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Atlanta Israel Gap Year Fellowship Registration is Open!

By GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

Many teenagers look for exciting opportunities to grow and learn after high school, rather than jumping directly into college. They want to explore their interests; they want to travel, manage their finances on their own, and learn how to subsist on more than just mac and cheese. For these young adults, a gap year is the experience of a lifetime.

JumpSpark is proud to partner with The Zalik Foundation to provide scholarships to Jewish young adults that take a gap year in Israel. Atlanta Israel Gap Year Fellowship applications are currently open, and they are an incredible resource for Atlanta’s adventurous Jewish teens!

Masa is a partner in the Atlanta Israel Gap Year Fellowship. Sheryl Korelitz, Masa’s Director of Gap Year Recruitment for Masa North America, says “The dynamism of The Zalik Foundation in combination with the JumpSpark team is creating true culture change in the gap year space. Masa is proud to be a partner in this effort, and we are already seeing other communities looking to Atlanta as a model and guide for Israel teen engagement.”

According to a recent Masa study, Israel Immersive: The Key to a Strong Jewish Future (2022), “long-term programs [such as a gap year] in Israel are an essential investment in the next Jewish generation, cultivating personal growth, a desire to contribute to the global Jewish ecosystem, and a genuine motivation to lead.”

Gap year programs offer teenagers the ability to strengthen their identity, grow a stronger connection to Israel, and deepen their understanding of Jewish peoplehood. The survey notes that 72% of alumni agreed that their gap year in Israel “helped [them] grow as a person.”

Ariel Goldt went on a gap year in 2021-2022, and traveled with the organizer Nativ. She now goes to the University of Alabama and agrees with the survey respondents who say their gap year prepared them for life beyond high school.

She says, “Now that I’m a freshman in college, and talking with my friends who are also freshman who came straight from high school, they’ll encounter situations that stress them out, and those same things don’t phase me. After learning to handle them on my own in another country, it makes taking care of those things in a college town a lot less intimidating.”

“I’m trying to convince my younger brother, who is a senior right now, to take a gap year,” Ariel says. “My parents are big fans of the program; they think it’s the best thing ever.”

During the 2022-2023 school year, JumpSpark awarded scholarships to 28 Gap Year Fellows, and they’re hoping to increase that number to 35 for the 2023-2024 school year.

This Atlanta-specific Fellowship offers a unique opportunity for teens to expand their knowledge of Jewish peoplehood and deepen their understanding of Israeli history and culture. Rich Walter, Federation’s Chief of Programming and Grantmaking, adds “we are investing in [these young adults] as future leaders and influencers and investing in their personal growth and development.”

All Fellows receive a $10,000 scholarship towards participation in one of several pre-approved Israel gap year experiences. Participants gather eight times throughout the Fellowship for specialized opportunities unique to the Atlanta teens, including participation in a new two-day leadership program supported by the Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Legacy program, a Shabbaton in Atlanta’s Israeli partnership region, Yokneam-Megiddo, and a Thanksgiving celebration with Atlanta lone soldiers and Israeli dignitaries. Fellows will also participate in the Masa NextStep Conference, with special sessions for Atlanta Fellows focusing on leadership on campus, plus additional strategies for participating in Israeli activities, courses, and organizations on campus.

Fellows who commit to volunteering or working in the Jewish community during the summer following their gap year (May-August 2024) are eligible to apply for an additional $5,000 Service Subsidy. They will design a unique experience for their summer that reflects their year of growth in Israel and encourages others to consider a gap year. This work may take place throughout greater Atlanta, and could include working at a summer camp, interning at a Jewish organization, working at an Israeli-based NGO, or other options.

Applications are open now and close March 31. Click here to apply.

Contact Susie Macker at smackler@jewishatlanta.org for questions about the Atlanta Israel Gap Year Fellowship. Teens in all high school grades and their parents can also connect with our Gap Year Concierge Michal Ilai at milai@weberschool.org to learn more about gap year programs and find the right program for you.

Learn more about Gap Year opportunities from two past recipients in this video:

Operation Ethiopia Helps Thousands See Clearly

By GLOBAL JEWRY

Very soon, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is launching a new quarterly magazine: Generosity. Generosity will highlight stories of philanthropy and community in Jewish Atlanta. Here is an excerpt of the cover story from our inaugural issue:

This past August, Dr. Morris Hartstein, his wife Elisa Minsk Hartstein, their son Jonah, and six other volunteers were preparing for a trip to Ethiopia—their third in 2022. “Next year we have four medical missions planned,” Morris said.

Morris is an Ophthalmologist who moved to Israel with his family in 2004, and he was prepping for an extremely busy week. Between August 28 and September 2, he and his team (including an eye surgeon and three EMTs) would collectively be operating on 15 patients needing complex oculoplastic surgery, running mobile eye clinics in rural villages, overseeing a cataract campaign funded by their organization where 291 patients would receive sight-restoring cataract surgery, and running first-aid training for local medical staff. Morris and Elisa Hartstein founded Operation Ethiopia to help bring eye care to a population badly in need of medical intervention.

In 2014, the Hartstein children were between the ages of 11 and 16. They and their parents, wanted to do something meaningful with their summer, rather than take a typical family vacation. They decided to volunteer at the Jewish compound in Gondar, in Ethiopia. About 85% of the Jewish population in Ethiopia lives in Gondar, in conditions that were shocking to the Hartsteins.

Word got out that Morris was an eye doctor. “Most of the people in the Jewish community in Gondar had never been seen by a doctor before,” he said—let alone an eye doctor.

Morris immediately recognized that many in the village suffered from conditions that could be quickly and easily treated in the United States—like cataracts. Most cases of cataracts are caught and treated early here, before reaching advanced stages. But in Ethiopia, lack of access to medical care, and lack of funds to pay for surgery, means that people eventually become blind. Morris did what he could for the patients he examined that week, but his whole family knew they had to do more.

For the Hartsteins, helping others really is a family affair. Elisa was born a second-generation Jewish Atlantan; she is a graduate of the Hebrew Academy and Yeshiva high school (now known collectively as the Atlanta Jewish Academy). Her parents, Betty and Malcolm Minsk, were stalwart supporters of Federation and other local Jewish organizations. She says that her family’s dedication to helping their community made a major impact on her life, and the work she and Morris do.

The Hartsteins returned home from Gondar and set to work—they purchased medications and eyeglasses using their own money. A year after their first trip to Ethiopia, they returned with 12 suitcases of supplies and set up their first mobile eye triage clinic in the Jewish compound of Gondar.

Over the next few years, the Hartsteins expanded their services beyond the Jewish community to nearby villages. They partnered with Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ) to start a feeding program for malnourished children in the Jewish community. They connected with the University of Gondar Hospital and began working with their eye department. Morris started a doctor training program to bring Ethiopian ophthalmologists to his hospital in Israel for advanced specialized training.

Since 2014, Morris has volunteered his time to personally examine and treat nearly 7,000 patients through mobile eye clinics, performed complex oculoplastic surgeries in Gondar and in Addis Abba, and trained Ethiopian eye care professionals. He and his team of volunteers have distributed thousands of units of eye medications and eyeglasses and lead three cataract campaigns. Thanks to these efforts, 1,000 people have regained their eyesight.

Elisa says “the people we treat are the poorest of the poor and have no access to eye doctors or eye care. Even the relatively ‘small’ amount of money that these exams and procedures cost is onerous.” She urges people who want to help to visit operationethiopia.com.

A Transformative Women’s Retreat in Israel

By GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

By Ghila Sanders, Senior Philanthropic Officer, Atlanta Jewish Foundation

Last week, sitting under a communal tent in Israel’s Negev desert at sunset, I cheered as 15 women took on Jewish names in front of a crowd of over 200 mothers from various parts of the world experiencing a shared journey. Each one explained why they chose their specific name—some were inspired by their grandmothers; others were drawn to a meaning that felt particularly fitting at this stage of life. We celebrated, danced, sang, and shared stories over an evening that none of us will forget.

Over the course of eight days, 45 Jewish mothers from Atlanta, joined by four Israeli peers, connected with each other, committed to learning together, and engaged with a remarkable country that somehow manages to feel like home even for those visiting for the first time.

The Momentum Journey to Israel is an extraordinary undertaking dreamt up just over 14 years ago by eight women who believed that the key to a better society is through life’s #1 influencers: mothers.

Momentum often invokes the words, “Inspire a woman, you inspire a family. Inspire enough families, you inspire a community. Inspire enough communities, you can change the world.”

Since its inception, this international movement has brought over 20,000 women from 34 countries to Israel through partnerships with close to 300 local organizations. In Atlanta, the Jewish Women’s Connection, led by Julie Silverman and Batsheva Gelbtuch and supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, has put together an exceptional contingent of Jewish mothers—consistently the largest group to join each cohort. I was honored to have the opportunity to represent Federation as a Community Leader and immerse myself in a transformative trip that set the stage for personal and communal growth through Jewish values. And most notably, it created an invincible sisterhood.

An amazing addition to our journey was getting to know an incredibly special group of mothers from the Israeli organization Or La-mishpachot, “Light to the families,” whose 1500 members are bound by the unimaginable loss of a child in the army. Having them as part of our group was a true gift.

Together we experienced a multidimensional journey: from the enchantment of holy sites and the perpetual battles that surround them, to the complexity of spiritual and religious practices; we explored the intensity of grief, and of joy. We mourned at Yad Vashem, overwhelmed by the unfathomable history of the Holocaust, and found solace in our collective presence in the land of Israel. We visited Shalva, a most impressive center that provides services to children with disabilities and their families. And we went to Yokneam-Megiddo, our Federation’s sister city—one of the region’s most welcoming areas for refugees, which has also developed into a high-tech hub.

For me, this experience was both a personal and professional discovery: experiencing the Momentum Israel Journey and seeing its undeniable impact on this incredible group of mothers was humbling and pride-inducing all at once. I am delighted to work for a Jewish organization that invests in women, supports local efforts in Israel, and values our unbreakable bond as a people.

I am still learning the many ways in which the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta connects the dots across continents, and its effects are remarkable: after eight days of traveling together we came back stronger as a community, more knowledgeable about our initiatives and impact, and determined to stay actively engaged. Moreover, our four Israeli peers from Or La-mishpachot now have a special kinship with Jewish Atlanta and plan to visit whenever possible. I look forward to welcoming them in the coming months and continuing this year of learning with my new sisters.

Israel@75 Student Competition Celebrates Creativity

By GLOBAL JEWRY

The Center for Israel Education (CIE) is holding a competition in honor of Israel’s 75th birthday. In May, 2023, Israel will celebrate its 75th year as a sovereign nation, and students from all over the world are invited to participate in this contest and submit their “creative representations of Israel’s challenges, successes and visions for the future.”

CIE hopes that the Israel@75 International Student Competition will allow students to think deeply and critically about their relationship to Israel and what the country means to them, their families, and humanity at large.

The competition is open to any student who can submit their project in English, and each entry should have three parts: a visual element, a written description, and a submission form. The contest is split into three categories by age:

  • Third to fifth graders: create a commemorative Israel@75 stamp and explain their design in no more than 150 words.
  • Sixth to eighth graders: design their own Zionist poster, using historical references, and describe the need it identifies in 250 words.
  • Ninth to twelfth graders: create a museum exhibit that depicts 75 years of change in Israel. Use images, artifacts, newspaper clippings, video clips or other media, and explain the exhibit in a 500-word essay.

Awards and recognition will be given to the top three submissions in each age group. While there is a creative element to each entry, this competition will not be judged solely on artistic merit and will weigh the written portion of the entries along with the visual component.

The deadline for submissions is midnight, Eastern Time, Feb. 15, 2023. Submit online at israeled.org/israel-at-75/contest. The winners will be announced on April 20, 2023.

The Israel@75 International Student Competition is part of CIE’s broader learning initiative to celebrate Israel’s 75th year of independence. Visit israeled.org/israel-at-75 to learn more.

For more information about the competition, contact Debbie Sasson at debbie.sasson@israeled.org.

Winter Bears Down on Ukrainians

By CARING, GLOBAL JEWRY

Winter is quickly approaching in Ukraine, and sadly, the war continues. In recent weeks, critical infrastructure that provides power and water throughout the country has been destroyed. Meanwhile, refugees continue to flee the region. As it gets colder, their situation will be more dire than ever. Though the war is taking up less space in American newspapers and airwaves, our brethren still need our help.  

Since February, Jewish Atlanta has raised more than $2.5 million to assist people directly impacted by the war. Combined with the fundraising efforts of other Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and the Joint Distribution Committee, North American Jewish communities have provided $73 million to aid over 39,000 refugees—both Jewish and non-Jewish. 

You can help mitigate the tragic and traumatic losses experienced by our Jewish family in Ukraine, Russia, and neighboring countries. Continued humanitarian support is vital to rebuilding the Ukrainian Jewish community and ensuring safe passage for those seeking to resettle in Israel, Poland, the United States and elsewhere. 

Federation is accepting donations on behalf of Ukrainians who have been displaced and who are weathering the unrest in their country. So far, donations to Federation have already helped over 12,900 Jews evacuate a war zone. As winter bears down on Eastern Europe, your generosity can mean the difference between life and death.  

As one Ukrainian volunteer remarked, “It is a Jewish value to help others; please don’t stop. We cannot get tired.” 

 ”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. 

Second Round of Gap Year Scholarships are Sending Teens to Israel

By COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

JumpSpark’s Atlanta Israel Gap Year Scholarship is helping to build a bridge between Atlanta and Israel. Last year, thanks to the generosity of Federation’s community, 25 Atlanta teens were able to live abroad in Israel for a year. The second cohort is about to embark on this incredible expedition, and this year, there are 28 of them.

The young adults who embark on this journey are recent high school graduates. They each receive a $10,000 grant provided by JumpSpark and the Zalik Foundation Fund. Students who commit to working for a partner organization in the summer after they complete this program receive an additional $5,000 service subsidy.

Many students in this program will continue their studies in Israel—they may take classes at Hebrew University in Jerusalem or elsewhere. This is an incredible opportunity to learn and explore the world before college. The Atlanta Israel Gap Year Scholarships allow young adults to experience an entirely new way of life and have experiences they would never get at home.

Our year one cohort returned to Atlanta in May. Here’s what two of our participants had to say about their experience:

“I am forever indebted to my gap year experience. I did not realize how much a break before entering my college/adult life would be beneficial. I am so much more confident in what I want to study and in myself. My Jewish identity has never been stronger, and I don’t have a question on whether or not I will keep those practices in my life.”

“As a Jew, my gap year provided me all the resources needed to explore different levels of observance while educating me on Israel’s history. This combination gave me a basis to find how I will choose to live my life as a Jew in America and on a college campus.”

This grant is the first of its kind. We are thrilled that so far, we have been able to support 53 teens in this program, and our number of interested teens continue to grow each year.

If you want to learn more about the Atlanta Israel Gap Year Scholarship, contact Susie Mackler at smackler@jewishatlanta.org.

Hillel International Student Cabinet Spotlight

By GLOBAL JEWRY

The Hillel International Student Cabinet is a selective leadership opportunity for current undergraduate students. The cabinet serves as a vehicle to connect the global Jewish student community and as an advisory council to Hillel International’s leadership in its efforts to engage Jewish college students worldwide.

This year, Avery Adelman, a rising Junior at Emory studying cultural anthropology and Chinese studies, was one of 17 students from all over the world selected to help guide the International Hillel movement. “It is a great honor to have been selected and for the chance to represent Emory Hillel on this international committee representing over 850 global campuses,” explains Avery. “It is extra exciting to be representing the whole of Hillels of Georgia and making sure there is a southerner’s voice in the room!”

Avery is an experienced leader who last year chaired Emory Hillel’s Keshet Council, a Hillel student club advocating for and creating a safe space for Jewish LGBTQ+ students at Emory. Through her role on the Hillel International Student Cabinet, she not only intends to represent the voices of southern and Georgian Jews but to bolster Hillel’s efforts to fight antisemitism on college campuses.

Avery embodies Hillel’s vision of inspiring the next generation of Jewish leaders. The Georgia and Atlanta community are so proud to have one of our own students representing the interests of our community on an international scale. Kol Kavod, Avery!

Ana Sazanov is Leading Relief Efforts for Ukrainians

By COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY

Ana Sazonov is the Executive Director of the Columbia Jewish Federation in South Carolina and one of the Southeast’s most prominent voices on the humanitarian crisis facing Ukrainians. This issue is deeply personal to her: Ana is Ukrainian herself.

As a young girl in Ukraine, Ana didn’t know that she had Jewish heritage—her father had kept his identity a secret in the oppressive USSR. Their family lived only 90 miles from the Chernobyl disaster site, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, Ana’s parents felt they were no longer safe. When they heard a radio ad from the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) about making Aliyah to Israel, they knew they had to take the opportunity. At 6 years old, Ana left Ukraine to begin life as an openly Jewish girl in Israel.

Ana began her journey in the nonprofit Jewish world working for Emory Hillel. She went on to earn a master’s degree in Jewish Professional Leadership and a master’s in Nonprofit Management at the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program and The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. In 2021, she became the Executive Director of the Columbia Jewish Federation. “I felt a call to lead, as a triple-outsider: a young, female, foreigner,” she says.

When the war in Ukraine began this spring, Ana’s resolve and leadership were immediately put to the test. She and her parents planned to meet in Israel in early April for Passover—a week before Russia invaded. Her parents had only brought small suitcases with them, but they found themselves stuck, unable to return home. It would have been easy to feel paralyzed, but Ana leaped into action instead.

She changed her travel plans, and instead of going to Israel, she traveled to the Ukraine/Poland border and spent two weeks volunteering with refugees. While there, she met many Jewish and non-Jewish people whose lives would never be the same. She remembered what it felt like to flee her home at 6 years old.

“I think my story is one of going from hiding to providing,” she says. But she is adamant that you don’t have to give much to give back. “You don’t need to be rich to make a difference; my family was changed forever because of a radio ad.” She thinks of that ad often, mainly because JAFI is one of Federation’s partner organizations.

“The money we allocate impacts people on so many different levels. I’m a living example of someone who benefitted from the Federation system and now can give back to it.”

Supporting Federation means supporting people in need worldwide, and Ana wants people to understand how meaningful their time and donations are to those who are struggling. “People need to keep Ukrainians in their hearts, their minds, and their actions. That’s how we make a difference.”

Ana Sazonov is the featured speaker at the Women’s Philanthropy Fall Event on October 26, 2022. To learn more about the event, click here.

To support Federation’s mission, please click here.

To give to Federation’s Ukrainian Relief Fund, click here.

An Update on Recent Hostilities in Gaza

By GLOBAL JEWRY

We are grateful a cease-fire agreement was reached following a weekend of fighting in Gaza. This was the worst flare-up of violence in over a year and, unfortunately, led to attacks by both sides on Tisha B’Av. We stand with our brethren in Israel and are proud to support groups that keep people safe when hostilities arise.  

Federation’s Partners Fund contributes to organizations like The Jewish Agency For Israel, which helped to evacuate 1,000 recent immigrants who were in an area receiving heavy fire over the weekend. They also helped to maintain care for 4,000 seniors in Amigour nursing homes, and in the coming weeks, they will provide social and psychological assistance to the 2,000 Masa participants currently living in Israel.  

The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta will continue to monitor the situation and keep our community updated. Our hearts are with those affected by the fighting, and we pray for peace.