Category

COMMUNITY

A New Way to Invest in Yokneam

By COMMUNITY, Federation Innovation, GLOBAL JEWRY, INNOVATION

Growing Opportunity for Israeli Teens at Risk
For teenagers at-risk who live in our Partnership cities of Yokneam and Megiddo, the world of high tech is literally at their doorstep, and yet without the right job skills, it can feel inaccessible. Yokneam’s High Tech Park is Israel’s fastest growing startup ecosystem, home to more than 140 tech firms. Now, through a series of innovative partnerships, Federation is providing tech training opportunities for at-risk students, many of whom are Ethiopian. We are determined to make investments in skill-building, mentorship and entrepreneurial skills that can lift them out of poverty and into tech jobs that will change the course of their lives.

Ofir Dubovi, founder and CEO of Open Valley, and a dynamic driver of high tech in the region, is one of our partners in this work. “The world knows Israel as startup nation, but 93% of all startups are based in a 20 kilometer area centered in Tel Aviv,” Ofir says. “I want to extend those borders by focusing on the north of Israel. We’re creating Academies of Innovation that make technology accessible to youth. We work with NGO’s, the IDF, High Schools and the Ministry of Education to train and to teach entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship outside of Tel Aviv.”

Yokneam was founded in 1950, but in 1989 a new mayor, Simon Alfassi, was elected, and the economic structure of Yokneam changed from a centralized dependence on two large factories to a dispersed base of small high-tech companies. As the number and size of the companies grew, Yokneam and the small communities around it began to attract young entrepreneurs and developers who were looking for a less urban alternative to the Tel Aviv area. It now has over 160 high-tech companies and exports of approximately 6 billion US dollars annually.

Craig Kornblum, who chairs Federation’s Global Jewish Peoplehood Committee, has visited the region many times over many years and understands these changes. He sees the possibilities of a tech education partnership and has become a champion for the initiative.  “Over the last 25 years Federation supported this community in a traditional way, using a welfare model. Back then we could barely have imagined the growth of high tech in Israel, let alone in Yokneam. What an incredible opportunity it is to leverage existing tech assets and prepare disadvantaged teens to build a better future,” he said.

Eliad Ben Shushan, Yokneam and Megiddo Partnership Manger at the Jewish Agency, emphasizes the potential of the new initiative to connect teens from Atlanta to teens in Israel. “High tech and innovation is a common language shared by teens all around the world. We hope to bring teens to work together on mutual innovative projects, that will shorten the distance between the communities and mainly tell the modern story of Israel, the strong and innovative Israel!”

Leadership Lessons on Birthright

By Atlanta Birthright Community Trips, COMMUNITY, NextGen

Five years ago, Maddie Cook traveled to Israel with Birthright Israel Atlanta. Her encounter with Israel came full circle when she became a leader on our 2019 Summer Birthright trip. Curiosity about Israel drove Maddie to sign up for her first trip. Creating community was her motivation to lead one.

“Growing up Jewish, I often felt like an odd one out, but traveling to Israel and experiencing it with people like me was incredibly comforting. Experiencing Birthright with people like me from Atlanta created a built-in community I never realized I had.”

“There were several new activities on this past Atlanta Birthright trip that were not part of my original trip. Some favorite additions include rafting down the Jordan River and visiting Buza Ice-Cream Parlor, an Arab-Jewish collaboration in the Galilee Region. Not only does it represent a beautiful story and partnership, but the ice cream is delicious.”

“Our time in Yokneam, Atlanta’s Partnership city, was very memorable. On my first visit, we only were there for an evening event. This time, we played soccer with kids from one of the local schools. Soccer is truly the international sport and ultimate language barrier breaker. In no time, we were laughing and playing with the kids. This part of the trip was a favorite among the group.”

“Staffing an Atlanta Birthright trip was perhaps even more rewarding than my first visit. I had the chance to shape and guide others experiencing Israel and exploring their Jewish identities. The relationships that developed over our ten days in Israel have now come stateside, and that’s not always an easy thing to do. It brings a smile to my face seeing people from our trip make plans to socialize, do Shabbat dinners and work on the itineraries for the Israeli soldiers visiting Atlanta in the coming months.”

Tradition Kitchens

By COMMUNITY, Federation Innovation, INNOVATION, PHILANTHROPY

Julia Levy’s Tradition Kitchens’ Hands-on Learning Programs

At Hanukkah, when the latkes sizzle, Tradition Kitchens celebrates both the classics and the modern — the gluten free, Southern sweet potato with leek latkes and organic pepper jelly garnish from Ivy Rose Farm, a family venture with Jewish roots.

This is our first Hanukkah with Tradition Kitchens, our mother-daughter start-up transforming kitchens into classrooms to connect cultures, generations and neighborhoods. By empowering home chefs and restaurateurs to teach family recipes with history, we host pop-up affordable cooking classes around Atlanta, from intown to the suburbs.

When we think of food, we think of family. This year, we’ve been learning our Jewish Atlanta family’s favorite foods and the stories behind them — Noodle Kugel with Leslie Kalick Wolfe’s mother’s recipe, Challah with Sara Franco, Molly’s Mandel Bread with Michele Glazer Hirsh and Jennifer Glazer Malkin —to name just a few. And we’ve been welcomed into the Federation family as PROPEL Innovation grantees with a cohort, coach, ecosystem of Jewish organizations across the city, mentors, workshops with Zingerman’s Deli and so much more.

Along the way, we’ve discovered a treasure trove of Atlanta Jewish recipes — some scribbled down between friends and others recorded in beautiful cookbooks by The Breman Museum and Congregation Or Ve Shalom. We strive to elevate the foods that have thrived for generations and put Atlanta on the Jewish food map while also discovering the home chefs whose delicious dishes should be shared. Our goal is to create community through our gatherings and build upon it organically.

As you sit down for a Hanukkah holiday meal — whether it’s with family or friends — our winter wish is simply to ask about the story behind the food. And if you’re inspired by what you discover, as we have been, send the story our way and nominate the home cook to teach. We hope to sample old and new culinary traditions with you in 2020.

Empowering Ethopian Families

By CARING, COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY, People in Need

Empowering Yokneam’s Ethiopian Families
Young Ethiopian families in our Israel Partnership city of Yokneam are more successful than earlier immigrant generations, but many are still considered at-risk due to persistent illiteracy and underemployment. A new report on Federation’s investment in the Maof empowerment program demonstrates that positive mentoring and counseling interventions can change lives. Maof, which expresses “vision, courage and imagination” in Hebrew, provides heads of households with one-on-one counseling, mentorship on budget management, higher education and career development, and Hebrew language lessons, where needed. Federation’s Global Jewish Peoplehood committee reports these encouraging outcomes:

  • 8 families received consulting in monthly income management. Four of them have kept their accounts balanced. One family improved from constant debt to saving up to 2000 NIS a month.
  • 8 individuals improved their occupational status, finding better jobs with higher salaries. At least 4 more individuals are in the process of securing jobs such as technician, bookkeeper, bus driver, and more.
  • 20 individuals improved their educational status and launched new studies to earn academic degrees or professional courses.
  • 5 families received emotional therapy or domestic consulting. In 3 families there was a situation of domestic violence. Another woman had a fear of driving which kept her from being able to work. Due to the therapy, she overcame her fear, got a driving license and found a job.

During the 2018-2019 year, thirty families were served by the Family Center in Yokneam. The support services included identification of major needs, setting goals, and working to move individuals forward in their lives toward better employment and economic independence.

One-on-one mentorship really made the difference in this empowerment program. One participant said: “I was all the time occupied with worrying about my son. I could not afford buying him a computer or sending him to after school activities. Now that this is covered by the program, I am available to take care of myself. I am forever thankful for this support.”

Another commented, “She (the mentor) didn’t give up on me! She believed in me more than I have   believed in myself. She all the time urged me and pushed me to sign up. Now I am a student and I am still going to meetings with her to get the emotional support and encouragement. Sometimes just for good advice.”

What Does Secular Judaism Mean?

By Atlanta Birthright Community Trips, COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, NextGen

By: Robin Glaubman

Just six weeks ago I traveled to Israel for the first time with 38 strangers on Atlanta’s Birthright Israel summer trip. Quite honestly, I’d never been around so many Jews in my life! I grew up never going to synagogue, attending one Passover seder, one bar mitzvah, and the only Jewish holiday we ever celebrated was Hanukkah. Still, I have always strongly identified as Jewish. I’ve called myself a Heritage Jew, meaning that I was not a religious Jew. The concept of being a “secular” Jew wasn’t even part of my vocabulary. I didn’t realize before the trip that it was yet another way to be Jewish.

Our Birthright bus ranged from people who attended synagogue every week and spoke Hebrew, to myself and eight others who struggled through a phonetic pronunciation of the Torah blessings during our bar/bat mitzvah ceremonies in Jerusalem, and just about every shade of observance in between. When we arrived in Israel we were told to make the trip about ourselves. Not to be self-absorbed, but to make sure we were experiencing our own authentic Jewish journey.  It was good advice. I never felt like my opinion wasn’t valid or didn’t want to be heard. I never felt like any less of a Jew than anyone else on the trip.

One night I had a conversation with a fellow secular Jew that really stands out in my mind. We were debating what were the most important aspects of being Jewish. Raising Jewish families? Supporting Israel? Studying Torah? His ideas startled me. And his definition of what is a secular Jew challenged me deeply.

For many years growing up he’d attended a havurah, which I learned is not a synagogue, but a group of people who get together for Shabbat and holidays, usually without a rabbi. He spoke some Hebrew, and he had a bar mitzvah at age thirteen. This shocked me! How could you call yourself a secular Jew and be so involved, so connected to Judaism as a religion. His definition of secular vs. religious hinged on whether or not a person believes in G-d.  He also implied that he could not be considered ‘religious’ because he was not Orthodox. This too shocked me. Growing up he was surrounded by Orthodox Jews, so that was what religious Judaism looked like to him.

To me, he was one of the most Jewishly connected people I’d ever met. I may have been one of the least connected Jews he’d ever met. And yet here we were in Israel, on a trip for Jewish young adults, attempting to reconcile some very macro-level questions of what it means to be Jewish. These were big conversations for me. And they’re big conversations for all of us.

While each day of Birthright was filled with a whirlwind of hikes, history lessons, monuments, water activities and limitless information, this conversation remains my biggest takeaway. There are no bad Jews. There are no lesser Jews. We all do Judaism differently and we all do it right. By making the trip about my own Jewish journey, I found a place in Judaism that I could call my own.

Mental Health Responder Toolkit

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Federation Innovation, INNOVATION, People in Need, PHILANTHROPY

Imagine if more people re-thought mental illness as a quest for mental and spiritual wellness. Imagine if more people had the tools to understand, support, and overcome the shame, stigma and challenges of substance abuse. Now, with support from a Federation Innovation Propel grant, Atlanta-based Blue Dove Foundation is moving in exactly that direction, addressing issues of mental illness and substance abuse through a compassionate Jewish lens. Blue Dove works locally and beyond to educate, equip, and ignite our Jewish community with tools to understand mental illness and substance abuse and connect them with the right local resources, such as professionals from JFC&S. They are in the midst of creating a Mental Health Toolkit packed with resources and written by local rabbis and health professionals, to increase understanding and extend hands of healing.

Blue Dove’s Toolkit begins by articulating Jewish mental health values and defines the key issues that individuals and families struggle with. For example, the concept of b’tzelem elohim — to be created in the divine image — suggests that any conversation about mental wellness must begin with a foundation of dignity and respect. This can counter the shame of illness and the tendency to hide from conversations around mental health.

Or, refuah shleimah — healing and wholeness. Judaism recognizes that healing is not just physical; it is holistic. When we pray the misheberach for healing, we pray for refuat hanefesh v’refuat haguf, a healing of spirit and of body. The Jewish emphasis is also on healing, not on curing. Even when mental illness is under control, healing and a return to wholeness is in order. We see healing as a process, one that has many components and may be a lifelong journey.

The Toolkit will also provide a comprehensive list of local resources to recognize, respond, and set people on the road to healing.  The hope is that people will become more comfortable talking openly about mental health, mental wellness and illness. Learn more at Blue Dove Foundation.

PJ Library Welcomes All

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, PJ LIbrary

What’s a “typical Jewish family?” PJ Library understands that’s not a simple question. According to Sarah Bernstein, Federation’s Family Impact Associate, “Atlanta’s PJ Library families live ITP and OTP. They come from at least seven different countries, speak many languages, and represent LGBTQ+, interracial and interfaith households.” While free Jewish book subscriptions remain the centerpiece of the program, there’s a growing focus in Atlanta on PJ Library as a community-building tool. Both PJ Library and PJ Baby create community programs that connect young Jewish families, right in their neighborhoods. Ana Rodriguez, who is a PJ Baby Connector in Smyrna/Vinings, exemplifies family diversity. Born in Guatemala, Ana is a Jew by choice and is married to Andrew. Together they are raising Melanie, who is now three. In her role as a PJ Baby Connector, Ana has met and befriended many Jewish families. “PJ Library has helped me to create a strong Jewish community around the area where we live. I’m finding Jewish friends for Melanie, and for me.”

PJ Library has an institutional commitment to honor family diversity. Every event they offer bears this message:  All events are open to interfaith, LGBTQ+, multiracial and families and children of all abilities. “We want to make it possible for anyone to participate and find Jewish connections,” Sarah Bernstein says. “If you’re an observant family, we’ll tailor an event in your neighborhood that respects your needs. Recently we’ve been partnering with the Jewish Abilities Alliance and have adapted events for children with disabilities.”

Andrea Waldman appreciates the openness. “I wanted to have additional ways of connecting to Judaism in our home since we are not members of a synagogue. As same sex parents we potentially have more obstacles as my partner’s parents practice a different faith/religion. I have a solid Jewish background however, through PJ Library we have actually become even more open and understanding to all perspectives.”

PJ Library also honors family diversity with books published in Hebrew, Russian and Spanish. “I wanted my daughter to have the opportunity to read and know more about Jewish values, traditions, and holidays in a way that make sense to her,” Ana Rodriguez remembers. “I am raising Melanie bilingually, so when I first signed up for PJ Library, I asked if there were any books in Spanish and Nathan Brodsky, Federation’s Family Impact Manager, mailed me three books! I was so touched by that.”

Three Questions for Kelly Cohen

By COMMUNITY, JumpSpark

Q:  How did your background as a Judaic Studies teacher prepare you to lead JumpSpark?

Kelly: One of the most amazing parts of being the Director of JumpSpark is being able to grow with the teens and families of teens in our community. I spent my first six years in Atlanta working at The Davis Academy, and now so many of the kids I taught in elementary school are the teens JumpSpark serves. My work as a Jewish educator has taught me that there are a million ways to connect to Judaism and Jewish tradition, and that my role is to be a guide on that journey of connection. To be a part of a teen’s or a family’s Jewish journey for almost a decade is one of the true pleasures of my work and I am so happy I get to do it now with JumpSpark.

Q: What do you mean when you say, “JumpSpark creates more defining moments for Jewish teens?”

Kelly: The teenage years are crucial in terms of identity exploration and growth. I was a very active NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) member when I was a teen and even spent the first semester of my senior year of high school studying abroad in Israel. Those were defining Jewish moments for me that set me on the path to be a Jewish educator and a committed member of the Jewish community. JumpSpark wants to help teens to have their own defining Jewish moments that hopefully connect them to the Jewish community. We know that a one-size-fits-all model isn’t going to work for all teens, so JumpSpark is working to build and fund new ways to create those moments for teens today.

Q: What can we expect from JumpSpark in the 2019-20 school year?

Kelly: We have so much planned for next school year.  For teens we will be launching a new cohort of our Strong Women Fellowship and a new Teen Israel Taskforce. JumpSpark also just made a $260,000 investment in expanding and enriching the teen landscape, so keep your eyes open for new teen opportunities all around the city. Speaking of being all around the city, we are expanding our Navigating Parenthood series to three locations: Intown, Sandy Springs and Alpharetta, so more parents can gain the network, resources, and skills to parent teens today. Finally, we are expanding JumpSpark Professional and offering more high-level training and networking for the Jewish professionals in our community who work with teens. JumpSpark gained a lot of momentum this year and we are ready to take it to the next level in the coming school year.

How Friendship Circle Inspired Me

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, Jewish Camp Initiative, JEWISH JOURNEYS, People in Need

By Daniel Stern

I was still a freshman at The Weber School when my older sisters suggested it was time I took part in Tikkun Olam(repairing the world.) It was at this point that I decided to volunteer with Friendship Circle’s “Buddies at Home” program. I signed up and became a buddy to a young adult with special needs named Mike. Mike and I met nearly weekly, as our schedules permitted, and we had so much fun hanging out, playing sports together, going to the dog park, having lunch, and things like that. It was a great relationship.

By the time I was a sophomore, I began to think about creating a one-week summer day camp for people with disabilities modeled on Friendship Circle, where every camper has a “buddy.” I was really pumped to do it, but I did not have a plan set in stone. My Mom said, ‘Go for it, but, remember, this is your project, not mine.’ I went to the Sandy Springs Tennis Center and asked them if they’d donate a couple of tennis courts, and they said, OK. I was excited to launch what I was then calling “Serve it Up” Summer Camp, but pretty soon it dawned on me that I needed a little backup. I wanted it to be a free camp to encourage all who wanted to participate to attend. I knew I needed to raise money and I knew I needed my friends to help pull this off. I launched a Go-Fund-Me campaign online that raised over $1,000 for us to get started.

I worked with Rickelle New, the Director of Friendship Circle, and I created the tennis program and she created the arts and crafts program. We developed a flyer and reached out to all of the families that had participated in Friendship Circle activities. Recruiting my friends to become buddies for our campers was the next challenge, but eventually more than 20 of my friends signed up to volunteer. It was a great success to be outside playing tennis with our special friends. So, the following summer, I was excited to create another camp. We decided to move the camp indoors to the gym at Atlanta Jewish Academy, so those who did not want to be outside all day could also participate. That summer, we played many sports in addition to tennis and still included arts and crafts. Many of our campers with special needs even had two buddies! I learned that many people with disabilities have other health issues. They can’t take the heat and need the comfort of air conditioning.

I really thought I was doing this for kids with special needs. But, when the parents of these kids came up to me and told me how much they valued the camp, it felt so good. I realized that not only did the kids benefit, but their entire families benefited from what we had created. So did my volunteers. Now, as a freshman at Vanderbilt University, with the benefit of hindsight and a little maturity, I can see I was also doing it because of the values I learned in my family, at school, and through Friendship Circle. When you help others and build real relationships, you are doing the work of tikkun olam.

Keeping Judaism Alive in Our Little Family

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, PJ LIbrary

By the time my twins Megan and Brett were 14 months old, my marriage to their father was over. Their Dad isn’t Jewish, and after the divorce he was pretty detached from the kids. Suddenly, I was their everything. I realized it was up to me to keep Judaism alive in my little family.

Even before my divorce, I signed the twins up for PJ Library, and took them to Tot Shabbat at Kol Emeth. Later on I started looking into Big Brother programs for my son. You had to be at poverty level to qualify for these mentoring programs – but luckily, not for PAL, Atlanta’s only Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister program.

Amazing things happened the minute I met the PAL Program Manager, Carly Sonenshine, at JF&CS. She encouraged me to put both kids in the program and then matched us with our Big PALS — Bennett Ginburg for Brett, and Marni Bronstein for Megan. They take the kids to events, out for ice cream, and just have fun with them. To say my twins have bonded with them is an understatement.

A Big PAL fills in huge gaps for a single parent. They are friends in a way a parent can never be. Brett has ADHD and dyslexia and Bennett really understands it. Megan was nervous about going to Camp Coleman next summer, and Marni handled her anxiety beautifully.

Megan and Brett’s PALS give them one-on-one time I can never provide enough of. After three years with Bennett and Marni, they’ve found friends, role models and Jewish mentors for life.

If you think your family would benefit from the PAL program, learn more here.

By: Karen Bowen

Federation is proud to support the JF&CS PAL Program, which provides one-on-one mentoring relationships for children with trusted adults.