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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 exciting 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. 

Day School Seniors Reflect on an Abnormal Year

By CARING, COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, People in Need

Federation extends warm congratulations to all of our high school graduates and also acknowledges that this has been a difficult year for them. The pandemic required students to deal with hybrid of virtual and in-person learning. Many felt deprived of the beloved rituals that come with senior year. Social distance protocols kept friends apart. We asked Gabe Weiss, a senior at Atlanta Jewish Academy, and Lili Stadler, who is graduating from The Weber School, to share what they experienced this year, what they missed, and where they are headed next. 

Lili Stadler, The Weber School:
Last March, I was a junior in high school dealing with an insane course load, the stress of taking the SAT, and was soon to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Now, I have overcome both of my mental illnesses, gotten into every college I applied to, and am going to Georgia Tech, my dream school next year. Being a senior amidst a global pandemic has meant a lot of things to me: it has taught me to appreciate the small things in life, such as the feeling of hugging my grandmother and catching up over a home-cooked meal, but most importantly, it has taught me to let go of the things I cannot control and make the most of what I have.  

Every year, the seniors at Weber go on a month-long trip to Israel; however, this year, we did not. The trip is an opportunity to finish our high school years with a culmination of everything we have learned about friendship, Judaism, and Israel. Although there is a place in my heart that yearns to have had that experience, my friends and I have made up for it in different ways. We lost our trip to Israel, but we remain thankful for the memories we did get to make together at school and on the weekends. Being apart from one another for so long has taught us to appreciate the moments we have together before college. 

Gabe Weiss, Atlanta Jewish Academy:
I chose to study remotely for my senior year due to a family health situation. As someone who’s mostly introverted, I initially looked forward to staying remote. However, losing out on the excitement of senior year felt worse than I expected. Missing events such as leading Battle of the Classes, giving a senior talk at the end of school, and even missing some privileges, such as having an exclusive senior lounge, really affected me. I realized that I will never have the opportunity to experience these privileges again.  

Most importantly, I missed being able to interact with my classmates, both close friends and mere acquaintances. I know that there will be so few times that I will get to see them all again after we graduate. Additionally, learning became so much more difficult. At home, I often get distracted, have internet issues, or have a lack of motivation due to everything feeling the same and there being no distinction between school life and home life. The coronavirus situation has proven the old Yiddish phrase “Man plans, God laughs.” I may have been looking forward to experiencing being a senior in high school, but it was not destined for me. Next year I am attending the joint program between List College (JTS) and Columbia University. 

Looking ahead to the Shmita Year

By CARING, COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, Making Jewish Places

By: Joanna Kobylivker  

Community OrganizerGeorgia Interfaith Power and Light 

The Jewish Climate Action Network of Georgia (JCAN GA) is a newly formed chapter of the Massachusetts based Jewish Climate Action Network. We began as a small but concerned group of Jewish community members who came together to raise awareness and create solutions around climate change.  Our diverse group represents several congregations, from spiritual leaders to climate scientists to moms and dads who simply want an earth for future generations to enjoy. We strongly believe the Atlanta Jewish community has a unique opportunity to be part of the solution. 

Our specific mission is to promote environmental stewardship though Jewish community building. By coming together, we can: 

  • Inspire and mobilize Jewish communities to take leadership and participate in bold climate campaigns and reduce carbon footprints. 
  • Develop and provide infrastructural, informational, and educational resources to any and all Jewish groups: synagogues, community centers, day schools, camps, youth groups, parent groups, all of us.  

How will we do this? By working with strong community partnerships both in Atlanta and around the country who are already doing this important work. We are very excited to announce a partnership with Georgia Interfaith Power and Light (GIPLwith where I will be serving as a dedicated staff member, to Joanna Kobylivker, who will engage with our Jewish community.  

When will this work begin? It’s already started! JCAN GA members have already held several virtual events through partnerships with Repair the WorldLimmud Atlanta and Southeast, and various congregations.  

Much more is to come with the upcoming Shimta year.  The Shmita Year is part of a cycle analogous to the weekly Sabbath but taking place once every seven years as opposed to every seven days. Also known as the Year of Release, Shmita invites each of us to re-examine our relationship with the earth, with the Divine, and with one another. In the Shmita year, we rest alongside the land; we share the abundance of our landscapes as equals with one another and with the wild creatures; money is deemphasized; and debts are released.  

As a community, we are setting intentions and goals for how we will bring Shmita values to life in the form of environmental sustainability. Caring for our earth is part of being Jewish.  From the great philosopher Maimonides to the late Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, we are taught and reminded in countless texts of our duty to honor this beautiful earth that G-d created. We say prayers, celebrate holidays, and are always encouraged to be humble and grateful for what we have been given. We can demonstrate that gratitude by protecting the earth, and there is no greater time than now.  

Conquering Shame, Cultivating Trust

By CARING, COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, People in Need

recent Jewish community survey on self care during the pandemic revealed that people age 25 and under have experienced some of the highest rates of anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and even suicidal thoughts. It was surprising to some, but not to the professionals who lead JumpSpark, our community teen initiative. JumpSpark conducted its own anonymous teen survey on mental health and has been creating programming and opportunities for group work around these issuesince the beginning of the pandemic JumpSpark has provided a safe place for teens to talk and share their feelings during this time. 

Lili Stadler, a senior at The Weber School, is part of JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship. She spent the summer and fall of 2020 interning with the Blue Dove Foundation which addresses mental health through a Jewish lens. Lili has been passionate about mental health advocacy her whole life, and her curiosity about her peers led her to create a mental health survey for the Atlanta Jewish teen community. 

Read on to see what Lili learned through her internship and from her friends, the statistics she has mined, and what she has to say about the emotional struggles she and her peers are dealing with. 

With a school counselor as my mom, I have always known the importance of mental health. Talking about my feelings had never been a problem; in fact, it was normal in my household. Therefore, I brought that mindset into elementary school, which wasn’t anything necessarily special, considering crying and complaining were daily occurrences for most children trying to understand how to share, create friendships, and express themselves. I pretty much had one best friend who knew every thought that went through my head throughout middle school. She was practically my sister, so I didn’t feel any need to keep anything in. Sharing our thoughts and expressing our emotions were normal, everyday tasks. Again, unleashing this vulnerability was a regular and uneventful occurrence in my day-to-day life.  

When I got to high school, I was shocked that, after getting acquainted with my peers through surface-level discussions about our previous schools and favorite nail spots, they weren’t openly sharing their deepest, darkest secrets. Now that we are seniors, my friends are aware that I am not afraid to show or talk about my emotions. After realizing not everyone is comfortable with talking about those feelings, I have learned to normalize mental health in my personal life. Most of the time, I encourage my friends to understand that feeling any type of emotion is normal, and you do not have to feel ashamed of it.  

Because of the pandemic, I have become very aware of my own mental health needs as well as the mental health concerns of those around me. The effects of isolation have been clear: Not only have I become personally acquainted with both anxiety and depression; I have seen most of my friends struggle. One thing we can agree on in these times of turmoil in our country is that now, more than ever, is the time to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health. 

Fortunately, I have had the unusual opportunity to view and interpret real data on the state of teen mental health in the Jewish community through an anonymous survey I created during my internship at the Blue Dove Foundation. One hundred fifty-four respondents, most of them Jewish, from both public and private schools across Atlanta provided insight into teen mental health issues. Some of the information was pleasantly uplifting; however, some statistics reflected the growing concerns society faces regarding mental health. For example, it was shocking to see roughly half the people who took the survey have experienced depression in the past six months, potentially propagated by COVID-19. Although I know, statistically, depression is pervasive among teens, it almost seems unreal that so many people have experienced it, considering I have had very little experience with people close to me opening up about their depression.  

Additionally, about 29 percent of respondents engage in solo or group drinking or drug use when feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed, which seems like too large of a number. When asked what they would worry about most when confiding in someone for emotional support, about 12 percent of respondents expressed that they do not have anyone they would trust to tell, and about 15 percent wouldn’t even want their friends/family finding out they are struggling. 

Many things struck me as concerning in these statistics. For example, 86 percent of participants have had a friend confide in them about their mental health, yet 44 percent of those respondents were told not to tell anyone about that discussion. Further, 43 percent said they feel as if they do not know how to help their friends’ mental health issues, and 41 percent of respondents don’t open up to others about mental health, because they do not want to burden others with their problems. 

Teens are clearly underprepared to effectively help their peers with mental health, yet most respondents said they would go to a friend before talking to an adult about their mental health issues. Because the difference between the number of people who would most trust a friend and the number of teens who feel ready to handle someone’s mental health concerns, it is clear to me things need to change. It is extremely difficult to know the right steps to take regarding someone else’s personal struggles, and there is a lack of resources to point teens in the right direction. From these statistics, it is clear that most teens are “driving blindly” while trying to help their friends with their problems.  

By encouraging data-driven education and advocacy, Blue Dove aims to increase awareness about mental illness and make all of us feel less alone in our mental health journey. When giving teens the opportunity to share and listen to one another’s experiences without judgement, and by dedicating the time and resources needed to teach helping skills, vulnerability and understanding, Jewish youth organizations and day schools can simultaneously help end the stigma and increase the emotional intelligence and resilience of our teen population. 

View the full survey results. 

First Came Oliver, Then Rosemary

By CARING, COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

The Blessings of Our Fertility Journey
by Scott Anklowitz & Sarah Ashton

Scott: When Sarah and I met as colleagues at AT&T, we clicked right away. We dated for a year and a half, and when we married, Sarah was 36 and already concerned about her ability to conceive. We knew we had to get started trying right away. Little did we know there would be fertility issues on both sides. We began to see fertility doctors in Atlanta and for the next year it was bad news after bad news.

Both of us turned out to be cystic fibrosis carriers. I had a rare chromosomal translocation, so we were both infertile for multiple reasons. After two unsuccessful rounds of IVF we did not produce healthy embryos. Our doctor was frank: “You can keep doing this, but the costs and emotional and physical stress are going to be intense.” It was. We took a break for a few months.

The unexpected turning point came when our financial advisor, Elie Engler, shared his personal experience working with the Jewish Fertility Foundation (JFF) to build his family. Elie was absolutely pivotal in directing us to JFF’s Fertility Buddies program. Connecting with JFF, especially as an interfaith couple, introduced us to other wonderful resources and opportunities in the Atlanta Jewish community. JFF partners with PJ Library, 18Doors, and with organizations that help build families. It has reconnected me to Jewish life and given our family a deep appreciation of Judaism we never imagined.

Sarah: Ultimately, we went the egg donor route and had success right away. Oliver was born in 2019 and then came Rosemary in September 2020. We are so thankful that JFF and Elie pulled us into something warm and embracing. Elie guided us that being Jewish is different for everyone and it was up to us to define what that means for our family – this made us feel embraced.” JFF found us, and it has become a real source of passion and strength.

During COVID we hosted a JFF virtual wine and cheese tasting with 18Doors, which works with interfaith families. Our gathering included other interfaith couples, couples dealing with infertility, gay couples, and other nontraditional families. Rabbi Malka, who leads 18Doors is now part of our life. We’ve talked about trying to make this gathering an in-person event, a couple of times a year.

I’m not super religious but everyone has made me feel welcome. Scott became a Fertility Buddy and joined the JFF board. We’ve been to JFF CEO and Founder Elana Frank’s house for Shabbat dinner. I’m enjoying exposing Oliver and Rosemary, and my own parents, to this tradition. We read PJ Library Books every night to Oliver. None of this would have happened if not for our infertility journey. We have finally found a community of people that feel like “our” community through JFF.