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Passover Seders in Ukraine and Ethiopia Target Future Olim


The Jewish Agency for Israel held a special Passover seder for hundreds of Ukrainian refugees who are staying at the organization’s Aliyah (immigration to Israel) processing centers in the region and are preparing for their departure to Israel. In addition, The Jewish Agency also hosted special seders in Ethiopia for its future olim (immigrants) set to make Aliyah. 

The organization’s main seder event for Ukrainian refugees took place in Warsaw and was led by the organization’s Director of the Aliyah and Absorption Unit and Deputy Director General, Shay Felber. The Jewish Agency’s Shlichim (Israeli emissaries) also hosted parallel seders in Romania and Hungary for future olim who are currently taking refuge there and awaiting their flight to Israel. 

The Jewish Agency worked with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s PJ Library and the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration to publish and translate the Haggadot into Russian. The Haggadot will contain the classic cornerstones of the Passover story, including traditional songs, and are written to be enjoyed by the whole family. 

Meanwhile, in Gondar and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, The Jewish Agency held a seder for thousands of future Ethiopian olim. The Passover seders in Ethiopia were conducted as The Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration are set to resume their Tzur Israel initiative, which is being resumed in accordance with the decision made by the Government of Israel. 

The preparations for these seders in Ethiopia was a tremendous undertaking, overseen by the community’s Rabbi Menachem Waldman, and included 100,000 baked matzahs made from 3,000 kilograms of flour locally ground by the community, 400 liters of raisin wine, and a charoset recipe unique to Ethiopian culture that includes dates, bananas, ginger, sugar, and wine. 

The Gondar seder was led by former leader of the community Metiku Yalew, a Jewish educator who made Aliyah to Israel in 2001. In Addis Ababa, the seder was led by Fekadu Maru, the community’s local Jewish educator. Seder leaders were assisted by volunteers from Israel and cantors in the community, and participants will sing special holiday songs in both Hebrew and Aramaic.  

Those seders are in addition to the dozens being held worldwide thanks to Jewish Agency Shlichim stationed around the world. They will help organize seders in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, South Africa, Latin America, North America and the former Soviet Union. As for olim in absorption centers here in Israel, they are preparing for their seder’s with the organization’s assistance. 

“From Ukraine to Ethiopia, we’re seeing a very modern exodus which proves that the Zionist dream is continuing to be fulfilled.” Hagoel added. 

Propel Grantee a Leader in the “Maker” Movement


More than a year ago, Federation Innovation sponsored a Propel Pitch funding competition for social entrepreneurs in Atlanta. The first-place winner was a team from Georgia Tech known as Tikkun Olam Makers, or TOM.  The Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) works closely with TOM. In 2022, JAA provided an Inclusion Microgrant to fund ASL interpreting services at the Makeathon and provided guidance and training around planning an event that is accessible and welcoming to individuals with disabilities.

The TOM movement started in Israel with a mission to serve the most neglected members of society — the elderly, people with disabilities, and the poor. This global movement brings together people with disabilities (known as “Need Knowers”) and people with creative abilities (known as “Makers”). TOM’s mission is to develop open-source assistive technology to address the everyday challenges faced by people with disabilities. At Georgia Tech, there are currently 10 projects in development. Federation’s Propel Grant provided a new infusion of funding that will help TOM scale up its team at Tech and establish new teams on other Georgia campuses.

Teddy Lambert, who leads TOM at Georgia Tech shared news about the 2022 Makeathon. “We had 30 students across 5 Maker teams working on 3 different challenges. Teams 1 and 3 developed a shower support and alert system for a Need-Knower with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition that causes lightheadedness and fainting. They developed portable shower support handles that would provide extra grip if the Need-Knower became dizzy or lightheaded and alert a family member or partner to come to assist the Need-Knower. Team 2 was working on a visual phone notification system for a Need-Knower that is hard of hearing. They developed a lightbulb-sized LED notification device that could be placed around the house and connected to the Need-Knower’s phone. When the Need-Knower’s phone received a notification, the device would flash a certain color based on the alert type, allowing the Need-Knower to pinpoint when a call or text was received. Teams 4 and 5 created low footprint upright standers for a Need-Knower whose son has CP. The teams’ standers provided support for the child while allowing them freedom of motion in front and to the side, making it easier for the child to play with toys.

The Makeathon culminated in the virtual showcase. After an intense 48 hours of making, three judges and over 20 public spectators logged on to the virtual event to see all the work the Makers accomplished during the weekend. Team 1, which developed one of the shower support systems, was crowned the winner. Even after the Makeathon, the work continues. Multiple teams are now finalizing their designs, with hand-offs to the Need-Knowers expected by the end of the semester. The Makeathon was a huge success, and the rest of the TOM executive board and I can’t wait to start planning next year’s events!

More Family Camp Weekends!


Earlier this month 27 families totaling nearly 100 people gathered for Family Camp: Passover Edition at Ramah Darom. Once again, Federation helped create and convene an immersive family camp weekend along with partners 18Doors, Be’Chol Lashon, PJ Library Atlanta, Ma’alot, and the Israeli American Council.  Other family camp experiences have included PJ Library Atlanta’s Book it to Shabbat celebrating the love of Jewish books. In March, families gathered at camp for The Grand Getaway, bringing grandparents and grandkids together in partnership with Ramah Darom, the Jewish Grandparents Network, and PJ Our Way.

The Passover themed weekend targeted diverse families and was specifically geared for little ones, ages 0-5. Over the weekend families connected with one another in Hebrew, Russian, and Spanish. Bonds were forged over fireside chats, making charoset recipes from around the world, and dancing with handmade tambourines. Families who had previously felt marginalized due to their cultural identity, family structure, etc. shared that it was the first time they felt not only welcomed but embraced and celebrated by the Atlanta Jewish community.

Families said:

  • Our favorite part of the weekend was simply being immersed in Jewish culture with other Jewish families. All of the hosts and co-leaders were extremely welcoming, nice, and accommodating. It truly made us feel welcome, at home, and less-stressed in a new environment, when surrounded by so many new families.
  • We’ve always wanted to attend a weekend like this. We aren’t as involved in our Jewish community as we once were, and we’d love to be more involved again. After attending this weekend we know that there is a space for us in the community

Following the success of these weekends Federation is interested in expanding additional experiential offerings as well as a weeklong family camp. Interested? Let Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez, Director of Family Engagement & Education, know what kind of experience you’re looking for.

Loving the Stranger. Paying Our Privilege Forward.


Nataliyah Fleshler and Masha Vaynman came to America with their families from Kyiv as young girls. They were part of the wave of Jews from the former Soviet Union who found refuge here in the late 1980’s and 90’s. In those years, Atlanta was a destination for Soviet Jews seeking a new life, and our community more than delivered.

Back then, Jewish Family & Career Services offered translation services to assist scores of refugees flocking to Atlanta. There was a Russian speaking social worker for the FSU (Former Soviet Union) Jewish community. Over time those services became less needed because Jewish refugees to Atlanta had become solid citizens, fluent in English, successful in their careers, yet still bringing their unique ethnic flavor to our city. Just like Nataliyah and Masha, who are both HR professionals and are raising families here.

Nataliyah and Masha are paying their privilege forward by organizing a massive volunteer program to send medical supplies to Ukrainian refugees. They are choosing to forget the bullying, the hatred, and the discrimination they experienced as Jewish children in Ukraine and are throwing themselves into Ukrainian relief work. To me there is something very Jewish about this.

Jews well understand the commandment to love the stranger and protect the vulnerable. Having been strangers in many hostile lands, having been isolated, persecuted, and exterminated because of our differences, we are uniquely attuned to the needs of immigrants and refugees. And baruch ha shem, we Jews have Israel — a Jewish homeland that has never stopped taking in huddled masses from North Africa, Ethiopia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, and the former Soviet republics.

So, this Passover, let us celebrate Nataliyah and Masha, who have not turned away from the land they fled. They help renew the Passover story for us this year and remind us that we can all be part of a modern-day Exodus for millions of Ukrainians seeking safety and freedom.

Matching Fund to Feed Hungry Jews at Passover

By CARING, COMMUNITY, People in Need

With Passover ten days away, many community members will need extra funds to purchase Passover food items. Jan and Marsha Spector, longtime supporters of the Jewish community, have created a Feed the Hungry Challenge Match to feed hungry Jews at Passover. The Spectors will match dollar-for-dollar up to $25,000, for new and or increased contributions made to the Maos Chitim Fund by the end of Passover. Make your donation here.

“Food security is a basic human right,” said Jan Spector. “It saddens us to think there are Jews in Atlanta who are going hungry or who must choose between food or medicine or gas for their cars. At Purim, we learned of the halachic imperative of matanot l’evyonim — giving gifts to the poor to make sure no one is hungry. Let’s make the words of the haggadah come true, so that all who are hungry can come and eat.” To donate and learn more, please contact Arielle Orlansky.

Nataliya and Masha: Helping Ukraine, the Country They Once Fled


Nataliya Fleshler and Masha Vaynman both came to America from Kyiv (the Russian name is Kiev) as young girls — part of the wave of Russian Jewish refugees who were resettled in America in the 1990’s.

Nataliya was 9-and-a-half when her family arrived in Atlanta. She went to Garden Hills Elementary School and studied Management and HR at Georgia State. Today she works in HR at VMware, a cloud computing company, and is the mother of two little girls. She was recently chosen to participate in Leadership Sandy Springs.

Masha’s family originally settled in St. Louis, and she later came to Atlanta. In college she studied art history, psychology, and business administration. “Eventually I became a corporate recruiter. After having my second daughter, I spent two wonderful years with PJ Library Atlanta as a Russian speaking connector. Now I do HR work full time for a local startup.”

Living safe, comfortable lives in Atlanta, both Masha and Nataliya are horrified by Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine and the refugee crisis that has ensued. As Jewish women who also identify with the broader Russian speaking community in Atlanta, they admit it’s complicated. Masha is married to a Russian with lots of family members in Russia. “His peers and friends understand the truth about the war in Ukraine. But family not so much. It can be divisive, but I would say most of the local Russian community has stepped up to help Ukraine.”

The irony of prioritizing humanitarian support for the country they fled is not lost on Nataliya and Masha, but both women are committed to taking action in a big way.

“I mostly have sweet childhood memories of Kyiv,” Masha says, “but my family came to the United States as refugees because we were persecuted in Ukraine as Jews. Our papers and passports were stamped Jewish. Even though we were not religious, there were strange little signs. My grandparents spoke Yiddish. And once a year we had matzah, but it was kept hidden in a closet. It wasn’t until years later after attending Jewish day school in St. Louis, that I realized my father came from a religious family and knew all about Judaism. It just didn’t come up much at home.”

“Having a Jewish last name made us second-class citizens. I was picked on. Had we stayed there it would have been hard to get into college or have the career of my choice. We left Kyiv in the dark of night without telling our neighbors. But now the Ukrainians need us, and I am committed to helping. There is a lot of complexity about putting in so much effort to help the country we ran away from because we could not build a life there. For me it is a matter of humanity, and of not repeating history. We must be better, and it feels good to be able to help.”

For Nataliya, Ukraine relief has practically become a second career. She has launched a program to send medical supplies to Ukraine, in partnership with VMware and Leadership SS. “There are huge medical needs in Ukraine – drugs to perform surgeries, surgical supplies and daily medicines to treat refugees. This past month has made me self-reflect on the abundance in my life. I want to prioritize my energy and talents to help those in need. Normally we’d get our families together for Passover, but now my time is going to logistics work, getting supplies from Poland to Ukraine. My own family has understood that this is my way of coping, through giving.

Masha adds, “Today Jews in Ukraine are having a much better life, with more possibilities, and even a Jewish president! But there’s still racism and prejudice there for Jews and for people of color. With Passover coming it is impossible to not see this as a modern Exodus for Ukrainian Jews who now able to leave for Israel.  It also makes me think about how Jews risked so much to celebrate Jewish holidays in the Nazi era.  This will be a profound Passover for all of us.”

How You Can Help Send Medical Supplies to Ukraine:

For the month of April, Congregation Beth Shalom will be holding a Ukrainian Medical Supply Drive. In partnership with Project CURE and MedShare, these items will be delivered to hospitals in Ukraine. The drive will focus on medical supplies currently in shortage, as well as personal hygiene items. If you would like to contribute, please select the items created on our Amazon wish list to be sent directly to Beth Shalom. Please be sure to select Anna Shakhnovsky on the registry address so the items can be delivered directly to the synagogue.

Federation is for Good Times Too!


By Matt Bronfman, Federation Board Chair
We talk a lot about how Federation is built to carry us through difficult times. Whenever and wherever Jews are in crisis – from Covid relief in Atlanta to the Ukrainian refugee crisis – our generous donors make it possible for us to step in and make a difference. We stand with those facing emergency situations, and we also continue to build a strong foundation so that we will be here for you and your family if you need us.

But we also are built for z’manim tovim, good times. Just one year from now, in April 2023, I will be leaving for a Jewish Federation Community Journey to Israel that will showcase all that Israel has to offer. The trip will offer the opportunity to explore Israel through different “tracks,” that emphasize the unique dimensions of Israel. There will be specialized itineraries for first-time visitors, outdoor enthusiasts, technology and innovation, and even one for foodies. I really hope that you will join us as we deepen our bond with Israel and with each other. I promise, this is going to be a fantastic trip. Learn more here and if you have questions, please contact Marsha Hurwitz.

Mexico on My Mind. Ukraine in My Heart.


While my friends and colleagues are working around the clock to save lives at the borders of Ukraine, The Jewish Agency for Israel’s (JAFI) work around the globe isn’t stopping for a minute.  

And neither am I.

Last week I had a fascinating experience in Mexico City where I visited Project TEN – Be The Change. It’s a Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) program that targets young Jews from the entire Jewish world and brings them together to do community development work. In counterpoint to the dire situation in Ukraine where JAFI is also doing incredible work, it was uplifting to see Project TEN in action. 

But now my bags are repacked with parkas and sweaters, and by the time you read this, I’ll be in Warsaw, Poland for a first-hand look at the heroic work our overseas partners are doing at the Ukrainian border.  

In this head spinning geopolitical moment, I feel the power of global Jewry and the interconnectedness of the Jewish people as never before.  

On the bright side, my trip to Mexico connected me to meet Project 10’s young adults who are on a three-month long tikkun olam project in Chimalhuacán — a high poverty community outside of Mexico City. It was joyful to see Mexican, British, and European Jewish young adults working side by side with young Israelis who have finished their army experience. They are doing good and establishing relationships that will last a lifetime.  

Project TEN currently operates projects in Israel, Mexico, Uganda, Ghana, South Africa, Greece, Cambodia, and Ethiopia. I can easily envision it becoming a meaningful service option for our own Atlanta young adults, whether as a gap year experience or a post-college experience through an organization like Repair the World. This is the way to build a cadre of future Jewish leaders who have passion, perspective, and impact. 

Heading into the darkness and destruction of the war in Ukraine, I feel privileged and proud to witness our incredible global Jewish network in action at the border.  

You’ll likely see some photos and brief comments from me on the Federation Facebook page. I look forward to updating the community on all that I experience at the Ukraine border when I return to Atlanta. Know that your incredible support of the Ukraine Emergency Fund is making this holy work possible. 

Empathy and Action at the Strong Women Fellowship


JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship is an affinity group of 40 female identifying teens who meet monthly to discuss what it means to be a strong Jewish woman. Topics have included political advocacy, meaningful volunteerism, women’s healthcare, self-care, being present, navigating friendships, being Jewish, and how to give back to their communities in meaningful ways.

Leah Moradi, an 11th grade peer leader in JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship, had a revelation when Lily Brent, the director of Repair the World Atlanta, and Emma Burns, a Repair the World Fellow, spoke to her group about “period poverty”a term for inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, and sanitary products. “Before being exposed to the struggles of people who are faced with this issue, I never thought twice about my easy access to basic menstrual hygiene products. I now feel the privilege of being able to easily drive to a Walgreens and buy whatever products I need.”

After learning about this issue, Leah and her group got right to work. They concluded their session by packaging 130 period packs containing menstrual products to donate to The Homeless Period Project. This national organization distributes menstrual products to homeless and low-income schools, shelters, and community organizations.

Applications for next year’s cohort are opening soon. To learn more about the Strong Women Fellowship, reach out to Amanda at

Ukrainian Refugees Resettle in Yokneam


In recent weeks we have been overjoyed to see hundreds of Ukrainian refugees airlifted to Israel to make aliyah (immigration to Israel) and begin new lives. Among them were seven Ukrainian refugee families arriving in Yokneam, our partnership city in Israel. The photo shows Anna and Igor, new arrivals who escaped the chaos in Ukraine and arrived in Yokneam with literally nothing. As our partnership region has done so often in the past, both for Soviet refugees and for Ethiopian refugees, Yokneam residents opened their hearts and their doors to help them. Yokneam expects to settle at least 40-50 Ukrainian families in the coming months.

The Jewish Agency for Israel led a national emergency operation with the municipalities and regional councils to collect products for refugees in Ukraine. The Megiddo Regional Council provided more than 150 packages to help resettle these refugees, including blankets, coats, gloves, scarves, hygiene products and diapers.