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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

Yokneam Opens Arms to Ukrainian Olim

By CARING, People in Need

By Eliad Ben Shushan, Israel Partnership Director
Yokneam has welcomed over 100 Ukrainian refuges who escaped from Europe, most of them carrying only a small bag and a lot of fear. I met with some of them, together with Yokneam’s deputy mayor Roman Peres (a native Russian speaker) who is also the leading professional in the municipality responsible for the absorption process.

Roman and other amazing staff and volunteers from Yokneam traveled to the hotels housing these families as they arrived. When I refer to “a family,” I mean mostly mothers and their kids, since the fathers ages 18-60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine and must stay and fight against the Russians. In the hotels they met with the families, listened to them, found out what they needed, invited them to come live in Yokneam, and offered support that some of it is given by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

As I gather with professionals from the welfare and education departments of the municipality, we talk about their needs, what the municipality and the government can give, and what is the support the federations can provide to make their absorption in Yokneam easier – things like help with summer programs for kids that the mothers will be able to go to work, mental support for kids and moms and coupons they can go independent and buy things they need.

Two months ago, I met with Georgy Chujik, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor from Ukraine whose home in Kiev was bombed in March. I learned from Roman before the meeting, that Georgy was born in Vinnytsia, Ukraine and his mother got him out right before the Nazis came. After they returned to their home, they realized that no one who remained in Vinnytsia survived. Georgy moved to Ukraine and when this conflict started 8 years ago, his home was destroyed, and he moved to Kyiv. This March his home was bombed by the Russians, and he had to leave. Three times in his life he saw his home destroyed and needed to escape.  Now at 88 he has chosen to come to Israel, and to Yokneam. He said his apartment in Yokneam is where he will stay.

I shared with Georgy the concept of the Partnership and that good people from the other side of the ocean are thinking about him and want to share their support and love. Georgy was moved by it and told me that it brings light to his soul, and he gave me a hug. I really felt like I was hugging a piece of history.

Online Hebrew Instruction for Unaffiliated Families

By CARING, Jewish Education Collaborative

Atlanta Hebrew Connection is growing! This exciting online program for Hebrew language learning is the product of a partnership between the Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC) and ShalomLearning, a nationally renowned Jewish education organization. What began as a pilot program involving learners from three local synagogues has grown to include six congregations for the upcoming school year. In addition, Atlanta Hebrew Connection will now be open to individual students who are not affiliated with a synagogue or religious school.

Atlanta Hebrew Connection focuses on teaching students to decode Hebrew, learn prayers, and understand their meaning. It offers small classes, flexible scheduling, and excellent instruction right at home. Key components include:

  • Synchronous, small group learning sessions (3-5 students in each)
  • Excellent curriculum and instruction methods
  • Top-quality teachers
  • Social connections among students from different parts of the community
  • Choosing a class time that works best for your family
  • NOT having to battle Atlanta traffic in the middle of the week!

“My son didn’t know Hebrew at all and now when we go to Shabbat services, he shows me all the words he can read. It’s awesome!”

“I love that I don’t have to rush through rush hour traffic. Yay virtual! My son LOVES learning Hebrew, and their teacher is wonderful.”

For more information about Atlanta Hebrew Connection, please contact Rabbi Elana Perry: eperry@jewishatlana.org.

Meeting the Moment Together

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

Summer is here and July lies before us with its promise of fun, family, travel, and leisurely light-filled nights. Friends, we have earned it! As Campaign 2022 closes, I am buoyed by the satisfaction of knowing that our Jewish community has again gone above and beyond to meet human needs in Atlanta and around the world.

It wasn’t easy. This year, unanticipated issues hit us relentlessly — the refugee crisis in Ukraine, deadly antisemitic acts in the U.S. and around the world, serious challenges that continue to face us in the aftermath of COVID-19, and the opportunity to reunite Ethiopian Jews with their loved ones in Israel.

None of these issues are “over.” All of them will require ongoing philanthropic support. But there is no denying that in 2022, Jewish Atlanta met the moment! Here are the incredible numbers:

  • The Partners Fund, which supports local, Israel, and overseas needs, is to exceed its ambitious goal of $14.2M.
  • Thousands of you stepped up to raise more than $2.6M supporting the urgent needs of Ukrainian Jews through the Ukraine Emergency Response Fund.
  • Today, as Ukrainian evacuees make their way to safety in metro Atlanta, you continue to support them through Atlanta Ukraine Relief Assistance AURA, in collaboration with our partner, Jewish Family & Career Services.
  • Atlanta Jewish Foundation fundholders sent grants of more than $51.7M to 1,169 grantee organizations. Atlanta Jewish Foundation fundholders directed 80% of their grants to Jewish organizations, and 70% of those dollars stayed local.
  • Funding for special projects in education, mental health, housing for older adults, support for Holocaust survivors, feeding the hungry, responding to antisemitism, and more, added significant revenue to Federation this year.
  • We tallied $23.5M in total philanthropic dollars, which includes direct fundraising, incoming grants, and donor advised funds.

With passion and purpose, Jewish Atlanta demonstrated its ability to pivot, to raise funds, and strengthen our people. I have never been prouder of us. Thank you.

 

Walking In . . . Reflections on My Trip to Ethiopia

By CARING, GLOBAL JEWRY

June 2022
By Michael Kogon

Why am I in Gondor, Ethiopia with Jewish Federation board members, Federation leadership from Europe and Canada, members of the Jewish Agency leadership, and community CEOs? Why is the Jewish Agency bringing us here to this place now?

Newly arrived in Ethiopia, it is still not altogether clear. Yes, I’m sure there is a Jewish family or 10 that want to get to Israel. Dollars are needed to make sure that while we rescue lives in Ukraine, we don’t leave the remnants behind in Ethiopia.

Walking In — I arrive for services bright and early; after a long flight, a long day before, no AC in our hotel, no tv, and no internet. Why? To see the few remaining Jews, to see another place that Jews USED to be, a handful of orphans and some elderly?

Walking In — I cannot believe my eyes, not a handful, not a few dozen, not even a few hundred, but 1,000, 1,500, maybe 2,000 people! Men, women, children, old, young, teenagers, mothers and fathers. There is an ark, a bimah, a mechitzah (partition separating men and women in prayer), tallitot, (prayer shawls), tefillin (small black leather boxes with leather straps containing scrolls with verses from the Torah), prayers that are as familiar as a day school and synagogue prayers. The tune may be different, but words of praise of our G-d hit all of us.

If you want to be in the presence of Zionists who love Israel with their soul, fly to Gondor and sing Hatikvah with Ethiopian Jews who pray with their hearts to one day be allowed to go to Israel, to step foot in the old city, to pray at the Kotel, to kiss the wall!

This is not a dying community. There are more kids here than most of our day schools back home have enrolled. There are more young mothers and fathers attending services and raising Jewish kids here in Gondor than in Sandy Springs, or Dunwoody, John’s Creek, or Intown. This community is working to be more Jewish, and we want to make sure that there is a Jewish Future for them. For a glimpse of a Jewish Community of Tomorrow, Jewish Continuity, look to Gondor.

It is surprising and delightful. Now I get why we are here and why we need to help get this community to the promised land. I am excited now to visit with this community and hear their story and talk about getting to Israel, packing, making plans, and their future in our Promised land.

Walking In…as we enter the courtyard that 8 families share; it hits you!

The poverty, the dirt, the unclean lavatory conditions. The eight one-room “apartments” or “human self-storage bays” — four to eight or more family members living on a shared mattress, footstools for chairs, a single light bulb, no privacy, no cleanliness. What we are seeing is the day-to-day reality for the Community of Waiting in Ethiopia.

5 years, 10 years, 15 and 23 and more — years of waiting and longing and yearning. Not only to be in Israel but wanting, praying to be reunified with parents, siblings, children, cousins, and others that made it out. They are our Jewish family; our Community in Waiting. There are 15,000 – 20,000 left behind Jews, separated Jews, some born after their families had already been separated, others that stayed to care for elderly, sick, or young.

These are the Ethiopian Jews of today. They have been waiting. They do not have reliable work. They are living in poverty. And they want to be reunited with family members in Israel—some they never forget and others that they have never met.

This is why we are here! To help finish the work we have done. To allow mothers to hug their children again. For parents, to see that their children are alive and made it to Israel. To close the hole in thousands of families’ lives.

18Doors Offers Innovative Wedding Tool

By CARING, COMMUNITY

18Doors helps interfaith couples build confidence in their relationship with Jewish tradition. They have now created a brand new, first-of-its-kind wedding tool and script builder. It is designed specifically for interfaith couples who have chosen to have a friend or family member officiate their wedding ceremony— a growing trend among engaged couples today.

The script builder was actually piloted by 18Doors Atlanta, with a Propel Grant from Federation. After months of research, prototyping and development, it’s now available for free! While this tool will help interfaith couples bring Judaism into their wedding ceremonies and their lives, in Atlanta, 18Doors’ very own Rabbi Malka Packer-Monroe is available to interfaith couples as they plan their weddings and other lifecycle events, and when they seek to engage in Jewish life and community.

Ben Massell Clinic Offers Lessons for Dentists

By CARING, COMMUNITY, People in Need

The Ben Massell Dental Clinic of JF&CS is the most advanced free dental treatment facility in Georgia. Yes, that’s right – treatment is free. The Clinic changes the lives and smiles of underserved patients in the Atlanta area who otherwise could not afford dental services. They receive top notch care from a caring staff of dental residents and interns, seasoned volunteer dentists and hygienists who are dedicated to serving people in need.

Two of those caring professionals are dental residents, Dr. Poonam Kalaria and Dr. Jean Chien who recently served as volunteers at the clinic. Both women learned that for patients at the Ben Massell Dental Clinic, there are many barriers to receiving quality dental treatment.

“Patients at Ben Massell often reveal that they have been in pain for months or even years, because financial, transportation, language, education barriers have prevented them from getting care,” said Dr. Chien. “From the brief time I have been with Ben Massell, however, I have witnessed the dedication of the staff and volunteers to eliminate these barriers.”

“The clients are unbelievably appreciative of the care we provide,” added Dr. Kalaria. “We treat our patients for more than just the bare minimum. We want to go above and beyond, make dentures, and make sure you like the smile we make you, the color of the teeth, all of that. We understand that teeth are important for self-confidence. We don’t treat teeth like a luxury, but as a basic right.”

Dr. Chien agreed. “The dental volunteers are always extremely supportive in making sure all patients are provided timely and excellent care. The patients may not always see the same volunteer dentist, but they always see the same staff at the front desk and the same dental assistants in the operatories. It is evident that these familiar faces put patients at ease and make the environment at Ben Massell a very pleasant one for clients.”

“On numerous occasions patients confide in us about their struggles to find a job, medical care, or affordable housing,” Dr. Chien said. “As a dental resident at the clinic, I can immediately refer these patients to our team of on-site social workers and help patients find solutions to non-dental problems. It has been amazing to be able to learn from the volunteers as well as Ben Massell’s team of staff about providing compassionate and holistic care to underserved clients.”

“Dr. Kalaria recalled a patient in his 40s, whose life was positively impacted by the Ben Massell Dental Clinic. “He was in a car accident with an 18-wheeler, and he was left for dead on the side of the road,” she said. “His teeth were ruined, he lost his job and his house, and his relationship with his family was strained. It seemed like he had lost everything, including his teeth.

Dr. Kalaria was the resident who took out this patient’s remaining teeth, as none of them were salvageable. “He was fitted and set up with dentures and is set to get his permanent implants soon. Today, Dr. Kalaria said he is an entirely different person. Every time we see him, he is happy, hugging all of us and shedding tears of joy. He calls me his guardian angel, and we all want the best for him.”

Dr. Kalaria graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a major in economics and served as a risk analyst for seven years before deciding she wanted to switch careers to have more work life balance, and a career that was more meaningful. She eventually settled on going to dental school.”

Dr. Chien comes from a family of those in the healthcare field. Like the rest of her family, she is passionate about healthcare, but she is also an artist. “My search for a career in which I can combine my passion in health care and art landed me in dentistry,” Dr. Chien explained. “To be able to make art that is functional, aesthetic, and comfortable in people’s mouths has been very rewarding!”

The Ben Massell Dental Clinic is always looking for volunteer dentists and hygienists. To learn more about how you can make a difference, like Dr. Chien and Dr. Kalaria, visit www.benmasselldentalclinic.org/volunteer

 

Scholarships Send Hundreds to Camp This Summer

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Camp Initiative

Federation’s Jewish Camp initiative has lots to celebrate as 2022 summer camp season approaches. As of mid-May 2022, our generous donors have raised $960K to help send nearly 700 kids to overnight Jewish camps. Atlanta kids aren’t just going to Jewish camps in our region, they will be attending 38 FJC (Foundation for Jewish Camp) affiliated camps across North America!

One grateful scholarship family said: “My family and I cannot thank you enough for your generous support. It has been an extremely difficult year and our daughter would not be going to camp without this help. This is the first time she has ever liked a sleep away camp, so we are thrilled to be able to send her back for a second summer! Thanks again for all of the hard work you do!”

Here’s how the funding breaks down:

  • One Happy Camper Grants: $275,550 to 363 campers
  • Needs Based Scholarships: $671,868 to 319 campers
  • Russian Speaking Jewish Access Grants: $12,000 to 11 campers

Todah rabah! We are so incredibly grateful for this gift. You have truly made camp happen for our son.  Thank you for helping us send our child to camp, it truly is his happy place.”

“Wow! I am overcome with emotions right now and am beyond grateful for this generous scholarship! It definitely alleviates the financial stress, allowing me to feel at ease with sending my daughter to camp this summer!! She had the most amazing experience as a first-time camper last year and really wanted to go back this summer! Please know that I am forever grateful. I know her Jewish camp experience will only help nurture her connection to Judaism and to becoming more connected the community in Atlanta. Thank you thank you so very much!”

A New Phase in Ukrainian Relief

By CARING, GLOBAL JEWRY, People in Need

Federation’s Ukraine Emergency Relief Fund has been essential in helping vulnerable Ukrainian Jews find safety and shelter in Europe and make aliyah to Israel. In record time, you helped us raised more than $1.6M to provide food, shelter, clothing, cash, and counseling to thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the war. And we were thrilled late last week to receive a $1M gift to the fund from the Zalik Foundation, bringing our collective impact to more than $2.6M.

Ukraine relief is now entering a new phase as an anticipated wave of Ukrainian refugees makes its way to the United States. Fifty-one individuals are currently in the metro Atlanta area. Their needs are enormous and now there’s a fund called AURA (Atlanta Ukrainian Relief Assistance) to help support them. Read on to learn how you can help these new arrivals.

Atlanta Ukrainian Relief Assistance (AURA)
Along with our partner, Jewish Family & Career Services, we are launching AURA — Atlanta Ukrainian Relief Assistance, to help displaced Ukrainians in the Atlanta metro area. We have set aside an initial $200K from the Emergency Relief Fund to support this vital humanitarian work, but fundraising will continue to meet anticipated needs.

Two Ways to Help Displaced Ukrainians

  • Ukraine Emergency Relief Fund
  • Atlanta Ukrainian Relief Assistance (AURA)

Just as America became a place of refuge for our people after the Holocaust, so too can Atlanta be a welcoming haven for our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. The costs are enormous. Please open your hearts again and donate today to the Atlanta Ukrainian Relief Assistance Fund. Learn more about their local needs and how to help: contact Zane Blechner.