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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.

RootOne Sends Teens to Israel

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

Bess Needle is a junior in high school and is active with the Jewish Student Union (JSU). This summer, she embarked on a trip to Israel with a group of other teens from Atlanta. The cost of her journey was subsidized by RootOne, an initiative seeded by a generous gift from The Marcus Foundation and powered by The Jewish Education Project.

This was Bess’s first time visiting the Land of Milk and Honey, and many of her expectations about Israel were challenged. She knows now that Israel “is a diverse place filled with many different people, cultures, and passions. It is so different than what the media portrays.”

Each summer, RootOne helps thousands of Jewish teens travel to Israel on a journey that will shape the rest of their lives. During their time in an Israel program, 76% of RootOne alums report learning more about themselves, and 75% think about Israel differently than before. Last summer, RootOne supported Bess and 128 Atlanta teens to create lasting memories in Israel.

Bess went as part of a group from JSU and loved experiencing the country with other teens from her hometown. “It was really exciting!” She says that until this trip, she “didn’t realize how big Atlanta is or how many other Jewish teens there are. It was cool to bond about being from Atlanta while in Israel.”

RootOne journeys are highly educational, even before students step on the plane. Groups learn about all sides of Israeli life and culture, from the familiar to the nuanced. American travelers meet Israeli peers and have the opportunity to make connections that will span the globe. And RootOne trips offer a diverse and wide range of programs to fit any interest. Bess says her favorite parts of the trip were the outdoor activities, including tornado boating, ziplining, and a 3 am hike.

RootOne grants vouchers to teens to subsidize the cost of their journey. Interested students should confirm their eligibility through RootOne and then choose a supported trip provider. After completing the pre-trip requirements, RootOne sends a $3,000 voucher directly to the trip organizer, which deducts that amount from the overall cost.

Bess says she gained a “real-life perspective of what being a teen is like in Israel versus the U.S.” She recognized many similarities between their lives and significant differences, like “prepping for the army versus prepping for life post-high school.” Bess says she’s glad she went to Israel while she was still a teenager. “You get to form a real-world opinion of Israel at a younger age; not many have the chance to do that. And I got to form bonds with people, and we all got to share the experience of this trip together. And we can keep in touch more since we are in the same city.”

When asked what she learned, Bess said this trip has helped her prepare for life on a college campus when discussing Israel. This sentiment is common for RootOne alums – 81% believe it is important to be involved in Jewish life on campus, and 81% feel capable of standing up to anti-Semitism. Bess says she “…realized that other places are not always what you expect; [you shouldn’t] make assumptions.”

Visit https://rootone.org/ to learn more about RootOne and see a list of trip providers. 

 ”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.

Volunteering in and Exploring Mexico with Project TEN

By JEWISH JOURNEYS, NextGen

By Amanda Budd
Last month, I had the pleasure of joining Hillels of Georgia in Mexico City for a trip with Project TEN. Project TEN is an initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel. They allow participants to travel to any Project TEN center across the world to volunteer in and explore the local community—all while meeting Jews from around the globe.

Our meaningful days were spent with middle school-aged students in Santiago, Yancuitlalpan. We engaged them in various thinking games such as charades, memory matching, and human knots. We volunteered in a local community center where we met younger children participating in an after-school camp with Project TEN. As the students’ maestros, we organized games and arts and crafts focused on the solar system.

We traveled to see the pyramids of Teotihuacan and arrived in Bernal, Mexico, for the start of the Shabbat. In this picturesque town, we saw the Peña de Bernal; this small mountain is a spiritual center for the area’s indigenous people.

Following Shabbat, our group returned to Mexico City, where we enjoyed a tour of the Frida Kahlo Museum and a river tour in Xochimilco. Our last day featured a historical tour of Mexico City, where we saw the first synagogue in the city and the first Ashkenazi synagogue right next door.

At any given moment, our group spoke English, French, Spanish, and Hebrew, reinforcing the idea of a global Jewish identity. We arrived in the program as strangers and left connected by our love for Judaism and our shared experiences in this incredible country.

To learn more about Project TEN, please visit https://project-ten.online/

Plan Now to Take the Israel Trip of a Lifetime

By COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

It has been years since Atlanta traveled to Israel as one united community. Now plans are well underway for us to return together on Federation’s 2023 Community Journey to Israel, April 17-23.

Timed to coincide with Israel’s 75th birthday, this will be a journey of personal discovery and celebration. Customized your trip by choosing from eight exciting tracks, including exploring Israel through the outdoors, an engaging culinary experience, diving into modern Israeli technology, and a hands-on experience volunteering, just to name a few.

Here’s what people are saying about the trip:

“We are excited about everything — to be back in Israel, to be in Israel celebrating a milestone birthday, and to be there with our Atlanta community that we love so much. Trips like this are all about bringing people together and now more than ever we need to be together, to feel connected, and to celebrate! There is no place better to do that than Israel. We have so much to look forward to!”  Robin & Howard Sysler

“Time in Israel recharges our spiritual batteries as we savor the people and places that make us uniquely Jewish. This trip is confirmation that the Diaspora continues to look to Israel as our spiritual homeland while creating and strengthening bonds among existing and new Atlantan and Israeli-based friends and family.” Beth & Joel Arogeti

We promise, Israel will change you. This trip will be an inspirational, innovative, and educational dive into the heart of Innovation Nation. Whether you’ve been to Israel many times, or are a first-timer, this will be a transformational journey. Learn more and reserve your place now!

He Hadn’t Been to Israel Since His Bar Mitzvah. What a Journey!

By COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

Seventeen men have just returned from Federation’s Men’s Journey to Israel, and they have some stories to tell! On their ten-day adventure, they grappled with the many challenges, achievements, and miracles of life in modern day Israel. They also met with nine Israelis from Yokneam and Megiddo.  And, yes, there was plenty of male bonding!

Jerry Draluck, who had not been to Israel since his Bar Mitzvah 52 years ago, called the trip “one of the most memorable experiences of my life.”  He detailed the many ways the trip touched his soul: “We had in-depth discussions about life in Israel along with visiting historic sites. It helped me better understand modern Israel and what the future holds for citizens of Israel and for Jews around the world. The trip brought home all the reasons why it is so important for us to continue to support Israel with money and visits to the country. It is impossible to explain to an individual about the passion and love the Israelis have for their country.”

Howard Katz, who served on the Federation board and chairs Atlanta Jewish Foundation’s board said, “This was my first time in Israel but it will not be my last. If you have the opportunity to go on a Federation trip, do it!  It is time (and money) well spent!” Katz was especially moved that the trip ended with the observance Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and then Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). “Just about every Israeli knows someone who has been killed in battle or in support of Israel.  We observed it at a high school in Ber Sheva which had lost many of its students over the years. The ceremony was an unbelievable opportunity to feel the collective loss, support, and love for one another. This somber day led right into an amazing celebration of Israeli Independence Day, an almost Mardi Gras-like celebration. Prior to these holidays we did roughly four community visits or events every day. Highlights included a visit to an active archaeological dig, presentations by bereaved families, visits with folks from Yokneam and Megiddo, a site visit to the Sports Center for the Disabled, and IDF training.”

“The time in Israel opened my eyes to the plight of our people there (and elsewhere), reminded me about the politics surrounding the country, and deepened my pride at how our community thrives despite the constant threat.  It was amazing to be in a country comprised entirely of Jews (at least where we were) where you can speak freely about Jewish topics without looking over your shoulder. We learned so much, had such great experiences and built such strong bonds with one another that we are already planning our follow up missions together.”

Registration for Federation’s 2023 Community Journey to Israel is now open! It’s a tremendous opportunity to see modern Israel with our Atlanta Jewish community and celebrate Israel’s 75th birthday. Learn more here

Atlanta Day Schools Maintain Enrollment Uptick

By ALEF Fund, COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, PHILANTHROPY

A unique silver lining of the pandemic has been a significant spike in enrollment at Atlanta’s Jewish day schools. Last year and this year, many Atlanta parents who were frustrated by school closings and virtual learning opted for the high-quality, in-person education found at our Jewish day schools.

Tallying re-enrollment and new enrollments, nearly all our day schools are seeing their highest numbers in recent history. The Davis Academy added an additional section of first grade last year. They now have 54 students in second grade. Enrollment at The Weber School is at an all-time high.

The Zalik Foundation’s Jewish Community Professional High School Tuition Grant has also been a driver. It offers full-time Jewish professionals, clergy, and educators up to a 50 percent tuition reduction if their children are currently enrolled or have been accepted to an accredited Jewish high school in Atlanta.

Prizmah, national Jewish day school network, confirms the trend. Their 2021 report said, “After two decades of slow erosion in the numbers of students enrolled in non-Orthodox Jewish day schools in North America, the 18 months since the onset of COVID-19 have seen an unanticipated change. Many schools have reported a spate of inquiries and enrollments among children transferring from public schools, sometimes in the middle of the year. Families noticed how well day schools were responding to the challenge of offering a solid and stable education during the pandemic. They preferred what they saw to what their children were experiencing in their previous schools.”

In-migration and remote working are also part of the story. Because of COVID, parents were able to work remotely and choose a community with great day school options. In the Atlanta Jewish Times, Erica Gal, a former admissions director at Atlanta Jewish Academy (AJA), said, “Though AJA did have families coming from local public school, we also had a lot of families move here from out of town.”

Here in Atlanta, preparing our schools to receive these new students and to operate in the COVID environment came at a cost. Jewish day schools received grants from the CARES Act and from Federation’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund to offset the increased cost of additional staffing, building adaptations, increased cleaning, PPE, and many other costs associated with safe operations. That investment really paid off.

It’s great to hear comments like this one from a new day school parent: “Ok, I can’t help it! I just have to tell you how insanely happy our daughter is this year already. She literally cannot wait to come to school every day, and when I pick her up, she is just going a mile a minute, telling me all about her day and how much fun she had. She absolutely adores her teachers, and so do we. They have just been so above and beyond in every way already.”

Another way to support our Jewish day schools is to make a pledge to the ALEF Fund to redirect a portion of your Georgia state taxes to become tuition scholarships. Hurry, the deadline is December 31, 2021.

JumpSpark Partnership Amplifies Teen Israel Travel

By JEWISH JOURNEYS, JumpSpark

JumpSpark is proud to partner with RootOne to promote summer teen Israel travel in Atlanta. RootOne provides major subsidies for trip participants, invests in elevating trip curricula and experiences, and works with its partners to create deeper pre- and post-trip engagement opportunities to help strengthen participants’ Jewish identities and connections to Israel before they begin college. Jewish teens in Atlanta are eligible to receive RootOne vouchers to attend Israel trips with five different youth-serving organizations. 

Jewish Student Union (JSU) GO is a RootOne partner offering an action-packed summer adventure trip in Israel for high school teens from the greater Atlanta area. This summer, JSU GO brought 40 local teens together for an incredible immersive experience. Rabbi Chaim Neiditch, the Executive Director of JSU, shared that, “One of the big features of our program is that everyone becomes a family. We facilitate a culture that’s designed to bring everyone together. We’re looking to help people make lifelong friends that go far beyond the trip.”  

One participant added that the trip allowed her to experience Judaism in a new way. “There’s a feeling that comes with being in Israel on Shabbat that you can’t have anywhere else.” Rabbi Neiditch affirms that, “The trip is life-changing for the kids. An immersive experience is a very different type of Jewish experience. We have kids who felt disconnected to their Jewish identity before the trip, and this trip changes the way they think about Judaism, makes it tangible and accessible to them. When you get a chance to spend time in Israel and explore a place that’s infused with Judaism, it changes lives.”

Interested in learning more about JSU GO? Visit JSUisrael.com. Pre-registration for next summer is open now! Pre-register today for the summer of a lifetime and save $200.