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Their Daughter Knew that Hunger Doesn’t Take the Weekend Off

By COMMUNITY, Generosity, PHILANTHROPY

In the coming weeks, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is launching a new quarterly magazine: Generosity. Generosity will highlight stories of philanthropy, charity, and community in Jewish Atlanta. As a first look, here is a story from our inaugural issue.

Staci Robbins was a beloved elementary school teacher in DeKalb County whose life ended far too soon—but whose legacy has carried on in a big way. “Staci taught in a Title I school with a 93 percent Hispanic population. She was fluent in Spanish and utterly devoted to her kids,” her father Ron said. “She was named Teacher of the Year at Montclair Elementary School in DeKalb County,” her father said.

Staci’s commitment to her students, even as she battled illness, led her parents to launch an Atlanta metro chapter of Backpack Buddies — a nonprofit that provides six nutritious meals to kids who are food insecure over the weekend. Backpack Buddies is one of several national programs providing much needed weekend nutrition to vulnerable families and children.

A 2021 study in the Economics of Education Review, provides evidence that weekend food programs like Backpack Buddies have a positive effect on academic performance in the form of increased reading test scores, and suggestive evidence they also raise math scores. The effects appear strongest for the youngest and lowest performing students.

“Our daughter had many students who received free and reduced lunch at school but were not eating well over the weekend. Staci knew firsthand about kids who took turns eating over the weekend because there wasn’t enough food at home. She understood that kids who eat poorly or come in hungry on Monday mornings are not primed to learn,” Tamra Robbins said.

Though they lived in Savannah, GA, Ron and Tamra Robbins moved back to Atlanta in 2017 as Staci’s illness progressed. “Even when she was on dialysis, she remained a fierce advocate for her kids and for Backpack Buddies. We established Backpack Buddies of Metro Atlanta in Staci’s memory. It has grown beyond our wildest dreams and has become a meaningful mitzvah in her memory,” her parents said.

They started small at Congregation Beth Shalom where a group of volunteers gathered weekly to pack shelf-stable food items in backpacks that were discretely distributed to 10 kids at nearby Kingsley Elementary School in Dunwoody. Though Kingsley was perceived as an “affluent” school, there was a need. The extent of food insecurity in suburban schools was eye-opening.

Jonathan Halitsky, who is now Backpack Buddies Director of Operations and its only paid staff member, underscores the dimension of the problem. “One in six children in Georgia are hungry. “There is hunger in virtually every public school in the metro area.”

As Ron and Tamra became cheerleaders for Backpack Buddies in Atlanta, they reached out to churches, school groups, and synagogues to grow the volunteer base. “It was a tremendous service opportunity. High school students, and bar/bat mitzvah kids got involved. The phone rang and rang as organizations asked how to get involved and became our Community Partners.  Today the program works with 25 partner organizations.

At first, each organization purchased its own food, packed bags, and delivered to local schools. Terri Bagin, a volunteer, described what happened as Backpack Buddies took off.  “Ron had the idea that Backpack Buddies should cultivate new sources of food donation. He developed relationships with local food banks so Backpack Buddies could receive shelf-stable food donations. Thanks to several “angels’ in the community, Backpack Buddies became a 501c3 in order to receive charitable and food donations. Debbie Levinson, who manages the Helen Marie Stern Fund was an early funder. Eventually, as space for bulk food storage became a challenge, realtor Debbie Sonenshine found an affordable 2,000 square foot space in a strip mall that hadn’t been rented in seven years.

The pandemic threw the organization some curveballs, but by spring of the 21-22 school year, Backpack Buddies and its community partners were processing and packing 6-8 weeks’ worth of food supplies. “We took last summer to really ramp up and acquire more food, refine our operations, and train Community Buddies on the distribution system. Digital ordering means that organizations can choose the most convenient pickup times. Each student’s weekend bag consists of five proteins, two vegetables, two cereals, two fruits, three snacks and two juices. There is no charge for the food, and all items are purchased by Backpack Buddies or donated by charitable food sources. The offerings are varied and include tuna, chicken, ravioli and macaroni and cheese.

Toward the end of the last school year, Backpack Buddies served 800 children a week, and this school year nearly 1250-1500 children a week receive food. “We’d love to be at 2,000 children a week,” Halitsky says with pride. “This will require more donations and an expanded Backpack Buddies partner network.”

Halitsky says, “Now that Backpack Buddies provides its partners with all the food and has perfected its order and delivery system, we are running on a pure donation model. This makes it possible for any school with a need to get involved, and any organization that wants to volunteer, to help. We can’t eradicate hunger, but we’re addressing children’s weekend needs in an efficient and targeted way.”

Staci Robbins would be proud!

Learn more and volunteer to combat hunger among children at www.backpackbuddiesatl.org.

Federation Shabbat

By COMMUNITY

After a long hiatus, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is pleased to announce that on Friday, November 11 and Saturday, November 12, synagogues across metro Atlanta will observe Federation Shabbat! This weekend, congregants will learn how Federation and our Atlanta Jewish Foundation work to make life better for Jews (and all people) in Atlanta and around the world.

During this weekend’s services, congregations throughout Atlanta will hear about Federation’s partnerships with synagogues and the initiatives we work on together, such as:

  • Sending children to Jewish summer camps
  • Sponsoring teens, college students and adults on trips to Israel
  • Training pre-school and religious school professionals on best practices for innovation and inclusion in the classroom
  • Helping older adults stay independent
  • Teaching our teens and young adults to address antisemitism
  • Making our synagogues safe and secure for all

Joel Arogeti, Chair of the 2023 Community Campaign, says “Federation Shabbat is a celebration of the power of our community. For over 170 years, synagogues have served as the foundation of Jewish life in Atlanta. For over 120 years Federation has worked hand in hand with synagogue leadership to help build a growing and thriving Atlanta Jewish community.”

To join in the festivities, all you have to do is attend your synagogue’s regular Shabbat services. The following synagogues will be participating:

 

Ahavath Achim Synagogue
Chabad Intown
Chabad of North Fulton
Congregation Bet Haverim
Congregation Beth Shalom
Congregation B’nai Torah
Congregation Etz Chaim
Congregation Gesher L’Torah
Congregation Ohr HaTorah
Congregation Or Hadash
Congregation Or VeShalom
Congregation Shearith Israel
Temple Beth Tikvah
Temple Emanu-El
Temple Kehillat Chaim
Temple Kol Emeth
Temple Sinai
The Temple

We look forward to celebrating Federation Shabbat with you!

Paying it Forward with Philanthropy

By COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

By Matt M. Bronfman

I recently had the good fortune to attend the Women’s Philanthropy Fall Event featuring Ana Sazonov as a speaker. Ana was born in Ukraine, and with the support of the Jewish Federation, her family immigrated to Israel when she was six years old, where she began her Jewish journey. Through a fascinating series of twists and turns, Ana now is the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Columbia, South Carolina—one of the youngest Federation leaders in North America.

Her story, from being a beneficiary of services to working to ensure other Jews receive the services they need, drives home the importance of paying it forward.

It is now campaign season, and I hope when you receive the call, you will think of the unknown future Ana of the world. I also hope you realize that your gift to the campaign benefits not merely the individuals and organizations that directly receive funding, but also lays the foundation for the next generation of donors and doers in the Jewish community. 


2022 Federation Shabbat

By COMMUNITY

Antisemitism and the Ukrainian war are just two of many issues that Federation tackles. If you’re receiving this email, you are probably aware of Federation’s work, but many people in the Jewish community are not. Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is proud to announce that on Friday, November 11 and Saturday, November 12, synagogues across the metro area will be observing Federation Shabbat and learning more about our efforts to make life better for Jews (and all people) in Atlanta and around the world.

Congregants throughout Atlanta will hear about Federation’s partnerships with synagogues and the initiatives we work on together: sending children to Jewish summer camps, sponsoring teens, college students and adults on trips to Israel, training pre-school and religious school professionals on best practices for innovation and inclusion in the classroom, helping older adults stay independent, teaching our teens and young adults to address antisemitism, and making our synagogues safe and secure for all. 

To join in, all you have to do is attend your regular weekly services. The following synagogues will be participating: 

Ahavath Achim Synagogue
Chabad Intown | Virginia Highlands
Congregation Bet Haverim
Congregation Beth Shalom
Congregation B’nai Torah
Congregation Etz Chaim
Congregation Gesher L’Torah
Congregation Ohr HaTorah
Congregation Or Hadash
Congregation Or VeShalom
Congregation Shearith Israel
Temple Beth Tikvah
Temple Emanu-El
Temple Kehillat Chaim
Temple Sinai
The Temple 

We’ll see you November 11 and 12, 2022! 

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.  

AgeWell Atlanta to Hold Informational Webinar on Dementia

By COMMUNITY, People in Need

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Did you know that 1 in 9 adults over 65 (and 1 in 3 adults over 80) experience cognitive decline? Dementia is a common health problem, and an intensely emotional one for individuals who have it, as well and their loved ones. AgeWell Atlanta is hosting an informational panel to arm community members with knowledge in the fight against dementia.

Join JF&CS Geriatric Care Manager Wendy Liverant, MBA, and Wellness Care Specialist and Dementia Services Coordinator, Samantha Freeman, MSW, for Let’s Talk about Dementia, an informative and real discussion on caring for loved ones with dementia. Shari Bayer, CMO of Jewish HomeLife, will share information and resources offered by Jewish HomeLife. Moderated by AgeWell Atlanta Program Manager Jennifer Curry, this seminar will provide resources for strengthening memory and guidance for helping family members with love, hope and dignity.

This free program is Friday, November 11 at noon and will take place over Zoom. This webinar will provide information and resources for families who have a loved one experiencing dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and other memory challenges. We will discuss the emotional, physical, and financial challenges when a loved one has dementia and share community resources from Aviv Older Adult Services of JF&CS, Jewish HomeLife, and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. A Q&A will follow the panel.

If someone you love is suffering from cognitive decline, you are not alone. Join AgeWell Atlanta for an afternoon of learning and connect with experts.

Click here to register for Let’s Talk About Dementia

epstein school - jewish atlanta

Why One Family is Grateful for ALEF Fund

By ALEF Fund, COMMUNITY

epstein school - jewish atlantaMany families would love to give their children a Jewish education but doing so can be prohibitively expensive. That’s where ALEF Fund steps in.

Here is why one family is grateful to receive an ALEF Fund Scholarship:

“After a summer working at In the City Camp, our daughter wanted to continue her education among the Jewish students that she had gotten to know. As a family, we were looking for a school community that lived out Jewish values of tikun olam, education, and kindness.

On the other hand, as a family where both parents work for social cause organizations, we didn’t have the financial means to afford the full tuition of The Weber School. That’s where the ALEF Fund stepped in; its support was quite frankly the difference maker.

With the scholarship, we were able to afford a Jewish education and our daughter is now thriving, advancing her education, and feeling even more connected to her Judaism. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity and to all who support the ALEF Fund. It means so much to us.”

The ALEF Fund provides scholarships to pre-k, kindergarten, primary, and secondary public-school students who wish to attend participating Jewish private schools. This fund makes Jewish learning available to kids who otherwise would not be able to afford tuition to a private institution.

With ALEF Fund, you can support Jewish education in Georgia at virtually no cost to you. For your donation, you’ll receive a dollar-for-dollar Georgia income tax credit.

The ALEF Fund is accepting 2023 tax credit reservations now through December 31.  Sign up today and get some credit for supporting Jewish education in our community.

RootOne Sends Teens to Israel

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

Bess Needle is a junior in high school and is active with the Jewish Student Union (JSU). This summer, she embarked on a trip to Israel with a group of other teens from Atlanta. The cost of her journey was subsidized by RootOne, an initiative seeded by a generous gift from The Marcus Foundation and powered by The Jewish Education Project.

This was Bess’s first time visiting the Land of Milk and Honey, and many of her expectations about Israel were challenged. She knows now that Israel “is a diverse place filled with many different people, cultures, and passions. It is so different than what the media portrays.”

Each summer, RootOne helps thousands of Jewish teens travel to Israel on a journey that will shape the rest of their lives. During their time in an Israel program, 76% of RootOne alums report learning more about themselves, and 75% think about Israel differently than before. Last summer, RootOne supported Bess and 128 Atlanta teens to create lasting memories in Israel.

Bess went as part of a group from JSU and loved experiencing the country with other teens from her hometown. “It was really exciting!” She says that until this trip, she “didn’t realize how big Atlanta is or how many other Jewish teens there are. It was cool to bond about being from Atlanta while in Israel.”

RootOne journeys are highly educational, even before students step on the plane. Groups learn about all sides of Israeli life and culture, from the familiar to the nuanced. American travelers meet Israeli peers and have the opportunity to make connections that will span the globe. And RootOne trips offer a diverse and wide range of programs to fit any interest. Bess says her favorite parts of the trip were the outdoor activities, including tornado boating, ziplining, and a 3 am hike.

RootOne grants vouchers to teens to subsidize the cost of their journey. Interested students should confirm their eligibility through RootOne and then choose a supported trip provider. After completing the pre-trip requirements, RootOne sends a $3,000 voucher directly to the trip organizer, which deducts that amount from the overall cost.

Bess says she gained a “real-life perspective of what being a teen is like in Israel versus the U.S.” She recognized many similarities between their lives and significant differences, like “prepping for the army versus prepping for life post-high school.” Bess says she’s glad she went to Israel while she was still a teenager. “You get to form a real-world opinion of Israel at a younger age; not many have the chance to do that. And I got to form bonds with people, and we all got to share the experience of this trip together. And we can keep in touch more since we are in the same city.”

When asked what she learned, Bess said this trip has helped her prepare for life on a college campus when discussing Israel. This sentiment is common for RootOne alums – 81% believe it is important to be involved in Jewish life on campus, and 81% feel capable of standing up to anti-Semitism. Bess says she “…realized that other places are not always what you expect; [you shouldn’t] make assumptions.”

Visit https://rootone.org/ to learn more about RootOne and see a list of trip providers. 

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!

Federation’s Festive Fall Shabbats

By COMMUNITY

Federation is always striving to connect Jews around the world. No matter what part of the globe someone calls home or what other communities we are a part of, we are all family. During this fall season, Federation has been part of two special shabbat celebrations meant to bring people together.

On September 23, the Friday before Rosh Hashanah, Federation participated in a Global Shabbat service with our partner community in Minsk. Rabbi Grisha Abramovitz, who serves 12 congregations, hosted participants from all over the world in a Zoom service to usher in 5783.

Six communities from Belarus were represented on the call, as well as the chair of the World Union of Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) in Toronto and the VP of the WUPJ in Jerusalem. The WUPJ was founded in 1926 and promotes modern interpretation of Jewish life and identity in any place Jewish people choose to live. The organization “represents 1.8 million Reform, Progressive, and Liberal Jews across six continents, 50 countries and 1,200 communities.”

Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta supports the Sandra Breslauer Beit Simcha Center in Minsk through an allocation from the Partner’s Fund. This chapter is particularly focused on engaging young people to help families and entire communities become more involved in Jewish life. Federation gives funds for summer camp programs, B’nai Mitzvah, and early childhood education.

Deborah Jacobs, of Federation’s Global Allocations Committee, attended the service and gave greetings at the beginning of the program. Following the event, she said, “The renaissance of Judaism in Minsk and Belarus after the dissolution of the Soviet Union is inspiring. The efforts led by Rabbi Grisha are both intentional and innovative as they create multi-generational Jewish identity, worship experiences, and education.”

Susie Mackler, Peoplehood Manager at Federation, was moved by the special service. She took several screenshots during the event. She loved getting to see “their community members, just like ours—children, young adults, seniors, families with young children, a young woman celebrating her bat mitzvah tomorrow—blowing the shofar, blessing the challah. Even so far away, our communities are so similar.”

Another unique celebration took place October 7th at Piedmont Park—Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta celebrated Pride Shabbat. While most of the country celebrates Pride in June, Atlanta’s local Pride month is in the fall.

Rabbi Joshua Lesser, who organized the evening on behalf of Federation, expressed, “This was a groundbreaking evening bringing us closer to being an unabashedly warm and inclusive community.”

Hosted by Federation and SOJOURN, the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity, the Shabbat experience gathered over 120 people from all over Atlanta to celebrate Shabbat in Piedmont Park. The service featured Rabbis Ariel Wolpe (Ma’alot), Joshua Lesser, Lauren Henderson (Or Hadash), Mike Rothbaum (Bet Haverim), Ruth Abush Magder (B’chol Lashon) and Elizabeth Breit (B’nai Torah).

The fall holiday season has been a wonderful time to think about our connections—to Atlanta Jews, and to Jews around the world. In this season of holidays and commemorations, it is important to be intentional about our relationships and to celebrate together.