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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.

‘Nobody wins in a war’

By Eric's Blog, GLOBAL JEWRY

[This post originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on March 25th, 2022.]

Seeing the Ghosts of Our Grandparents

It’s a seven-hour drive from Warsaw to the Ukraine border crossing at Medyka where thousands of people are seeking safety and refuge in Poland. This is day two of my pilgrimage to Poland with Jewish leaders from ten U.S. cities. We are all here to bear witness to the modern-day refugee crisis that has displaced millions of Ukrainians in a matter of weeks. We are all here to do whatever we can to fund and support the massive humanitarian effort underway to save Ukrainian Jews and other displaced Ukrainians. We are committed to returning home and telling American Jews a story we never imagined would happen again.

Ironically, we are driving through our grandparents’ Poland — once home to the largest, most vibrant Jewish community in the world and the intellectual birthplace of countless Jewish thought leaders, rabbis, and artists. As our bus continues eastward, it is haunting to pass through towns with names like Lublin and Chelm, made famous in the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Sholom Aleichem. It is even more haunting to see signs for Polish towns like Oswiecim, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka — the places where our people were herded like cattle, tortured and gassed.

Only 10,000 Jews remain in Poland. But today, millions of refugees, Jewish and non-Jewish, are pouring into Poland seeking safety and shelter from the destruction, and brutality of Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine. This time, we are here for them.

Our Partners on the Ground

My fly-in to Poland and the Ukraine border was organized by Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) which coordinates the heroic on-the-ground work of our overseas partners, the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). These two organizations are doing lifesaving work to protect and support Jewish and non-Jewish refugees. Both have been deeply engaged with Jews in Ukraine for more than 75 years. Both have established a strong infrastructure as they work in coordination with each other and with other NGOs in eastern Europe.

For as long as there has been an annual Community Campaign in Atlanta, JAFI and JDC have received significant financial support from us. This support, along with a collective of Federations around the world, has allowed them to build a robust infrastructure that builds the Jewish communities of Ukraine and supports basic needs.

Returning to Warsaw After 20 Years

This is not my first time in Warsaw, Poland. Twenty years ago, I came here to visit the small village, now part of Lithuania, where my grandfather was born. On this unexpectedly warm and bright day, Warsaw impressed me with its combination of modern and historic architecture. There was a surprising calmness to the city, and strangely, it recalled the vibrant Squirrel Hill Jewish community of Pittsburgh where I had the privilege of growing up. My Pittsburgh Jewish community was created by Jews who fled Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. Still, it is eerie to be in this modern city where parts of the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto still exist.

The reality is that American Jews like me were born in the very best place, at the absolute best time in world history. How stunning now to be a 21st century American visiting a country that is absorbing millions of refugees, most of whom were living quite modern lives just a month ago. That so many of them are Jewish feels like an old nightmare.

In Warsaw, I was nearly hit by a bicycle while absent mindedly walking in the bike lane. I later met the individual who nearly ran me over in a nearby coffee shop and we had coffee together. He let me interview him and I recorded it on my phone. He was a Pole who was hosting refugees in his flat and had many friends doing the same. He was not surprised by the war in Ukraine and said that he knew it was brewing for years. The current situation reminded him of the world’s response to World War II and how long it took the world to wake up to what was happening. He said it was easy to imagine that we were like two people having coffee in Paris in 1939, talking about what was happening in Germany. It underscored the unpredictability of this war and all the possible scenarios that could play out.

As I walked the streets of Warsaw and neared the central train station, I saw refugees everywhere. Families without fathers were camped out on blow-up beds, resting on benches, eating meals, and getting supplies from temporary tents. Some were passing through and some were trying to settle in Warsaw. The scale of it was heartbreaking.

The Hope of Making Aliyah

On my first evening in Warsaw, I visited a Jewish Agency for Israel processing center set up at a local hotel. Anyone Jewish or related to someone in Israel could come in and learn the required steps to emigrate to Israel. Families of all shapes and sizes were getting the assistance they needed. Thousands had already landed in Israel. It was moving to see the State of Israel living out its mission to be a safe home for all Jews whenever they should need it. At the JAFI center, I heard stories of Holocaust survivors and righteous Gentiles choosing a future in Israel, and stories of people who left in such a hurry they had no documents at all. Here it did not matter. All who wanted to leave for Israel were helped. It was heartwarming to meet the many physicians and trauma counselors, so familiar with the wounds of war and displacement, who had come to help Jews and non-Jews find comfort, safety, and optimism.

At the Ukraine Border

Arriving at the Medyka border crossing was the emotional crescendo of my trip, where the enormity of this crisis became real. We stopped along the way at another processing center staffed by the JDC and JAFI where we donated more than one ton of relief supplies collected at home. We met many families. Perhaps because I am the father of an adolescent girl, I was most impacted by a mom and her 15-year-old daughter who left their home in Kyiv. Their story, like all the others, was horrendous. They lived in a bomb shelter for weeks and left Kyiv with the little they could carry and their pets. The young girl, Sophia, was withdrawn and distraught and her mom spoke between tears. When the mom finished speaking, she asked Sophia to talk about some drawings she had made. I will never forget how Sophia ran to get one of them and explained how they depicted her emotions and fears, and her dreams and aspirations for peace.

The border felt sacred in unexpected ways. Seeing the JDC and JAFI professionals in uniform alongside the other NGOs, I knew we were doing what we do best. A steady stream of families was coming across the border pushing strollers, pulling suitcases, and looking exhausted. It seemed utterly inhuman to me that all these people, no different than me, had been displaced. Some of them were in wheelchairs or were holding the hands of traumatized children with noticeable special needs. At the same time, I witnessed incredible gemilut chasadim (human kindness) in a way I had never seen before. Our partners were there to accept and embrace traumatized and brave people as they poured across the border. It was a scene I will never forget. The scope of the refugee crisis is immense. And there are literally millions who have chosen to stay or cannot leave Ukraine. What will happen to them?

Like Sophia, I do not and never will understand war. Nobody wins in a war and any life lost is one too many. History teaches us repeatedly that power, ego, and evil are destructive forces. Echoing the words of Anne Frank, I do believe that most people are good. Somehow, we need to fight the Amaleks who appear every generation, who are dedicated to darkness and destruction. I am thankful to be part of a community and a profession that is trying to do whatever it can to help people so terribly impacted by this unnecessary war. I will return to Atlanta from this brief fly-in and commit myself more deeply to do everything I can to help.

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. 

Your Astounding Support for the Jews of Ukraine


On Friday afternoon, February 25, when it was clear that a full-on Russian invasion of Ukraine was underway, Federation launched its Ukraine Emergency Fund. Literally within minutes of sending out our email appeal, Jewish Atlantans responded. Hundreds of donors opened their hearts and supported the campaign with incredible generosity and passion. As of this morning, donations exceed $589,000. I believe we are well on our way to raising at least three quarters of a million dollars.

I am also tremendously moved by what donors said inspired their gift.

“I am confident that funds will go to the correct areas if handled by Jewish Federation of Atlanta.”

“I want to help the Jewish community in Ukraine. My ancestors are from Belarus and I feel closely connected to those in Ukraine.”

“For too many years we Jews could not defend ourselves. Now we can, and we must!”

“The people of Ukraine need our help now more than ever to defend against an unhinged autocratic despot bent on destroying democracy.”

In another gesture of generosity, I am proud to share that several members of Federation’s Jewish Commercial Real Estate Network (J-CREN) pooled their funds to create a match so that 100% of every donation up to $180K be doubled for Ukrainian humanitarian relief.

Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) will oversee and distribute the funds to our on-the-ground overseas partners: the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), World ORT, and the Jewish Agency for Israel. And 100% of all these emergency contributions will be transmitted to our overseas’ partners.

The Ukraine Emergency Fund demonstrates that this magnitude of response is exactly what we are built for. Nobody can marshall significant resources, and quickly and effectively deploy them the way Federation can!

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your bold and brave response that manifests our shared Jewish values. Kol yisrael aravim, zeh ba zeh. All of Israel is responsible for each other.

Why I’ll Always be a Camp Guy


February is JDAIM, which stands for Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, Inclusion Month. It’s also the time of year we launch our Start a Campfire Campaign to support scholarship for Jewish overnight camp. I hope you’ll support them both!

I am singling out our Jewish camps for special praise because they are places where disabilities are not seen as obstacles. They are places where bullying is never tolerated and where all kids are liberated from the cliques and social rules that operate during the school year. In this way, camp is a sweet taste of olam ha ba, the perfect world we yearn for.

I got my first real glimpse of what inclusion looks like at Camp Barney Medintz when I worked in the kitchen. It was the best job I ever had at camp, and it taught me what is really involved in feeding several hundred campers and staff members three times a day — incredible focus and hard work! To see Scott Hyman, a person with disabilities, lead in the kitchen with competence and a strong work ethic, totally inspired me.

Our camps don’t merely pay lip service to inclusion, they model it. Camp Barney’s Chalutzim program for campers 10-22 years old with special needs has been nationally recognized since it was established in 1992. Camp Ramah Darom also prioritizes inclusion and launched its Yofi program for Jewish families with children on the autism spectrum years ago. It has become a national model for inclusion in a camp setting. The MJCCA’s Chaverim day camps include staff experienced in working with children with special needs, low camper-to-staff ratio, and access to camp activities. Chaverim campers run the camp Shuk, modeled after an Israeli marketplace, fostering independence, communication, and camper confidence.

Our Jewish Abilities Alliance has reached more than 1,000 day camp and overnight camp counselors and staff through its trainings, so that these values of compassion, understanding and inclusion endure all year long.

From my years as CEO of Camp Twin Lakes and directing the Isabella Freedman retreat center, to being a camper and a counselor myself, I’ve seen miracles at camp. That’s why I’ll always be a camp guy!

Ready for Whatever Comes Next


Many Jewish leaders around the country tell me they are exhausted and dispirited. I am not.

It is a blessing to be a part of Jewish Atlanta. There is a generous spirit here, an optimism as tall as the buildings rising in Midtown, and as fresh as the burgeoning neighborhoods of our northern suburbs. These qualities have taken us from the darkest days of COVID to our current moment — not quite “normal,” but resilient, limber, ready for whatever comes next.

Jewish Atlanta thrives because of you. Not quite six months into the 2022 Community Campaign you have helped us pass 77% of our goal for the Partners Fund. Total Philanthropy is robust at $15.4M — well on its way to the $22.2M goal. All of our Targeted Philanthropy initiatives are more than 50% towards goal or higher. Atlanta Jewish Foundation is growing, helping more and more people do good in our community. These are all healthy signs.

As 2022 gets underway, here are some things that excite me:

  • Federation’s North Metro Making Jewish Places (MJP) initiative has been a huge success. It’s all about connecting people right in their own neighborhoods and encouraging local collaboration. In 2021, MJP engaged 7,000 individuals, awarded 80 Gather Grants, and 31 Organizational grants. We will be expanding the program to a new geographic area, soon to be announced.
  • Spearheaded by the Zalik Foundation and supported by generous community donors, the Jewish Community Professional High School Tuition Grant Program, continues as part of our effort to attract and retain great Jewish professionals. Full-time Jewish professionals, clergy, and educators are eligible to receive up to a 50 percent tuition reduction if their children are currently enrolled or have been accepted to a SACS accredited Jewish high school in Atlanta. It has created a new source of risk capital, enabling the day schools to fund new investments in educational and co-curricular excellence. It has been a token of appreciation and gratitude for the work Jewish professionals and educators do on behalf of our Jewish community.
  • Our teens are loving life in Israel. With generous second year funding from The Zalik Foundation for Gap Year programs in Israel, and new support for Root One from the Marcus Foundation, we are sending more young people to Israel than ever before.

Dreaming big about our community’s future, as I do, means securing big resources. We all know people who, for a myriad of reasons, don’t give to Federation and don’t feel connected to us. This is where you can help. If there are people in your social or professional network who might benefit from a thoughtful conversation with me about our impact and mission, please let me know. I would be honored to reach out and tell them about the good we do, and the things their generosity can empower. Email me.

If you have not already made a commitment to support the 2022 Community Campaign, or to any of Federation’s five Targeted Philanthropy options: AgeWell Atlanta, Jewish Abilities Alliance, Jewish Camp Initiative, Jewish Innovation Fund, and PJ Library, please make your gift now. You’ll feel great about it!

My Scorecard for 2021

By COMMUNITY, Eric's Blog

Here comes 2022! I love how the secular new year gives us a chance to revisit the resolutions we wrestled with at Rosh Hashanah. Now, nearly six months later, I am taking a gentle look back at my August blog post which outlined Federation’s top priorities for 2021. They are all still Federation priorities, but the last 20 months and the last two weeks have taught us how quickly the virus can upend our progress. As our Yiddische sages said, “Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht,” — Man plans, G-d laughs.

As for planning, you’ll be interested to know that inside Federation all our professionals have adopted a business accountability and management model called EOS — Entrepreneurial Operating System. EOS disciplines us to establish goals and create scorecards to evaluate them with measurable inputs and outputs. So, through an EOS lens, I want to revisit our priority projects to see where we are, and where we are heading.

Israel Travel | (Uncertain)
People are hungry to travel to Israel, but Omicron has put a halt to it for now. We hope to move forward with our Men’s Journey, 40-Under-40, and other experiences in 2022.

Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC) | (Moving Forward)
JEC is doing bold work at Congregation Or Hadash to reimagine bar/bat mitzvah. Busy families at five local synagogues no longer battle traffic for midweek Hebrew as part of the Atlanta Hebrew Connection, where learning is done from home.

Gap Year Programs in Israel | (Thriving. Funding Renewed)
With generous funding from The Zalik Foundation, JumpSpark recruited twenty-five students from fifteen different Atlanta high schools who have received scholarships of $10,000 – $15,000 to attend a gap year program in Israel. They are thriving and sending incredible reports back home.

1440 Spring Street: A Center for Jewish Life | (Excitement Continues)
The building boom in Midtown makes our dream of turning 1440 Spring Street into a Center for Jewish Life very much alive. We envision a dynamic space where Jewish entrepreneurs and innovative nonprofits will interact and where cultural experiences will happen.

Toco Hills Housing Initiative |(Exploration Continues)
Exploration of the feasibility of building affordable apartments for older adults in Toco Hills continues.

Family Camp |(Happening)
An immersive family camp weekend for young families is planned for early April at Ramah Darom.

Tuition Assistance for Jewish Professionals | (In Effect)
Full-time Jewish professionals, clergy, and educators are now eligible to receive up to a 50 percent tuition reduction if their children are currently enrolled or have been accepted to an accredited Jewish high school in Atlanta. It has helped boost enrollment at our Jewish high schools and has been renewed for a second cohort of students.

Camp Scholarships | (Back for Summer 2022)
Camp scholarships helped send more than 1,000 kids Jewish camp in 2021. Applications for camp scholarships are open for summer 2022.

Eight Lights of Gratitude


Remember back in 2013, when Hanukkah began on Thanksgiving Day? The mashup of holidays was dubbed “Thanksgivukkah” and we had fun with it. My friend Jennie Rivlin Roberts created a cool t-shirt for the occasion and donated thousands of dollars to charity from the proceeds.

You won’t be surprised to learn that a Jewish woman coined the name Thanksgivukkah. Dana Gitell, then a 37-year-old marketing manager for a Jewish nonprofit, trademarked the name and bought the URL. Given the quirks of the lunar Jewish calendar, another Thanksgivukkah is unlikely to happen again for 70,000 years! But this year we will come close with Hanukkah beginning on Sunday evening, November 28, just three days after Thanksgiving.

In the Thanksgivukkah spirit, here’s a list of the things for which I am deeply grateful this year.

  1. The COVID-19 Vaccine – This modern scientific miracle that delivers a safe and effective way to build protection against the virus was developed in record time and continues to save countless lives. I take pride knowing that Albert Borla, Pfizer’s CEO who led the company’s development of the vaccine, is the son of Greek Jews who survived the Holocaust.
  2.  The Braves are World Series Champions! — The ascent of the Braves, after so many years of disappointment, was pure joy for Atlanta — with the added bonus of three Jewish players! This win was exactly what we collectively needed after 18 months of pandemic isolation and anxiety.
  3. The 2022 Community Campaign — The Campaign is ahead of pace! As of today, we have reached 43% of our goal. I’m so grateful for our generous donors who continue to step up so we can meet urgent local and international needs. You can learn more about our 2022 campaign goals and donate here.
  4. $10,000 Israel Gap Year Scholarships for High School Seniors — I am delighted to report that The Zalik Foundation has renewed scholarship support for a second year to send graduating high school seniors to Israel. 2022-2023 applications for this year of personal growth and adventure prior to starting college open on December 6!
  5. The Resurgence of Midtown Atlanta — The Midtown construction boom continues with 16 active projects underway! The strength of Midtown real estate bodes well for our dream of transforming the Federation property at 1440 Spring Street into a vibrant center for Jewish life in the coming years.
  6. Federation’s Professional Team — It makes me especially proud to see Federation professionals blossoming within the organization. In recent months, several of them have stepped into new roles with added responsibilities. These transitions are a result of our culture of Excellence, Empathy, and Fearlessness, along with our commitment to professional development.
  7.  548 Commitments to After-Lifetime Giving — That’s right. As we conclude our three-year engagement with the LIFE & LEGACY™ endowment program, Atlanta’s Jewish schools, synagogues, and organizations have secured 548 letters of intent for legacy gifts with an estimated value of $35.2M! It brings me such nachas (Yiddish for joy) to see our community come together to ensure our future financial health. I extend a special thanks to The Harold Grinspoon Foundation for being a phenomenal philanthropic partner through camping initiatives, PJ Library, and the LIFE & LEGACY endowment program.
  8. Matt Bronfman’s Partnership and Leadership – As Board Chair, Matt has contributed a depth of wisdom and fresh insights during his Federation leadership. I deeply appreciate Matt’s commitment to strengthening our entire community.

The Joy of Face-to-Face Conversations


It has been pure joy to attend the in-person outdoor events that are gradually returning to the Federation calendar. Two weekends ago an amazing crew of BBQ pit masters, competing as Team Feederation, joined 18 other teams at the Atlanta Kosher Barbecue Festival at Brook Run Park. Thousands attended the festival and Team Feederation took first place in the chicken category!

Last week I attended two more in-person events — the launch of the new J-CREN (Jewish Commercial Real Estate Network) initiative and the Women’s Philanthropy Fall event. At both, there was a palpable sense of reunion and optimism as people came together for the first time in more than 18 months.

Talking to donors — and to “not-yet” donors — about the work Federation does, and the ways the community benefits from our work, sparks great conversations. Once someone understands our story and respects the strategy we’ve been pushing forward, they are eager to help us care for, connect, and strengthen our Jewish community

At the same time, it is humbling to encounter folks who know little about the resources and opportunities their Campaign gift empowers.

I am hearing that people are hungry to travel to Israel again. We are still hopeful that a 2023 Community Journey to Israel will happen, and we will share details as soon as we can.

I am hearing that people love the microgrants we’re giving to individuals and community groups who want to build community. The small but mighty grants of up to $200 have empowered friends and neighbors to build sukkahs, join together for community service, feed the hungry, and turn their neighborhoods into vibrant Jewish places.

People appreciate the culture shift in the way Federation engages with the community. They value our collaboration with the synagogues, camps, human services, and partner organizations that make up our Jewish ecosystem. They appreciate the priorities and the leadership that emanates from 1440 Spring Street.

At this moment of reconnection, I’m reminded that today would have been the birthday of my beloved sister Judy who passed away unexpectedly in 1978. Judy is the reason I went to Camp Barney Medintz and ultimately moved to Atlanta. She is the person who still fires my love for our city and our Jewish community. With Judy’s memory in mind, I am gratified to report that the 2022 Community Campaign is ahead of pace, at more than 32% of goal.

As always, I love to engage in good conversation about our community. Whether face-to-face, or by email, let me hear from you!

Jewish Atlanta: Built for Limmud


Ana and I attended Limmud Atlanta at Ramah Darom just before the High Holy Days. It was great to be back, and even in the midst of the Delta variant surge, we felt completely safe and had a spectacular time.

Did you know that there are 97 Limmud communities around the world? Most are one-day events held indoors. Limmud Atlanta is one of a handful of multi-day Limmuds held over Shabbat in a beautiful camp setting. Most Limmuds went virtual when the pandemic began, but Limmud Atlanta was committed to returning to an in-person event as soon as it was safe. This August we had the distinction of holding the first in-person Limmud in the Western Hemisphere since early 2020!

Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me. Echoing the theme of our 2022 Community Campaign, “Built for This,” it’s clear to me Jewish Atlanta was also built for the diversity, volunteerism, innovation, and community building that is Limmud.

Diversity: Jewish Atlanta was built to create Limmud because we are a truly diverse Jewish community. Limmud deeply values all streams of Judaism and prioritizes intra-Jewish dialogue. Limmud core values require that every event meets the needs of people across the spectrum of Jewish observance. I will never forget the time a group from The Kehilla led the entire dining room in a rousing birkat ha mazon (blessing after a meal), or the many times we’ve debated Israeli politics with respect and civility. Intra-Jewish engagement is Limmud at its best.

Not only that, but Limmud is age and geographically-diverse. This year we welcomed folks from Knoxville, Augusta, Asheville, South Carolina, and Florida. It’s a place where toddlers, kids, teens, young adults, and older adults become a community together. With so much informal time to share meals and schmooze, it’s no surprise that that Limmud has led to marriages, babies, and lasting intergenerational friendships.

Volunteerism: Jewish Atlanta is blessed with incredible depth in volunteerism. So too, Limmud is a 100% volunteer-run event. Most presenters are unpaid. At Limmud titles like Rabbi, Doctor, and Professor are dropped. This non-hierarchical structure encourages people to show up and really take responsibility. Passionate, committed volunteers rise quickly within the organization.

Innovation: Atlanta is about learning, and it also prizes innovation. Sessions range from traditional text study to the truly offbeat. Limmud loves putting a Jewish spin on hiking, yoga, music, and culture. One beloved Limmud tradition is a post-Shabbat cigar and scotch gathering, held outdoors. This year we honored Limmud Atlanta’s first executive Director Naomi Rabkin, z”l, by bringing in an innovative Jewish farmer for a learning track on the shmitah year — its history and its relevance in modern times.

This year, fearlessly, Limmud Atlanta had multiple sessions on race, gender and Jewish identity, and the imperative to open doors across our institutions to Jews of color. These sessions were frequently raw and emotional. They tested us to live out our highest ideals and face our failings. I love that about Limmud too.

I urge you to open yourself up to the possibility of attending Limmud Atlanta next year. Limmud is one of those immersive Jewish places where all kinds of people, at all levels of understanding and experience, can find meaning together. It’s exactly what Federation has in mind with its Family Camp initiative, creating new ways to connect with other Jews and with Jewish tradition.

Limmud succeeds because it was built for all of us, by all of us.