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Atlanta Welcomes New Leaders in Jewish Education

By COMMUNITY, jewishatlanta, Uncategorized

Atlanta’s supplemental Jewish education programs look quite different these days, and it’s not just because they are adapting to a pandemic. In several prominent programs throughout the community, there are fresh faces who assumed new leadership roles during this challenging and exciting time. We extend a warm welcome to the following dedicated and talented Jewish Educators: 

Sharon Graetz is the new Education Director at Ahavath Achim Synagogue. Sharon is a graduate of the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, with M.A.’s in Jewish Education and Jewish Nonprofit Management.  Sharon has a wide range of experience, from programming at the Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles, to being part of the leadership team at Jewish Kids Groups in Atlanta. Most recently, she enjoyed her role as Limudim Director at IKAR in L.A., collaborating with students, staff, and families to revitalize kids’ learning. Sharon is driven by her passion to infuse deep Jewish learning with positive and fun experiences. Sharon is drawn to project-based learning, a method in which students take the lead in their education, responding to authentic and engaging questions. She is excited to offer a vibrant program at AA with opportunities for students to engage in real-world and meaningful projects with the goal of making Jewish tradition relevant and inspiring. 

Amy Cooper Robertson, Ph.D is the new Director of Lifelong Learning at Congregation Or Hadash. Amy began her career in academia, earning a PhD in Religion/Hebrew Bible from Emory and teaching Tanakh, Judaism, Biblical Hebrew, and critical thinking and writing. Amy later shifted her focus to Jewish communal work and has found that the intersection of community building, program leadership and Jewish learning is her favorite place to be. Amy served as the Education Director and later the Executive Director at Congregation Bet Haverim, taught Judaics at The Davis Academy, served as Rosh Chinuch at Camp Havaya in the Poconos, and tutored many b’nai mitzvah students.  She is passionate about projects of “practical innovation” – identifying and addressing the barriers that keep Jews from engaging more deeply with learning and community. Amy is very happy to be back in an educational leadership role and is excited to begin a new chapter at Or Hadash


Jewish Kids Groups has three new Site Directors! 

Jordana “Joey Heyman is JKG’s new Brookhaven Director. Joey has committed nearly two decades to Jewish education, working in both teacher and administrator roles in overnight and day camps, day schools, and youth groups. Joey earned a Masters in Experiential Education from American Jewish University and completed a post-graduate fellowship in Jewish Education and Advanced Jewish Studies through the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem before moving to Atlanta, where she is consistently inspired by our broad and innovative Jewish community. Joey is passionate about helping people find themselves in Judaism and brings a focus on community building and conflict resolution to JKG.



Gabe Monett is JKG’s new Decatur Director. He has spent the majority of his postcollegiate career creating Jewish community for all ages. Through his roles with Jewish organizations including Repair the World, Ramah Darom, and Moishe House, he has honed his passion for connecting and bringing people together. A local Atlantan through and through, Gabe grew up in the Emory area and attended the Paideia School for thirteen years before earning a Film Studies degree from Georgia State University. 



Sivan Abada is JKG’s new Sandy Springs Director. Sivan is involved in communication with families, planning, curriculum development, team management, administration, and program initiatives. Sivan was born and raised in Israel. Following her service in the IDF, Sivan studied Behavioral Sciences and graduated from Ariel University. She has an extensive background in human resources management. Her interest in education grew when she was an instructor in Israeli summer camps, where she planned creative activities for children. Sivan brings her passion for camp-style education, love for Israel, and her unique teaching philosophy to the JKG community.



Michelle Erste is the new Director of the Mitzner Family Religious School and Family Programming at Temple Kehillat Chaim. Michelle has been a Jewish educator for seven years, serving as a religious school and Hebrew teacher at Kehillat Chaim for children in Pre-K through 7th grade. Having already invested many hours in lesson planning, preparation, and teaching, Michelle loved the idea of being able to have a larger role in her children’s – and all of TKC’s children’s – Jewish education. She grew up in the congregation herself, and she was thrilled to step up to assume a larger role in the education program and to give back to her community. Michelle is especially excited to use her marketing background to help Kehillat Chaim grow and thrive! 



Hope Chernak, RJE, is the Interim Education Director at Temple Kol Emeth. Hope earned an M.A. degree in Religious Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and the title Reform Jewish Educator (RJE). She was a 2016 recipient of the Grinspoon North American Award for Excellence in Jewish Education and received a certificate in Israel Education from the Center for Israel Education in 2016. She also has a degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Management and Marketing from Webber International University. Hope has worked in Jewish education for over twenty years. Prior to joining Temple Kol Emeth, she served as the founding Executive Director of JUMPSPARK: the Atlanta Jewish Teen Initiative (AJTI), and Chief Programming Officer at the MJCCA. In New York City, she served as the Managing Director of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) and the Director of Youth and Informal Education & Israel Programs at Temple Shaaray Tefila. Originally from Orlando, FL, Hope spent eight summers on staff at Camp Coleman.Hope is thrilled to have joined the team at Temple Kol Emeth, to partner with the rabbi, leadership and staff to support and build upon the education program’s exceptional foundation. 

HAMSA Responds to COVID-19 Addiction Spike


Between March-May 2020, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported a 3% average weekly increase (over the same months in 2019) in the number of drug and/or alcohol-related ER visits, and a terrifying climb in opioid-related overdose deaths.   The call volume at JF&CS’s HAMSA program (Helping Atlantans Manage Substance Abuse) reflects the trend. HAMSA is seeing a 40% surge in calls from families who are not only seeking support and treatment for their loved ones, but for themselves. Coping with a family member’s addiction is never easy, and the isolation that comes with COVID-19 complicates access to treatment.  

Right now, we are all experiencing the pain and isolation inflicted by COVID. These feelings are especially dangerous for people with substance use disorder (SUD). They may be quarantined and unable to make the vital human connections that help maintain recovery, which may lead to relapse and increased use. Addiction is called a “family disease,” and being confined at home with loved ones who are in active addiction may create even greater stress within the family system.   

HAMSA frequently receives calls from Jewish parents who ask to remain anonymous or don’t want to share their contact information. They are fearful that someone will find out their child is addicted to drugs or alcohol and that their family will be judged. Drug overdoses and alcohol-related deaths, which have tragically impacted many Jewish families, are now the leading cause of preventable injury and death, eclipsing auto accidents and gun violence. These deaths are avoidable when we begin to understand addiction as a treatable disease.   

HAMSA is helping to find and create safe spaces that bring connection, understanding, and hope. Many family and parent peer support groups are still meeting via Zoom, and HAMSA can help you find them. The JF&CS clinical team provides individual and family counseling, offers a group for spouses and partners of a person with SUD, and a new parent group will begin in the fall. Navigating the world of addiction treatment can often feel overwhelming for parents and families, especially during the pandemic when the options are more limited. JF&CS’s free Information and Referral Service can help you identify the right treatment options that meet your needs and resources. It also provides free Narcan (opioid overdose antidote) training and supply to the community, as well as outreach and education.  

In response to the increased needs of families, HAMSA welcomes David Sheff, author of the best-selling book Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, August 20 from 7-8 pm, for a free event via Zoom. Sheff understands the stigma and shame Jewish families feel when a child is addicted. His book describes the years he walked the rocky path that ultimately led to his son Nic’s recovery. The presentation will include intimate conversation about the dynamics of addiction in families. Sheff ultimately found hope and healing by sharing his story and connected with thousands of families just like his own. Reserve your free ticket and learn more at 

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and needs help finding resources or support, call 1-833-HAMSAHELPS or visit 

Jewish Artifacts of the Pandemic


It’s undeniable that we’re living in remarkable times. Years from now, when historians and scholars chronicle the 2020 global Coronavirus pandemic, there will be a treasure trove of Jewish artifacts and personal accounts of triumph and tragedy, thanks to our own William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum. The Breman is one of six Jewish institutions cataloging and preserving artifacts of the pandemic as it has impacted Jewish communities. (The others are the Capital Jewish Museum; the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life; Hebrew Theological College, the Houston Jewish History Archive at Rice University; and Yeshiva University). Together they are digitally archiving the Jewish institutional and individual responses to the pandemic.

The kippah mask pictured above, by Atlanta’s Eve Mannes, uses a kippah from her husband’s collection and illustrates a creative Jewish response to the need for face coverings. You can see many items on display at American Jewish Life, the digital archive, and you are invited to share your own materials and memories. Follow instructions on the site to contribute media files (photographs, videos, URLs, audio files) or submit your own narrative.

Race in Israel: Weber Students Learn the Ethiopian Story


This spring, just as Americans were rising up to protest the killing of George Floyd, Michal Ilai, who heads Israel Programs at Weber was preparing an intense month of high-level Hebrew learning for her summer school students. Given the protests, she felt it was a great opportunity to engage her Hebrew students in issues of race and diversity in Israel.

“With demonstrations occurring in cities around the world, it seemed like a great opportunity to talk about racism and diversity in the Israeli community. I reached out to my long-time educational partner Harel Felder at Dror Israel, an organization that is at the forefront of diversity education in Israel and asked him to help my students learn about race relations in Israel,” Michal Ilai said.

Harel Felder immediately thought of his colleague Liel, an Ethiopian immigrant who runs Dror programs for the Ethiopian community and invited her to speak with the students and share her personal story all that she’s doing to lift up the lives of Ethiopian Israelis.

Seth Shapiro, a rising Weber senior said of the experience, “Liel’s story expanded our minds and brought a new significance to many current world issues and even some of the more local issues. Listening to people like that speak of their experiences broadens horizons.”

Another rising senior in the class, Carly Spandorfer, said, “During our month-long summer course, we learned about and met many different types of people living in Israel. As we are seeing issues of race relations here in America, I feel it was absolutely necessary to discuss race relations in Israel. Learning about Ethiopian Jewry was particularly meaningful for me because we’re so used to speaking about Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews — it was refreshing to hear about somebody who is Ethiopian and has a different story than many of us. It was very empowering to hear that despite struggles Liel faces in Israel due to her skin color, she is even more committed to her Zionism and to improving her country.”

Michal Ilai felt the partnership with Dror Israel was a success. “My hope for this lesson was that students would be able to analyze events with greater clarity and articulate their position about racial inequality both here and in Israel. I was glad to see both goals were achieved.”

MJCCA & JKG Offer Bold New Educational Options


What will back-to-school look like for your family? Whether your children will be attending school in-person, virtually, or in a hybrid model, families are dealing with unprecedented uncertainties and anxieties for the ‘20-‘21 school year. To address these needs, the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA) and Jewish Kids Groups (JKG) are each launching innovative day and after-school programs to fill in some of the gaps, and to provide supervision, safety, and fun for school age kids.

MJCCA Program Director Jodi Sonenshine said, “We knew that the MJCCA could offer much-needed support for our families. By merging two of our most popular programs, Club J and MJCCA Day Camps, and making some adjustments and enhancements, we’ve created something truly unique. Parents now have three different options to choose from for both educational and social support: full day, school day, and after school. Parents can pick the option that best fits their family’s needs knowing their child will benefit from our educational support and plenty of fun, movement, activities, and adventure.”

MJCCA: Club J Your Way – Starts Monday, August 17, 2020

  1. Full Day Option
    Club J Your Way’s Full Day program offers both an educational and social component. Staff will oversee each child’s remote learning by assisting with logging in and out of school platforms, turning in assignments online, and periodically helping with schoolwork. There will also be meaningful “brain breaks” that include free time and fun activities, plus amazing camp-style activities like boating, archery, swimming, ropes course, crafts, rock wall, sports, and more. Participants will be assigned to the same small group for both online learning and outdoor activities. Club J Your Way Full Day will run from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm.
  2. School Day Option:
    Club J Your Way School Day provide the ideal space for completing daily virtual learning plus built-in “brain breaks” and fun camp-style activities between or after virtual classes and assignments. Staff will oversee each child’s remote learning by assisting with logging in and out of school platforms, turning in assignments online, and periodically helping with schoolwork. Between school assignments and at the conclusion of lessons, participants will enjoy camp-style activities, including crafts, swimming, boating, archery, rock wall, ga-ga, and more. Participants will be assigned to the same small group for both online learning and outdoor activities. Club J Your Way School Day will run from 8:30 am to 2:00 pm.
  3. After School Option:
    The after-school option (whether your child’s school is in-person or virtual) will provide a safe way for kids to get outdoors, socialize, and have fun. Think camp fun year-round. Taking full advantage of the MJCCA’s 52-acre campus, kids will be engaged and active all afternoon with ropes course, swimming, archery, sports, and more! All participants will be placed in small group cohorts that will remain together. For children attending school in person, there will be an optional homework hour. The afternoon option will run from 2:00-6:00 pm.

Jewish Kids Groups: Full Day Child Care & School Support in Morningside, Decatur, and possibly Sandy Springs.

JKG will offer full-day childcare and school support, Monday – Thursday 9 am-5 pm and Friday 9 am-3 pm, beginning on August 17. JKG’s Executive Director Ana Robbins spoke to the emotional needs her full-day program will meet. “JKG Full Day provides a unique opportunity for children who may not typically connect with other Jewish kids at school to do just that. Our goal is to counter the loneliness many kids felt this spring and summer by providing a warm, nurturing, safe, and fun Jewish environment. We also want to provide some relief to parents! Safety is paramount so groups will be limited to 10 kids and everyone will wear masks.”

JKG Full Day children will:

  • Receive help from JKG teachers to access their online classroom, participate in online instruction, and submit online assignments
  • Build friendships with neighborhood Jewish kids who are also learning virtually
  • Participate in activities like art, music, yoga, and outdoor play when schoolwork is complete
  • Enjoy Jewish-camp-style fun with cool Jewish role model teachers

The program combines the safe, reliable weekday childcare program you need, with the fun, enriching, nurturing experience your child wants. Classrooms will operate in small groups of up to 10 students and 2-3 teachers.

JKG Full Day will follow all local and CDC recommendations to keep kids, teachers, and families safe and healthy. All teachers and students will be required to wear masks. Complete safety details here.

  • Students will not mix with other groups.
  • Siblings will be placed in the same group to minimize contact for each family.
  • We will group students according to their school districts as much as possible.
  • We will honor friend requests to the best of our ability.

Space in the JKG full-day program is limited and will fill on a first-come, first-served basis. Learn more.

“Camp is crazy fun! I can’t wait to go back!”


My name is Murray Marks. I’m a fifth grader in Decatur, and this summer I had the most crazy fun experience of my life at Camp Ramah Darom. This was my first time at sleepaway camp, and even though I didn’t know anybody in the bunk, we all became friends very fast. I was a little nervous, but at camp you’re always with friends. My bunk was like a team.

Every morning we’d clean up the bunk, and even that is a fun activity called nikayon – Hebrew for clean-up. On Friday, we did an extra nikayon to get ready for Shabbat. When Shabbat came, the whole camp felt special. I dressed up and wore a kippah. Before dinner we had services and sang in Hebrew at the top or our lungs. Then there was the most delicious matzah ball soup at dinner. And more singing!

One of my favorite activities at camp was the climbing wall, where you have to trust the people who are holding onto your ropes. We really did trust each other, because I made it all the way up and down!

With so much stuff going on, there was no time to be homesick. My parents were okay with that because they were so glad I loved camp as much as they did.

Murray’s parents, Amanda and Aaron, are grateful for the scholarship assistance they received through Federation’s One Happy Camper program. “Aaron and I met on JDate because our profiles talked about Jewish camp. Ramah has given Murray a great sense of independence and exposure to Jewish ritual. We call it ‘Bar Mitzvah Boot Camp.’ As soon as they’re old enough we want to send Oscar and Ruby, Murray’s younger twin siblings, to Camp Ramah Darom.”

What Brad Does


You don’t need to save the future of Jewish Atlanta by yourself, Brad Cook already has an idea for that – it’s called Career Up Now and it creates professional connections for young people through a Jewish lens.

Setting Young Jews on Amazing Career Paths

Dr. Bradley Caro Cook

As a Jewish entrepreneur and innovator (and an Atlanta native), I create simple solutions to engage Jewish young adults with low to no current Jewish connection or engagement. I believe that unless there’s a drastic shift in how we grab the attention of 18-26 year-olds, keep them engaged with Judaism, and inspire them to become the next generation of leadership, our Jewish communal infrastructure is at risk. When I learned about Federation Innovation’s Propel Grant program, I got excited.

I know that college students and recent graduates are hungry to advance their careers, grow their networks, and build community. So, in 2015, Rabbi Adam Grossman and I launched Career Up Now, combining mentorship and engagement, through a Jewish lens, to help emerging professionals form personal, professional, and soulful connections with industry leaders in the Jewish community. Since launching we have piloted in 9 U.S. cities and are scaling in four of those cities. Now, thanks to a Bloom seed grant from Federation Innovation, and support from the Joyce and Ramie Tritt Family Foundation and Mark Silberman, Career Up Now is in Atlanta.

In Atlanta, our first cohort consisted of 12 student leaders from Emory University. I soon thereafter realized there is little support or mentoring for young Jewish women entering business and STEM fields.  As time went on I found this to be true on a national level and kept hearing Rabbi Tarfon, our ancient Jewish cheerleader and rebbe say, “while you don’t have to complete the task, you are not free to desist from this critical endeavor.”

While examining our mentor demographic, I discovered that we had only one woman industry leader contact or mentor for every 20 men. To address that imbalance, we doubled down to solve the problem we’ve launched Women of Wisdom

While we achieved gender balance for our initial Atlanta Career Up Now due to the high demand for more women’s programs in Atlanta we needed to rapidly grow the number of women industry leaders in our network. To do this, we leveraged growth hacking for engagement,  a process of rapid engagement growth enabling non-profits to accomplish in three months that which would take years to do. Using these strategies, we recruited 200 women industry leaders into our network in just three months. Now these Women of Wisdom are helping expand our network by engaging their colleagues and friends with Career Up Now programming.

Atlanta has been a pivotal experience and we are excited to continue to grow Career Up Now in Atlanta.

MLK Shabbat Suppers Celebrate Diversity & Dialogue

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Federation Innovation, INNOVATION, Making Jewish Places, NextGen, People in Need, PHILANTHROPY

For Jews and their loved ones, Shabbat dinner is far more than a meal. It’s a weekly platform for holiness, hospitality, peace, and plenty of conversation. With that in mind, Federation awarded a Bloom Innovation seed grant to several organizations who collaborated on ways to use MLK weekend as a moment to turn Shabbat dinners into opportunities for dialogue and understanding.

On the Friday preceding Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 144 individuals across Atlanta showed up for an “MLK Shabbat Supper,” a guided dinner and discussion to honor Dr. King made possible by the collaborative efforts of Repair the World AtlantaOneTable, the American Jewish CommitteeHands On Atlanta, and Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. There were ten simultaneous MLK Shabbat Suppers throughout the city, in neighborhoods ranging from Sandy Springs to the Westside. The religiously, racially, and gender-diverse group of hosts came from among the lay leadership of Jewish community partners including the above organizations, as well as Jewish Family and Career Services, Moishe House, and The Schusterman Family Foundation.

Participants at the dinners enjoyed a meal while diving into a discussion guide filled with thought-provoking quotes and questions from a Jewish perspective about civil rights, racial justice, and other issues of importance to Atlanta. Feel free to download the guide.

As OneTable Atlanta Hub Manager – Shira Hahn- put it, “By joining together at the table, we work towards creating new traditions that foster authentic and thoughtful engagement across difference to recognize our past and ideate a better future. Moving forward we will continue to build solidarity and greater understanding within the Jewish community and with all Atlantans.”

For those interested in further opportunities for service and dialogue, join Repair the World and partners for an anti-human trafficking event on January 27 and cooking for the Nicholas House family shelter on February 22; details and registration here.

Tradition Kitchens


Julia Levy’s Tradition Kitchens’ Hands-on Learning Programs

At Hanukkah, when the latkes sizzle, Tradition Kitchens celebrates both the classics and the modern — the gluten free, Southern sweet potato with leek latkes and organic pepper jelly garnish from Ivy Rose Farm, a family venture with Jewish roots.

This is our first Hanukkah with Tradition Kitchens, our mother-daughter start-up transforming kitchens into classrooms to connect cultures, generations and neighborhoods. By empowering home chefs and restaurateurs to teach family recipes with history, we host pop-up affordable cooking classes around Atlanta, from intown to the suburbs.

When we think of food, we think of family. This year, we’ve been learning our Jewish Atlanta family’s favorite foods and the stories behind them — Noodle Kugel with Leslie Kalick Wolfe’s mother’s recipe, Challah with Sara Franco, Molly’s Mandel Bread with Michele Glazer Hirsh and Jennifer Glazer Malkin —to name just a few. And we’ve been welcomed into the Federation family as PROPEL Innovation grantees with a cohort, coach, ecosystem of Jewish organizations across the city, mentors, workshops with Zingerman’s Deli and so much more.

Along the way, we’ve discovered a treasure trove of Atlanta Jewish recipes — some scribbled down between friends and others recorded in beautiful cookbooks by The Breman Museum and Congregation Or Ve Shalom. We strive to elevate the foods that have thrived for generations and put Atlanta on the Jewish food map while also discovering the home chefs whose delicious dishes should be shared. Our goal is to create community through our gatherings and build upon it organically.

As you sit down for a Hanukkah holiday meal — whether it’s with family or friends — our winter wish is simply to ask about the story behind the food. And if you’re inspired by what you discover, as we have been, send the story our way and nominate the home cook to teach. We hope to sample old and new culinary traditions with you in 2020.

Mental Health Responder Toolkit

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Federation Innovation, INNOVATION, People in Need, PHILANTHROPY

Imagine if more people re-thought mental illness as a quest for mental and spiritual wellness. Imagine if more people had the tools to understand, support, and overcome the shame, stigma, and challenges of substance abuse. Now, with support from a Federation Innovation Propel grant, Atlanta-based Blue Dove Foundation is moving in exactly that direction, addressing issues of mental illness and substance abuse through a compassionate Jewish lens. Blue Dove works locally and beyond to educate, equip, and ignite our Jewish community with tools to understand mental illness and substance abuse and connect them with the right local resources, such as professionals from JFC&S. They are in the midst of creating a Mental Health Toolkit packed with resources and written by local rabbis and health professionals, to increase understanding and extend hands of healing.

Blue Dove’s Toolkit begins by articulating Jewish mental health values and defines the key issues that individuals and families struggle with. For example, the concept of b’tzelem elohim — to be created in the divine image — suggests that any conversation about mental wellness must begin with a foundation of dignity and respect. This can counter the shame of illness and the tendency to hide from conversations around mental health.

Or, refuah shleimah — healing and wholeness. Judaism recognizes that healing is not just physical; it is holistic. When we pray the misheberach for healing, we pray for refuat hanefesh v’refuat haguf, a healing of spirit and of body. The Jewish emphasis is also on healing, not on curing. Even when mental illness is under control, healing and a return to wholeness are in order. We see healing as a process, one that has many components and may be a lifelong journey.

The Toolkit will also provide a comprehensive list of local resources to recognize, respond, and set people on the road to healing.  The hope is that people will become more comfortable talking openly about mental health, mental wellness, and illness. Learn more at Blue Dove Foundation.