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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.

 JFF Celebrates Sukkot with 10 Local Jewish Organizations 

By COMMUNITY

On October 2, the Jewish Fertility Foundation (JFF) came together with 10 local Jewish organizations to create the largest family event of the season. What began as an idea to connect JFF alumni families became a reality and more extensive and festive than the organizers could have imagined. Over 750 individuals attended this early Sukkot festival. 

JFF’s partners for this event were the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA), PJ Library, In the City Camps, Jewish Kids Groups, Atlanta Jewish Academy, Davis Academy, the Epstein School, Honeymoon Israel, Chabad of Dunwoody, and Metro Atlanta Community Mikvah (MACoM).  

JFF is the Jewish response to infertility and offers access points to Jewish life and community building. By supporting clients emotionally and financially throughout their fertility journey, JFF helps to build a vibrant, strong, and engaged Jewish community. Families grappling with infertility can often feel alone in their struggle. The support JFF offers families as they attempt to have children goes beyond medical intervention; they understand how vital social support is.   

The Sukkot event allowed JFF families to meet each other while connecting to Judaism in fun, out-of-the-box ways. Activities included a mobile petting zoo, bounce house, musical performance by Rabbi Glusman, face painting, Sukkah art projects (even edible ones!), Kona Ice, and food from Kosher Touch Catering.  

Sharon Feingold, a JFF Mom, said, “The magnitude of what [JFF] has done—and just how many lives [they have] changed—in the span of just a few years was clearly apparent yesterday as 700+ people enjoyed not only festival fun on a gorgeous fall morning, but a newfound sense of camaraderie. What was once quiet and buried is now all about community, empathy, and joy.”  

For more about JFF,  visit their website.  

 ”A New Perspective in Israel” – An Onward Hillel Blog

By COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

This summer, Georgia Tech rising junior Talia Segal explored Israel through the Birthright Israel and Onward Israel programs. After enduring anti-Israeli and antisemitic comments from a roommate her sophomore year, Talia approached her summer in Israel as an opportunity to “solidify my Zionism, strengthen my relationship to Israel, and make sure that the next time I encountered a similar situation, I would be prepared to face it head-on.” 

Onward Hillel allows Jewish students to build their resumes through a high-level internship while developing a strong personal connection to Israel. The program, organized by Hillels of Georgia and funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, is an 8-week metro Tel Aviv internship program. It places current college students in an authentic Israeli workplace based on their skills, interests, and future career goals. 

Read more about Talia’s experience with Onward Israel, her subsequent career growth, and the new perspectives she gained in Israel here. 

Atlanta Created Federation’s Model for Disaster Relief

By CARING, COMMUNITY, People in Need

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honoring Karen Botnick Paz With a Fund in Her Name

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, PHILANTHROPY

Karen Botnick Paz has spent much of her adult life advocating for people with disabilities in the Jewish community. This month, she is retiring as the Donor Research and Special Projects Associate at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. In her honor, the Karen Botnick Paz Jewish Abilities Fund has been established at the Atlanta Jewish Foundation.   

Karen has dedicated herself to the Jewish community and championed programs that provide resources to help individuals and families navigate the challenges of living with a disability. This passion has been Karen’s lifelong focus and is deeply personal to her.   

As a young girl, she went to Camp Barney Medintz, first as a camper in the early 70s and then as a counselor. She remembers that one year, a girl in her cabin was developmentally disabled, and this young woman had no specialized support. She recalls how difficult camp was for this friend and how some of the other girls in their cabin didn’t understand her struggles; they singled her out and made her feel different.  

Witnessing this had a profound impact on young Karen. “It was a different time, of course; there was so much we didn’t know. But how much easier would this camp experience have been if she’d had the resources she needed?” Through social media, Karen has reconnected with her. This woman, now in her 60s, is finally going to college—with those cabin mates from long ago cheering her on as she proudly posts her most recent accomplishments. 

Special needs support in Atlanta’s Jewish community was just beginning in 1966 when the Atlanta Bureau of Jewish Education started a Sunday School program called Havanah. In 1976, in partnership with the Atlanta Jewish Community Center, a day camp program was added. In September 1982, the Atlanta Bureau of Jewish Education re-structured Havanah, adding a program called Amit to serve students with learning disabilities. Havanah continued to work with students with more significant developmental disabilities. 

Karen began her involvement with Amit as a volunteer in the late ’90s as a board member for Jewish Educational Services (JES). At the time, Amit was a special needs Sunday School program run by JES. In 2001, it became an independent agency serving the Atlanta Jewish community in a broader capacity and eventually a SACS accredited school program called The Amit Community School. In 2004, Karen’s work as a volunteer transitioned into a professional role as Director of Programming at Amit.   

While at Amit, she worked closely with the Coordinated Network of Services for Persons with Disabilities, which was started in 1989 by the then-named Atlanta Jewish Federation. It brought together three agencies: the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA), Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS), and The Amit Program. Of these programs, Karen says, “MJCCA provided social and recreational programs, JF&CS offered vocational support and independent living, and Amit expanded special education support services.”  

In 2013, Karen began working at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta as part of the Philanthropy Team while continuing her passion for disability advocacy. 

In 2015, a diagnosis made her life’s passion even more personal. She learned that she has an inoperable brain tumor, which she has likely been living with for 10 or more years. The news was shocking but also explained so much. The seizure medication affects her energy levels, and the tumor’s location impacts her executive function (and it has been doing so for a long time). Karen’s children have learning differences, and her daughter has Tourette Syndrome. Karen spent years learning what accommodations they needed to be happy and successful adults and was able to use those lessons to advocate for her own needs. The parallels remind her of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “Coincidences are G-d’s way of remaining anonymous.”  

She says that proper accommodations for people with differences are invaluable. Her children have thrived thanks to the specialized support they received. And thanks to the resources at her fingertips, Karen could continue her career. She felt she must continue her profession after her diagnosis, saying, “Doing this work has been more than a job. It has been a supportive place for people to connect while working to make the community more inclusive and welcoming.”  

While Karen is retiring from the professional world, she does not plan to stop her advocacy work anytime soon. “Because I have institutional knowledge of our community, I feel a responsibility to represent all those who came before. I want to continue championing the connections and relationships that have made such a difference. There is still work to be done.” When asked what she looks forward to about retirement, Karen says, “Aside from spending more time with family and friends, I want to tap back into my creativity and use those skills to preserve family history and memories; we all deserve to be more than a picture on a wall once we are gone.”  

The Karen Botnick Paz Jewish Abilities Fund will undoubtedly ensure that. This endowment will support Federation’s Jewish Abilities Atlanta (JAA) initiative. JAA aims to provide a welcoming and accessible Jewish community, foster collaboration around disability inclusion, and increase the capacity of Jewish Atlanta organizations to engage people with differing abilities. Karen says, “Our community offers a wide net of services, and people don’t always know they’re available until they need them.” She hopes more people will learn of Jewish Atlanta’s accessibility initiatives and feel welcomed into the community. And the fund that bears her name will allow many more people in Atlanta to benefit from JAA’s work.   

Karen shared, “I have been blessed with a meaningful career and ongoing opportunities to make a difference. This quote, which I learned from my late father, has shaped my life both professionally and personally: The work is not for you to finish, nor are you free to desist from it. Pirke Avot: 2:21.” 

Karen will be thanked for her service to the community at the Women’s Philanthropy Fall Event on Wednesday, October 26th, at 6:30 pm at Temple Sinai. Register for the Women’s Philanthropy Fall Event here.  

To contribute to the Karen Botnick Paz Jewish Abilities Fund, please click here.

Fall Holidays and Reveries

By COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

By Matt M. Bronfman
As I write, we are amidst the most festive time of year. Between the High Holidays, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah, autumn is full of celebrations and reflections.  

Last week, we observed my favorite (and perhaps the most important) day of the year: Yom Kippur. It is the one day I can truly turn away from the outside world and look inward, reflecting on my failings over the past year (ask my family, they will fill you in) and thinking about how I can improve in the year ahead. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z” l taught, the single most important lesson of Yom Kippur is that it’s never too late to change, start again, and live differently from the way we’ve done in the past.  

And now, we celebrate Sukkot, when we spend time with family and rejoice in the bounty of our planet. This year, while I dine in our sukkah and relax with my loved ones, I’ll think not only of how lucky we are but also of those who are less fortunate. After the last several years, I am especially struck by life’s inequities during these times. My family and I have so much to be thankful for, but there are so many in Atlanta, and around the world, who are struggling. 

As we celebrate the nascent new year, I ask that we devise new and improved ways to make our community a better place: from finding new ways to engage interfaith families, to creating more Jewish places, to feeding those who are hungry, to housing more of those in need of shelter. As 5783 unfolds, please, please continue to donate your money and your time. But also, join me as board chair of Federation in looking for innovative ways to push our community forward. I welcome your input, and you are welcome to email me at any time to discuss your ideas. 

I look forward to connecting with as many of you as possible in the year ahead. 

How Federation Partners with Jewish Day Schools

By COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

Atlanta’s Jewish Day Schools are a cornerstone of our community. The lessons that children learn and the friends they make while attending school will stay with them their whole lives, and their experiences there can make or break their connections to Jewish life. Federation supports our local schools in many ways and aims to give kids the best possible experience while they learn.  

Day schools receive an annual allocation from Federation based on enrollment. For the current fiscal year, the total allocation for our community day schools is $1,124,736, which represents 13% of our annual allocations. Additionally, just under $500,000 has been distributed to schools since 2020 from Federation’s Covid Relief Fund to help cover the costs of Covid response and reopening.  

Our various initiatives support day schools in other ways, including:  

  • ALEF Fund provides scholarships to day school students 
  • The Shinshinim cohort works in 5 of our partner schools and runs activities about Israel, holidays, Jewish culture, culture, and more 
  • Jewish Abilities Atlanta provides disability inclusion training to day school students and professionals and provides microgrants for inclusion projects (like sensory spaces and flexible seating options) 
  • Federation’s Community Security Director, Neil Rabinovitz, works with day schools on security assessments to keep our schools safe 
  • PJ Library partners with some schools on concerts and other programming 
  • The Atlanta Jewish Foundation manages many schools’ endowments and helps donors direct gifts from their Donor Advised Funds to the schools

Federation and the Jewish Agency For Israel (JAFI) are also planning The Partnership 2Gether Educators Seminar in 2023. This trip will take teachers from our local day schools to our partner region in Israel, Yokneam. There will be several learning sessions before their departure in January 2023 coordinated by the Federation. This is a unique educational experience to learn more about the Israeli educational system and explore additional opportunities for connection between Atlanta and Israel. The school twinning programs promote the sense of Jewish Peoplehood and shared responsibility for students in schools in Atlanta, Yokneam and Megido. Students have the chance to meet each other for dynamic conversations around issues such as Jewish Identity and Social Responsibility. Twinning programs, likewise, link educators for professional and personal enrichment. 

If you want to support the Jewish Day Schools of Atlanta, you can donate to Federation’s Partner’s Fund. Money from this fun is granted annually to each of our schools and makes a significant impact on the way young Jewish kids experience school.  

Josh Comiter Moved to Atlanta and Made His Mark

By COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

Josh Comiter moved to Atlanta from South Florida in 2021. He’d been an active member of the Jewish community there. When he relocated, he wanted to continue his involvement in Jewish causes. Family friends directed him to Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, and he made his first donation this year.

Josh is in his late 20s and feels that a strong Jewish community in his hometown had a major impact on his life. He wanted to give the youth of Atlanta that same opportunity. “All of my closest friends I grew up with are people I met through the Jewish community—friends I made in Jewish day school, lifelong friends. If I can give back and that will help someone have a similar experience, I think that’s very important.”

Statistics show that younger generations aren’t donating to causes like their parents and grandparents did. Many factors impact this—many millennials and Gen Z don’t have the same disposable income levels as previous generations—but you don’t have to make a big gift to have a big impact.

When asked if he had a message for other young people about the importance of charitable giving, he says, “Whether you realize it or not, if you’re a Jew living in Atlanta, the Federation has benefitted you in some way. And I feel it’s essential for [the younger generation] to give, even in small amounts, because there are still people out there that need help.”

To make your donation to Federation, click here.

My Rosh Hashanah Reflections

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

L’shana tovah,
Eric M. Robbins

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Three Generations of Giving

By COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

Albert, Gary, and Jeffrey Marx are part of a proud lineage. Grandson Jeffrey is in the fourth generation of Marxes to call Atlanta home, and this Jewish family has made their mark on their city. The family business, Piedmont National, has been working with other companies in the state since 1950. But their broader commitment to Atlanta’s Jewish community is truly where they have made a difference. In this video, son, father, and grandfather explain how philanthropy is a guiding principle for their family and why they choose to give to Federation.     

Federation’s 2023 Community Campaign has begun, and you can make your own donation by following this link. Federation’s Partners Fund supports more than 70 organizations that make a difference in the lives of Jewish and non-Jewish people in Atlanta and all over the world. Establish your family’s own legacy of giving and help Federation connect and support Jews across the globe.