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COMMUNITY

Jared Jay has something to say

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, People in Need

Jared Jay is a nonverbal young man with autism, but his message is loud and clear when he uses his letter board. We asked Jared to share his thoughts for our Atlanta community during Jewish Disability, Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion month (JDAIM).

I am autistic. I am non-speaking but not non-thinking. I communicate by spelling on a letterboard. I am silent, but I am also not.

Belief is my family cornerstone. We are Jewish and I like Judaism because it gives me hope I can survive my challenges. A Jew is a survivor and we fight in the face of fear. Facing fear is what we do. Can I tell you why? In our past others have tried to silence us but they never prevail. History has tried to erase us but we are chosen to show the world how truth in the face of darkness always shines as a light. For me, my darkness is my silence and the way society acts about my disability. But my truth, my light, are my words. Sit in my silence and hear me speak.

In today’s world, people are afraid to silence their minds and because of that, fear overpowers them when they have an encounter with a silent person. As a silent Jew, I am here to illuminate a new way of being, seeing and living.

Respect. That’s my innermost wish for the world. I am feeling that with respect the world would care more about minorities. I hope that life will become more inclusive for others like me and not like me. I grieve for those who will stay silent without ever having the opportunity to express themselves. I am hopeful for the families who saw for the first time that the doctors who said we are not connected were dangerously wrong.

I am proud that I am one of the revolutionaries.

Gap Year in Israel: An Incredible Option for Pre College Students

By CARING, COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

What if your high school student didn’t go to college right after high school? Taking a year-long break, or “gap year” in Israel between high school and college is growing in popularity for pre-college Jewish teens. And what if your student even got a scholarship to go?!

Now JumpSpark, in partnership with The Zalik Foundation, has received funding to award 30 lucky students with a $10,000 – $15,000 scholarship that supports an in-person gap year in Israel. At a time when for many, the college experience is a virtual one, The Atlanta Israel Gap Year Scholarship guarantees actual experiences!  

When students take a gap year in Israel they live and interact with their peers. It’s an international communal living and growth experience that instills independence, maturityand opportunities to travel and serve, while building life-long connections to lsrael. There are many exciting gap year options to choose from, so read on to learn about the Israel program that’s right for your student!

JumpSpark’s new Atlanta Israel Gap Year Scholarship provides generous support for ten pre-approved and diverse gap year programs. Explore the desert, volunteer on a kibbutz, visit high-tech startups, engage in meaningful social action, and connect with thousands of years of Jewish life in Israel.   

Join us for a series of information sessions on each of the gap year programs eligible for the Atlanta Israel Gap Year Scholarship. The diverse participating gap year programs span a range of focus areas, cities, and religious affiliations. There’s an Israel gap year experience for everyone and we can help you identify the one that’s right for you. 

To help in this process, JumpSpark will have a day dedicated to learning about each program, meeting the staff, and hearing from current and past teen and parent participants. See the dates below and learn more about which program might be a good fit. Find scholarship applications here.  

Upcoming Atlanta Israel Gap Year Information Sessions:
 

FEB. 17, 2021 | Bina Gap Year › 

FEB. 21, 2021 | Aardvark › 

FEB. 23, 2021 | Masa Israel Journey: Why Choose a Gap Year › 

FEB. 24, 2021 | Nativ › 

FEB. 28, 2021 | Young Judaea Year Course › 

MAR. 3, 2021 |Shinshinim IL › 

Jewish Camps Ready to Support Camper Mental Health

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Camp Initiative

Jewish Camps Ready to Support Camper Mental Health
by Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez, Jewish Camp Initiative Manager

The coming summer is a critical moment for addressing child and adolescent mental health. After nearly a year of living with uncertainty, fear, and separation, many kids are exhibiting signs of anxiety and depression. The safe return to summer camp for 2021 requires planning not only for physical health and safety, but also for campers’ mental health. While kids can’t wait to reconnect in person, without screens, we also know that the pandemic has had a deep impact on their mental health.

Camps across the country are prioritizing having trained mental health providers on their campuses this summer to support the as yet unknown needs of campers. “We are experiencing a world-wide shared trauma experience,” Jill Goldstein Smith, Senior Program Manager at Foundation for Jewish Camp reminds us. “Camp provides a bubble of sorts, but it is also a safe space to be vulnerable – which is where the growth happens.”

Professionals at our Jewish camps, both day and overnight, know how much kids need and want to be back at camp with their peers, and are ready to meet them where they are. Yet in order to do so, they need partnership and input from parents. Danielle Steinhart, LCSW, Director of Camper Care at URJ Camp Coleman says, “When parents provide complete information about their child, it helps us do our job better. Parents know their child’s strengths and challenges better than we do when they initially arrive at camp. Camp staff can set them up for their greatest success when we have this insight. This partnership is critical for each child’s positive camp experience.”

Jewish Community’s 2021 Legislative Priorities

By COMMUNITY

Did you know that Federation champions Jewish community needs in the Georgia State Legislature? Working with our partners, we coordinate the community’s government relations and lobbying activities. Rusty Paul, our legislative advocate, helps advance our agenda in the legislature. Federation also monitors Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) public policy efforts and participates in multiple forums at the Federal level including representation on the Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) Disability and Health and Long-term Care Committees, as well as participation in Jewish Ability Advocacy Day in Washington DC.

Read on to learn about Jewish Community priority issues for the 2021 Legislative Session.

Bold indicates new priority for 2021

  1. PRIORITY ISSUES
  • Medicaid reimbursement rates for the William Bremen Home based on current year cost reports (ongoing, but reimbursement rates were updated in 2014).
  • Medicaid preservation and expansion. Increase the number of Georgians with access to health insurance and healthcare.
  • Protect Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and create a Georgia work credit.
  • Create uniform start and stop dates for public schools across counties since truncated summer schedules are negatively affecting camp enrollment and ability to hire staff. This will help camps have certainty about the summer vacation window available to them.
  • Focus on adding resources for Federation affiliate agencies to fulfill their mission.
  • Legislation pertaining to protection against hate crimes and religious liberty – strengthen existing GA code to include International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, reference anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
  • Protect “Money Follows the Person” with disabilities allowing for options for community-based services and alternatives to institutional settings
  • Support Gracie’s Law which advocates to end organ transplant discrimination against people with disabilities.
  1. COALITION ISSUES
  • Rewrite language of Paycheck Protection Program reimbursement form to be relevant and appropriate for nonprofit organizations.

Aging and Disabilities

  • Support Unlock the Waiting List agenda including increases in “slots” (people) to be served under Medicaid waivers (intellectual/developmental disabilities, independent care for people with physical disabilities), expansion of Grant in Aid Family Support Services and update the multiple-year funding plan for waiver slots as well as non-Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services, and Community Care Services Program.
  • Increase funding for “Exceptional Rate” waivers and improve utilization approval process for those with needs beyond what waivers typically pay, and/or monitor changes to waiver rates (such as tiered rates, per capita rates, and block grants) and advocate for maximum benefits to clients and providers.
  • Increase in developmental disability service provider reimbursement for day services and supported employment.
  • Urge the state to use discretionary capacity to continue the availability of Medicaid retainer payments and to extend Medicaid’s time-limited, emergency response waivers for home- and community-based services (HCBS), known as 1915(c) Appendix K waivers, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. See whatever latitude the State has to allow providers of disability community and home-based services to receive the same level of funding as the pre-COVID amounts. Virtual programming equivalence can be used as the basis for this flexibility.
  • Increase in nursing home provider reimbursement.
  • Support legislation allowing children who have IEP in Pre-K to move to private school for kindergarten.
  • Work to strengthen workforce development solutions for the critical shortage of qualified direct support professionals.
  • Address the burden of multiplicative regulatory oversight of intellectual/developmental disability (I/DD) supports, and Georgia’s years-long waiting list for I/DD support funding.

 III. ISSUES TO BE MONITORED

Aging and Disabilities

  • Support assisted living level of long-term care and better enforcement of regulations, reporting of abuse, access to information regarding violations, and other quality indicators at assisted living facilities.
  • Protect legislation pertaining to establishing interstate partnerships for special needs trusts (Able Accounts).
  • Affordable housing and home repair for older adults.

Children and Families

  • Find ways to increase access to mental health services for children and youth.
  • Monitor ALEF educational tax credit funding for challenges to current funding structure.
  • Changes in early childhood service delivery such as teacher qualifications, staff to child ratio, and health regulations and changes in camping regulations.
  • Year around schooling/later start of school year.

Physically Apart, But Not Alone

By CARING, COMMUNITY

On March 13, 2020, JF&CS’s IndependenceWORKS Day Program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities made the decision to close its doors “until further notice” for the safety of our clients and staff.

Later that week, I remember having a conversation with my supervisor. In a very serious tone, she explained there was a real possibility that we might not reopen until a vaccine became viable. At this point in time no one was really talking about a vaccine, and many still looked at the virus as just a cousin of the flu. I still figured we would be back up and running prior to a vaccine. Oh boy, was I wrong.

Almost a year later, IndependenceWORKS is not open, but it is not accurate to say we are closed either. In our words, we are virtual. Our program operates during our typical hours and offers many of the same activities that we previously offered. The only glaring difference is that our clients are on Zoom signing in from the safety of their homes. Each morning our team of wonderful Direct Support Professionals (DSP) begin their day calling various program participants just to check in and say hello. Next up, everyone signs into Zoom for the first activity of the day. We are all greeted with laughter and smiles.

Isolation and separation are draining states we’ve all encountered during the pandemic. But they are far too familiar to many with intellectual and developmental disabilities, who have frequently been overlooked and excluded, even in pre-pandemic times.

You can actually feel the warm glow of friendship and camaraderie radiating through the screen. Throughout the day you will see activities like virtual field trips, history lessons, group discussions, exercise, and even dance parties. We’ve also been able to engage with the community through the utilization of volunteers. On Tuesdays, a local actor logs on to lead us in our Story Jam hour, and twice a month we see a fabulous volunteer group called the Artist Collective who leads our art lessons.

I’m sure you’ve caught on by now that my job is a lot of fun. I supervise an incredibly creative team of DSPs who could not have done a better job of pivoting on the fly as our programming switched from in-person to virtual. This team makes mundane subjects, like safety lessons or hygiene, something truly enjoyable for our clients. While we may seem like a group of professional goofballs when we get ultra-competitive during online Bingo or when we strut our stuff for a virtual fashion show, there is a deeper and more serious reason for our virtual programing— we’re focused on combatting those two scary words, isolation and separation.

Inclusion is always on the forefront of disability advocates’ minds. How do we ensure that the voices of people with disabilities voices are heard? How do we ensure that people with disabilities are a part of their community? How do we ensure they know that they are not alone? These are all questions that we constantly asked ourselves before the pandemic. Now this aspect of quarantine has added an even larger obstacle to the topic of inclusion. With our clients unable to attend our program, the virtual activities we offer are not just fun, they are necessary to prevent many from feeling isolated and cut off from the world they previously knew.

Many other programs similar to IndependenceWORKS made the pivot to virtual programming over the last year. To all of them, I say “kudos!” Inclusive programming is something we should continuously strive for, pandemic or not. I’m proud to be aligned with many other fantastic programs that continue to pivot together and ensure that no one in our community has to the do this alone.

Nomination Form for the Federation Board of Trustees

By COMMUNITY

Thank you for your suggestions to identify Trustees to serve on the Board of Trustees for Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.  Self-nominations are welcome, but please note that all other nominations are confidential, and those being nominated should not be notified. Notification will occur after the selection process. Nominations are due by February 22.

Atlanta’s Sober Spiritual Community

By CARING, COMMUNITY, NextGen

Food and booze are omnipresent in Jewish life, marking most holidays and every Shabbat. How should we, along with Jews in recovery, and their loved ones, approach the ubiquity of alcohol, even when it is part of sanctifying our observances? And with Purim coming, how can we make a holiday where getting drunk is actually encouraged, a safe and holy experience for everyone?

“We definitely need more healthy places for Jews and other people in recovery,” says Marc Pimsler, a founder of Sober Shabbat events in Atlanta. His pivotal moment of commitment to recovery happened in 2004 at Congregation Kol Emeth during the high holy days. Today, with a decade of sobriety under his belt, Marc knows how precarious the road to recovery can be.  “I think a lot about the challenges of leading a sober Jewish life. Purim is the holiday that exemplifies the addict’s dilemma. It’s all about hiding, putting on a show. My substance abuse was a kind of pageantry, finding a way to numb myself, take away the pain by creating a disguise. Like Esther, I was hiding my authentic self.”

Rabbi Malka Packer-Monroe, Director of InterfaithFamily Atlanta,­ and Mandy Wright, Program Manager of JF&CS’s HAMSA program (Helping Atlantans Manage Substance Abuse), have been partnering to create sober spiritual options. Rabbi Packer-Monroe speaks to the special challenges of Purim: “According to Jewish law, those who identify as Jewish are supposed to become so inebriated on Purim that they don’t know the difference between Mordechai and Haman. There is a teaching that we are to get so drunk that we experience everything as G-d. Good and evil are both part of G-d’s world and we should experience them as one.”

“The irony is that for people in recovery from addiction, it is drinking and drugging and using other substances that blocks them from their connection to a Higher Power. Using substances was their way to check out and not be present with the “Mystery.” One way to the Source of Life for many people is through quiet meditation and spiritual community.  We’re creating places for Jews and their loved ones to celebrate in spaces where there is no alcohol. We would like to support Jewish organizations and institutions who are hosting Sober Purim experiences for adults.”

Taking their lead from InterfaithFamily and HAMSA, more and more organizations in Jewish Atlanta are adjusting their practices. This year’s Purim Off Ponce event will not be fully dry, but there will be a signature non-alcoholic drink served, crafted by a mixologist who caters to sober events.  Other Jewish events are featuring “mocktails” and other alcohol-free options. There have been national Birthright Israel trips for people in recovery. It’s also possible to host a virtual sober shabbat through OneTable Atlanta and OneTable offers a guide to creating a OneTable sober Shabbat.

HAMSA’s Mandy Wright says, “We want to push our community to shift the culture around drinking by offering fun, appealing, non-alcoholic alternatives either in place of, or in conjunction with, the traditional alcoholic offerings at fundraisers, celebrations, and more.”

“And remember, the word ‘sober’ doesn’t just refer to alcohol. Sobriety is for all people in recovery, whether from trauma, abuse, mental illness, or substance abuse. For years I thanked G-d for alcohol and drugs. They saved me from killing myself. But now, I’m married and in the first healthy relationship of my life. My husband Ashley is a Christian whose depth of spirit is amazing. He re-inspires me every day to cherish Judaism and stay on a healthy path.” says Marc Pimsler.

2021 MLK Weekend of Jewish Service and Learning

By CARING, COMMUNITY

Despite the pandemic, the 2021 MLK Weekend of Jewish Service and Learning, planned and organized by Repair the World Atlanta, had a terrific turnout, exceeding all expectations. Our community accomplished so much together! See our impact!

Lily Brent, Executive Director of Repair the World Atlanta, said, “You joined us in reimagining service in the context of a global pandemic by volunteering and learning from the comfort of your home or masked-up from six feet away. All of us at Repair the World Atlanta are so gratified to see the engagement from the community. We are so grateful to the partners and committee members who shared their knowledge and experience to make this possible.”

Repair’s first annual Jewish Racial Justice Learn-In was also successful, engaging 201 participants across all the events. You can find all three Learn-In program recordings here and copies of the presentations here.

JAA Helps Change Attitudes

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance

In the Talmud, Eruvin 54b, states, “Rabbi Perida had a certain student whom he would have to teach four hundred times, and only then would he learn the material, as he was incapable of understanding it otherwise.” One day this student was particularly distracted, and Rabbi Perida said, “Pay attention this time and I will teach you and know that I will not leave until you have fully mastered the lesson.” He taught him again an additional four hundred times. 

Even in the times of the Talmud, meeting the needs of individuals with diverse abilities was not a new idea. But what Rabbi Perida did for his students was newRabbi Perida prioritized relationship-building. He was trying to learn his students’ learning styles to better understand what impacted their learning. Although this piece of Talmud does not explain what this student’s learning style was, it demonstrates that Rabbi Perida took the time and energy to create a norm of patience with this student’s learning. 

Much like Rabbi Perida, Jewish educators have the daunting role of determining what may be impacting each student’s learning — whether physical, social-emotional, or other. Now, with the unprecedented impacts of a pandemic and virtual engagement, it is more important than ever for educators to understand the intricacies of each student’s learning. 

According to a 2015 national survey about inclusion challenges and solutions conducted by Erin Barton and Barbara Smith, an educator’s attitude is often one the greatest roadblocks to creating an inclusive culture and space. One of the most impactful strategies of overcoming attitudinal barriers is through continuing education and training.  

The Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) provides exactly this: training in disability sensitivity and awareness, educational support and resources, and assistance in developing strategies to support students of all abilities. These trainings are available to all Atlanta Jewish organizations at no cost and are appropriate for all ages. This year JAA is continuing to grow our community trainings by adapting curriculum to reflect our new virtual learning reality. We are able to offer Bright from the Start certified trainings, which allow preschool teachers to receive state-required continuing education credits. And we have provided trainings to larger, more diverse audiences in Jewish Atlanta than ever before. 

I am so proud to be part of a community that, even during a pandemic, understands the importance of inclusive teaching and seeks to create a more inclusive Jewish Atlanta.   

If your synagogue, school, or Jewish organization would like to learn more about our sensitivity and awareness trainings, educational resources, or support in inclusive best practices, please contact Lisa Houben, Community Training and Inclusion Coordinator. 

Frances Bunzl Family Trust Gifts $5.6MM to Atlanta Jewish Community 

By Atlanta Jewish Foundation, CARING, COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, LIFE & LEGACY, People in Need, PHILANTHROPY

In 1939, shortly after Kristallnacht, 19-year-old Frances Bertha Hamburger escaped Germany and eventually made it to Atlanta. The Jewish community here helped her connect with other European Jewish immigrants. A few years later, she met Walter Bunzl and three months later they were married. The family never forgot the support of the Atlanta Jewish community and now, the Frances Bunzl Family Trust will disburse an approximately $5.6MM gift in equal shares to Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta (JF&CS). It is the largest endowed gift in both Federation and JF&CS’s history. 

“Frances was a visionary and a pioneer in communal service. Her personal experience as a lay leader inspired her desire to make a lasting imprint on our community,” noted Beth A. Warner, Federation’s Chief Philanthropy Officer. “This gift was many years in the making. Federation professionals and communal leaders met with Frances to discuss community priorities and goals to help her create a legacy that reflected her life-long philanthropic passions,” she explained.   

At Federation, the endowed funds will be directed for three initiatives. This includes funding the lead fundraising professional for the organization – the Frances Bunzl Chief Philanthropy Officer – the first time a Federation position has been endowed; the creation of the Frances and Walter Bunzl Perpetual Annual Campaign Endowment (PACE), which will ensure a major gift to Federation’s annual community campaign in perpetuity; and funding the Frances Bunzl NextGen initiative to support Jewish journeys for the next generation of Jewish community leaders. “It is also our hope that this endowment will inspire others to consider gifts of this magnitude and impact,” said Warner.

Generosity has always been a core value for the Bunzl family.   

“Throughout her life, my mother spoke of growing up in a family (both in Germany and here in Atlanta) that was focused on helping others,” said Suzy Wilner. “We believe her gifts to Federation and JF&CS will continue that legacy.” 

Jeff Alperin, Chair of the JF&CS Board commented, “This gift increases the JF&CS Foundation by 50%. This will have a direct impact on the agency’s ability to serve the needs of the Atlanta community. We are honored to receive this gift and will make sure these dollars are used to deliver the greatest impact.” 

At JF&CS, the generosity of Frances Bunzl will live on in perpetuity through its continued support of the nonsectarian agency’s operations. In honor of this generous gift, JF&CS will name its Clinical Service practice, ‘The Frances Bunzl Clinical Services.’ This service area provides mental health support for people of all ages and from all walks of life, offering both individual and group therapies across a broad spectrum of issues. “Naming this practice for the late Frances Bunzl honors the tremendous impact her gift will have on the health and well-being of our community,” said Chief Development Officer, Amanda La Kier.  

JF&CS CEO, Terri Bonoff said, “The challenges of the past year underscore the importance of planning for the unknown and ensuring vibrant Jewish life for generations to come. Choosing to spotlight the importance of mental health support by naming this service area in Frances Bunzl’s honor reflects the deep commitment JF&CS has to providing best-in-class support for the health and well-being of this community. Legacy gifts such as this one support Jewish Atlanta long into the future.” 

“This gift is indicative of the generosity we hope to inspire as part of our LIFE & LEGACY initiative, in which participating organizations embark on a legacy building program benefiting the entire Jewish community,” said Federation President and CEO, Eric Robbins. 

In the first two years of this four-year program, more than 270 local donors have made legacy commitments which will support Atlanta’s Jewish community with more than $23.3 million in future gifts. Worldwide, the LIFE & LEGACY program has motivated more than 17,000 donors in 63 communities across North America to commit more than a billion dollars in current as well as after-lifetime assets to the Jewish organizations which shaped their lives. For those interested in creating a legacy for the Jewish community, contact the Atlanta Jewish Foundation at foundation@jewishatlanta.org or www.atlantajewishfoundation.org. 

Photo courtesy of the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum.