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Words of Reflection from an Atlanta Shinshin

By Global News, Shinshinim Atlanta

In August of this year, Greater Atlanta welcomed eight Israeli emissaries to our community thanks to the Schoenbaum Shinshinim program. Shinshinim are 18-year old high school graduates from all over Israel who complete a year of service in Jewish Atlanta, fostering connection to Israel for community members of all ages.

Here is a reflection from one of our Shinshinim, Matan, age 18:

Fri night [October 6, 2023] at 11:30 pm began the worst night of my life. I was awoken by messages of alarms being sounded in Israel. As I turned to my phone, I began to see videos of terrorists inside Israel. I was living my worst nightmare, worried about my family, my country, my friends. 

My immediate feeling was that I wanted to go home. I wanted to join my countrymen and women on the frontlines and defend Israel. But as the hours and days passed, I began to recognize the important job I was doing here in Atlanta. As a Shinshin, I am here to represent Israel. I can combat fake news. I can answer questions. I can share my love of Israel with the children in my school and so many others. And each and every day since the war broke out, I have gotten to do that.

At the Solidarity Gathering the other night, I couldn’t believe the outpouring of support for Israel. To know that I am living in a community where so many people care so deeply, means a lot to me.

Yesterday I learned that I lost a dear friend. My heart is heavy. I am devastated over the loss. And though a part of me wishes I was in Israel hugging my family and standing beside the brave men and women fighting for our country, I know that I have an important job to do right here in Atlanta and I am honored to do it.

Matan Moshe

Federation shared our support for the suspension of Judicial Overhaul Legislation in Israel

By Global News

In response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he would delay a vote on judicial reforms in order to seek compromise, the Jewish Federations of North America released the following statement alongside the Conference of Presidents, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Committee.

“We welcome the Israeli government’s suspension of legislative consideration of judicial reform measures.

“The last three months have been painful to watch and yet a textbook case of democracy in action. We respect the political leaders, business executives, community activists, cultural figures, and ordinary Israelis who took to the streets, exercising their love of country, and their passion for democracy.

“As a next step, we encourage all Knesset factions, coalition and opposition alike, to use this time to build a consensus that includes the broad support of Israeli civil society.

“Israel’s political leaders must insist on a more respectful tone and debate. A hallmark of democracy is public consensus and mutual consideration.

“The Conference of Presidents, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the Jewish Federations of North America will continue to confer with Israel’s governmental and civic leaders to ensure that the views of American Jewry are represented in the discussion. We are confident the resilience of Israeli democracy will successfully overcome the tremendous challenges it faces.”

Celebrating and Educating about Israel

By Global News

Many of us have been watching the news from Israel over the past few weeks as the debate on the judicial reforms proposed by the current government spills over into public life. While Federation does not take positions regarding internal Israeli policies unless they are issues that have a direct impact on Diaspora Jewry, we do want to offer opportunities for our community to better understand what is taking place and provide relevant context. Here are 3 such opportunities: 

  • Watch A Presentation
    On February 22, Rich Walter, Federation’s Chief of Programs and Grantmaking, and Dr. Eli Sperling, Israel Institute Teaching Fellow at the University of Georgia, delivered a presentation for those who will be participating in the upcoming Community Journey to Israel. In the presentation, Rich offers some historical context into Israel’s founding and highlights how Federation’s investments in Israel strengthen peoplehood. Following Rich’s remarks, Dr. Sperling provides broader context about Israeli demography and how it influences Israeli politics and public opinion. You can click here to view that 35-minute presentation.

  • Join a Virtual Program
    Our friends at the Cleveland Jewish Federation have invited our community to join them for an important virtual program on Understanding Judicial Reform in Israel, presented in partnership with the Israel Democracy Institute at the Center for Democratic Values and Institutions, which is supported by our Federation.As Israel undergoes many changes in its government, we hope you’ll join us online for a timely webinar moderated by Judge Dan A. Polster, with Dr. Amir Fuchs, senior researcher the Israel Democracy Institute at the Center for Democratic Values and Institutions. Register here.
  • Celebrate What Israel Means to You
    If you’re looking for a way to celebrate Israel here at home, applications are open for the next round of Gather Grants. Gather Grants are an initiative of Federation’s Making Jewish Places, Next Gen, and PJ Library Atlanta that gives community members $180 microgrants in order to hold community events around a holiday or initiative. This cycle of Gather Grants is themed around celebrating Israel’s 75th birthday, which falls on May 14. You can choose any way you’d like to honor the Land of Milk and Honey—host a potluck featuring Israeli foods like falafel, shakshuka, or Bamba; invite people over for a backyard jam session and sing Israeli songs you or your friends learned at summer camp; or take a Saturday Shabbat hike and reflect on the similarities and differences between Georgia and Israel’s environment.  

Applications will be accepted until March 31, and selected programs should take place between April 15 and May 15. Click here to learn more and submit your proposal! 

How Federation Supports Ethiopian Jews

By CARING, Global News, People in Need

During Black History Month, we celebrate and commemorate the history of the African diaspora. In the United States, we often think of this month through the lens of African Americans, but it’s important to recognize much of Black History does not involve the U.S. Indeed, there are Black Jews all over the world, and their history is our history. One of the largest and most well-known Black Jewish communities is from Ethiopia, and Federation supports initiatives that help Ethiopian Jews and amplify their stories.  

The Beta Israel of Ethiopia are one of the oldest Jewish diaspora communities, in existence for over 1500  years. Across the centuries, this community has weathered poverty, persecution, war, and the threat of conversion. Many Ethiopian Jewish people have made Aliyah and now reside in Israel, having managed to escape the turmoil in their country of birth. But once in Israel, it can be difficult to assimilate.  

Since the current war in Ethiopia began in 2020, a new wave of olim have come to live in Israel. The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) is one of Federation’s biggest partners, and they work closely with olim before they even leave Ethiopia. JAFI provides security on the ground in Ethiopia, pre-Aliyah medical and administrational preparation, and nutritional support programs in Addis Ababa and Gondar. Once in Israel, olim move into one of 15 absorption centers that cater to the cultural needs of Ethiopian immigrants and continue to receive Jewish Agency housing while they complete their absorption process. At JAFI centers, they receive comprehensive support services, Hebrew lessons, after-school academic enrichment for the children, opportunities for vocational training, and much more. 

Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta also works with our partner region in Israel, Yokneam-Meggido, on programs to help Ethiopian immigrants settle into their new communities once they leave JAFI housing. Funds from Federation go to initiatives to boost educational achievements among students, increase parent engagement in children’s schooling, connect children and teenagers to Community Center classes and youth movements, improve the quality of life for Amharic-speaking residents by closing language and cultural gaps, and detect developmental delays in young children, and much more.  

Here in Atlanta, Federation is proud to fund the work of the Atlanta Jews of Color Council (AJOCC) through our Innovation initiative. AJOCC aims to use the arts to drive belonging for Jews of Color in Atlanta. This year, AJOCC is hosting Jewish Ethiopian actors, producers, and filmmakers who are teaching and exhibiting their work in Atlanta. Shai Ferdo, an actor and filmmaker, is the star of Exodus 91, the film sponsored by Federation in this year’s Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. He is teaching as an adjunct at Clark Atlanta University this semester, and since arriving in Atlanta, he has spoken on a panel with the American Jewish Committee and given a talk at the Weber School about his experience as an Ethiopian Jew in Israel. Many Ethiopians who immigrate to Israel experience anti-Black discrimination, and he has spoken candidly about the need for Jews of Color to be recognized as fully Jewish in predominantly white-passing communities. AJOCC is sponsoring his stay in Atlanta, as well as other artists.  

Black Jewish History is integral to the history of Judaism across the world; we cannot speak of Jewish history without speaking of the diversity within our global community. 

Atlanta Israel Gap Year Fellowship Registration is Open!

By Global News, 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 News

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 News, 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 News

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 News

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 Atlanta Jewish Community, Global News, 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. 

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