relevant, and our focus has shifted. In times of crisis, we see what’s most important: safety, security, and health. The Atlanta Jewish community has stepped up in a monumental way to care for one another, as well as people in need all over the world.

 

So where do we go next? I hope we continue to put each other first. I believe in working towards an aligned community that pursues common goals. At Federation, we speak of “meeting the moment” and being ready when a crisis emerges. The moments we have faced in the last two years are bigger than Federation, or any one organization. And I have been so moved by the power of Jewish Atlanta when these moments occurred.

5783 holds many unknowns, but we will meet them together. That is the power of community.

L’shana tovah,
Eric M. Robbins

18Doors Invites Interfaith Families into Jewish Life

By CARING, COMMUNITY

18Doors aims to connect interfaith families with Jewish organizations and to help them feel at home in the Jewish community. This program lets couples and families learn about Jewish life without embarrassment or feelings of judgment. It also connects interfaith families with Jewish organizations that will welcome them into Jewish life. 

Rabbi Malka works closely with 18Doors to create an inviting space for all Jews. She received the following message from Hannah and Rob following their wedding:  

“Rob and I wanted to deeply thank you for officiating our wedding. We are so grateful to have met you through the process of planning our wedding. More importantly, we are so thankful for your guidance and support as we prepared for our married lives together… 

The wedding ceremony was absolutely a dream….[m]any of our guests had never been to a Jewish wedding before, and so many people told us it was the “most beautiful and loving ceremony” they had ever been to. We definitely feel this way. Thank you for teaching us more about wedding customs in Judaism and helping us cater the ceremony to fit us perfectly. Thank you for helping us to safely include our friends and families and helping to make all of our guests feel welcomed…[t]hank you for teaching us about the ketubah and giving us guidance and freedom to write it together as we wished. This ketubah, hanging in our home, is such a beautiful reminder of our love, our hopes, our dreams, and our promises to each other and God. 

Thank you for always making us feel welcome and accepted. When we first met last Spring, I remember telling Rob that you made me feel “so at home” I believe you were meant to be on this journey with us…[i]t has been so wonderful to have you as a resource in the months and weeks leading up to our wedding. Thank you for reaching out to us and offering support in the Jewish community (both through Zoom Shabbats and the Love & Marriage courses). I remember being nervous to jump into these resources at one point. Rob and I are so glad we took the leap and participated because the support and community we gained as been invaluable through some difficult times. We hope to continue to be a part of this community in the future.” 

Through the work of 18Doors, interfaith families can deepen their connection to the Jewish community and make choices that will lead to a vibrant future for the Jewish people. 18Doors is just one organization that receives grants from the Partners Fund, and your donations will help them create welcoming spaces for all Jews and their families.   

Community Love Stories

By CARING, COMMUNITY

We asked our readers to submit their tales of romance, and you delivered! Read these sweet stories from our Federation family. 

“My husband and I met in Etz Chaim preschool when we were four. We had a little crush on each other even back then, and there’s a photo of him with his arm around me at that time, and a few others of us playing together. He tried to flirt with me in middle school, but I thought boys were gross then, so, of course, I ignored him.  

My mom ran into him at Publix about 10 years ago and asked if he remembered me. He said yes. After she told me she had run into him, I looked him up on Facebook after all these years. And I thought he was cute! But I was too shy to ask him out, until about five years ago. I asked him to dinner, and we had a horrible first date. I decided I didn’t want to see him again, but he was persistent and really wanted another chance to win me over. So, I relented. We had an incredible second date and have been together ever since. We got married in August of 2020 with 11 people in attendance.” 

– Anna Streetman and Harrison Levy 

 

“We met on a Federation mission in 1986 and married later that same year. We remember very fondly that we had nearly 200 chaperones on our “first date.” There were five busloads of us. After all these years, I am finally comfortable admitting that I made certain that Robert and I were on the same bus. 

Robert and I have been married for nearly 36 years. We have three kids: Janine Franco and her husband Alan Pinstein, Dena Franco and her husband Jonny Newburgh, and Eli Franco and his wife Shira Berman.” 

– Sara Franco and Robert Franco 

 

“‘We met over a plate of kiddush tuna.'” This long-standing quip from Nachum isn’t so far from the truth.  

In 2007 we were both new to Denver, seeking community, and found ourselves in the same synagogue with a small but growing young adult community. We began spending Shabbat afternoons together and quickly became close friends. Over time that friendship grew to more, and within a few months, we knew we’d found our match.  

We got engaged a year later, on Melissa’s 25th birthday, and the community surprised us with a lovely fancy dinner (because the kosher options were so limited!) and then an impromptu party. We were married that summer in the same synagogue where we met by the rabbi at whose home we’d spent many of our Shabbat afternoons while dating. We have now lived in seven residences in four cities spanning three states/two countries and added two kids to the family.” 

-Rabba Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez and Rabbi Nachum Gutierrez  

 

“Where do you look for love when you’ve lived in Atlanta your whole life and worked in the Jewish Community most of your career…on JDate! After 10 years of being divorced, I was finally an empty nester and decided to try online dating.  

In early December 2015, I got an online message from Roy: “JDate says that we are a 95% match, do you agree?” After reviewing his profile, I learned he was originally from Savannah. Knowing that my friend and colleague at Federation, Susan Moray, had previously worked in the Savannah Jewish community, I walked down the hall to ask if she knew him. I was thrilled to hear, “not only do I know him, but we were next-door neighbors, and he is a great guy!” 

On Monday, December 7, 2015, which happened to be the second night of Hanukkah, we arranged to meet for dinner. There was an immediate connection, and our conversation continued after dinner at a quaint coffee house. We discovered that he had previously worked in the same office building as my father, who published The Jewish Georgian. 

At the end of our first date, he asked me what I was doing the next day. I flirtatiously shared that I was having a mammogram. The following evening, I received a thoughtful text asking how my appointment had gone. His care and concern touched me. At the end of the text, he cleverly gauged my interest by asking if I’d like to get together again and said, “is this Friday too soon or not soon enough?!”  

We talked throughout the week and had a great second date, followed by a third date where he offered to cook Shabbat dinner. He asked what I was doing on Christmas Eve, and I shared that I had plans to go to Steve’s Live Music in Sandy Springs to hear Tony Levitas, Mark Michelson, and Hannah Zale. He was also planning to go, so we were excited for our friends to meet. 

The night was filled with more coincidental connections. It ended up that the last performer of the night was his niece, Hannah Zale. Roy didn’t know that his niece’s older sister, Tali Benjamin, had been a work colleague of mine at Federation. At lunch on my second day, Tali and I realized that Hannah was the same age as my son Jonathan, also a musician, and they had common friends. As a result, Hannah and Jonathan eventually met and performed together at a music festival. 

The biggest surprise was yet to come. I woke up on December 31, making last-minute preparations to entertain friends, excited to ring in 2016 with Roy. I had to run some errands and a scheduled MRI because of some strange symptoms I had been having. Roy offered to come with me, but I told him not to worry, that I was sure it was nothing and that I would call him as soon as I was done. 

Around 1 PM, I called to let him know they were sending me to the emergency room because something didn’t look right on the scan. I called my family, all of whom live in Atlanta. Imagine Roy meeting my entire family for the first time in the hospital as we received the unimaginable news that I had a brain tumor.  

We were all in shock from the diagnosis, but then something amazing happened. Roy held my hand, reassuring my family that he was not going anywhere. He explained that in the short time we had known each other, he already knew that we had something special and that sticking around was a “no-brainer.” 

Despite my diagnosis, I did not shed a tear because my heart was filled with love. Could it be true that this amazing man was willing to be vulnerable enough to fall in love, faced with so much uncertainty about a future together? On January 7, 2016, four weeks after our first date, I had brain surgery, followed by a year of chemo. The last thing I remember before they took me back to the operating room was him whispering in my ear, “I love you.” 

Over the past six and a half years, my brain tumor has remained stable, no doubt in part because of the happiness and love Roy has added to my world. On June 14, 2020, just three months into COVID, Rabbi Berg married us in the gazebo in the backyard of our new home, surrounded by our blended family. 

I marvel at the timing of our meeting and all the connections. I have come to believe that, as Albert Einstein is quoted, “coincidences are G-d’s way of remaining anonymous.” In Judaism, we have the perfect word for this type of divine intervention, which is simply defined as ‘Beshert.'” 

-Karen Paz and Roy Cranman 

AURA Receives Matching Grant

By CARING, COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY

The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is proud to announce that we have been awarded a $73,000 matching grant from the Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the Shapiro Foundation. 

This grant is part of a $1 million national initiative to support Ukrainians seeking safety in the U.S. Eric M. Robbins, President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, says, “This grant will support the work of Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS) to build capacity within social service organizations to support displaced Ukrainians in the community.” 

The grant award is a dollar-for-dollar match; The Shapiro Foundation will match all donations to AURA (Atlanta Ukrainian Relief Assistance) up to $73,000. These funds will help Ukrainians who have made their way to Atlanta as they escape the war in their home. 

Zane Blechner, Program Manager of AURA, says, “Achieving this $73,000 goal from our community would open up the opportunity for AURA to help many more people.” So far, AURA has supported 56 individuals in Atlanta. 

Most people fleeing the war are on “humanitarian parolee” status in the US. Until their work permits are approved, they may not take a job to support themselves and their families—and work visas are backed-up. 

Blechner says that visa approvals are taking upwards of 10 months, causing a cascade of financial needs for these families. “Resettling a family usually costs about $8,000, but our families so far need more like $30 or $40 thousand.” 

While only about 10% of Ukrainians fleeing the war are Jewish, Blechner says that the Jewish community has been instrumental in offering support. “The Jewish community has stepped up,” he says. “We have had so many generous offers, but what these families need most are funds.” 

It is vital that these families are supported and comfortable while they shelter in Atlanta and that they can live with dignity. Your monetary donations ensure that they are fed, clothed, and housed and that their medical needs are covered while they wait for the conflict to end. 

Click here to take advantage of this matching grant and donate to AURA. Your generosity makes Atlanta a haven for those seeking safety during war. 

Camp is such a special time for kids

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

When you think of “summer camp,” what comes to mind? Swimming, singing songs, roasting marshmallows over a fire?

When I think of Jewish summer camp, I think of smiling faces. Camp is such a special time for kids—it gives them space to grow and learn, and introduces them to lifelong friends. Those bonds, and the joy they bring, are the hallmark of summer camp.

Last week, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Camp Coleman on Camp Kindness Day. After two tumultuous summers disrupted by Covid-19, Jewish summer camps are once again thriving.

Covid proved an enormous challenge for our camps. Staffing issues, kids leaving early—kids having to quarantine at camp! Our camp professionals deserve recognition for facing these challenges and making sure their campers had fun while still being safe.

This summer, our camps are seeing pre-covid registration rates. Camp Coleman was buzzing with excited energy, alive with laughter. All day, I saw children helping each other, making each other laugh, creating memories they’ll never forget.

Camp isn’t just a couple weeks or months; it’s an experience that changes kids and impacts them for the rest of their lives. Camp Kindness Day is a chance to celebrate the hardworking pros who make camp happen, and it was my honor to share it with them.

Inside the Allocations Process

By CARING, COMMUNITY, People in Need

By Avery Kastin

I’ve always heard that a gift to Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta supports the entire Jewish community. But what process ensures that those funds are wisely distributed? It seemed so opaque from the outside. It wasn’t until I became a volunteer on Federation’s Allocations Committee that I saw firsthand the incredible work we do.

See how we make allocation decisions.

The scale of our work is vast: Over 60 volunteers plus numerous Federation staff work year-round to identify and evaluate those organizations that will 1) take care of Jews in need and 2) build a stronger Jewish community today and tomorrow. Everyone is committed to the same goal: making informed decisions on how best to allocate the dollars Federation has raised.

The work of our committee is year-round: we have detailed discussions and site visits with partner organizations, address overlooked needs within our community, identify future issues that could impact our neighbors, and study best practices and trends in the Jewish world. Last year, those efforts culminated in our Allocations Committee distributing over $23 million in Jewish philanthropy to over 70 partner organizations!

Yes, the community has entrusted us with an enormous responsibility, but it is also the most wonderful and rewarding volunteer job. We facilitate all the good made possible by our collective Federation dollars. Together we create a more caring, more connected and stronger Jewish Atlanta.

We need your help to further our sacred work. Pease consider joining the Allocations Committee, a pearl of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, and help us shape our future together.

Avery Kastin is Vice Chair of the Community Planning and Impact Cabinet