Category

JEWISH JOURNEYS

ALEF Made Day School Possible

By ALEF Fund, CARING, JEWISH JOURNEYS, People in Need, PHILANTHROPY

Educated and Empowered, Thanks to ALEF Fund

J. is a single parent and a survivor of domestic violence. She receives no financial support from her ex-husband, who was her abuser, and works very hard to make ends meet. One of the joys of her life is that her daughter is getting an incredible Jewish day school education at Atlanta Jewish Academy, thanks to scholarship support from ALEF Fund.

“When I moved back to Atlanta from out of state, I was pretty broken from my marriage,” she remembers. “As we looked at school options, I had concerns. Our zoned public school has an open campus and it worried me that someone could easily walk into the building off the street. When you’ve been in an abusive marriage you learn to be hyper vigilant and protective. I was thrilled to find a position at Atlanta Jewish Academy.  The school was everything I dreamed of for my daughter — amazing facilities, Hebrew language instruction, Jewish values, and great campus security, with gates and intercoms and a culture of vigilance. But the cost of tuition put it out of reach.  Then I heard about ALEF Fund.”

“When I learned about the ALEF Fund state tax credit, I opted in right away. “It makes me so happy to know that by participating in ALEF Fund I am paying it forward for others like me who depend on tuition help for Jewish schools. My small contribution helps fund substantial scholarships, so it feels like a win-win! I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it!”

“My daughter is thriving at her school and every day she teaches me something new about Judaism. We were at Six Flags recently and she heard a family speaking another language, which she recognized as Hebrew. She went right up to them and introduced herself in Hebrew! The father was so impressed with her language skills. I was blown away!”

“I was lucky to attend Hebrew Academy as a child in Atlanta. It gave me foundational Jewish literacy and taught me to read and write Hebrew. Now my daughter has surpassed me in her Jewish education. I am so grateful to ALEF Fund, for opening these doors for my daughter. Knowing that she is educated and empowered is everything to me!”

Georgia taxpayers have until December 31, 2019 to make a 2020 pledge to ALEF Fund and redirect a portion of their GA state taxes to become scholarships at 18 Jewish day schools, preschools and high schools. Questions? Contact Nicole Flom right away!

“Camp is crazy fun! I can’t wait to go back!”

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

My name is Murray Marks. I’m a fifth grader in Decatur, and this summer I had the most crazy fun experience of my life at Camp Ramah Darom. This was my first time at sleepaway camp, and even though I didn’t know anybody in the bunk, we all became friends very fast. I was a little nervous, but at camp you’re always with friends. My bunk was like a team.

Every morning we’d clean up the bunk, and even that is a fun activity called nikayon – Hebrew for clean-up. On Friday, we did an extra nikayon to get ready for Shabbat. When Shabbat came, the whole camp felt special. I dressed up and wore a kippah. Before dinner we had services and sang in Hebrew at the top or our lungs. Then there was the most delicious matzah ball soup at dinner. And more singing!

One of my favorite activities at camp was the climbing wall, where you have to trust the people who are holding onto your ropes. We really did trust each other, because I made it all the way up and down!

With so much stuff going on, there was no time to be homesick. My parents were okay with that because they were so glad I loved camp as much as they did.

Murray’s parents, Amanda and Aaron, are grateful for the scholarship assistance they received through Federation’s One Happy Camper program. “Aaron and I met on JDate because our profiles talked about Jewish camp. Ramah has given Murray a great sense of independence and exposure to Jewish ritual. We call it ‘Bar Mitzvah Boot Camp.’ As soon as they’re old enough we want to send Oscar and Ruby, Murray’s younger twin siblings, to Camp Ramah Darom.”

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.

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.

Empowering Girls Through STEM

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, JumpSpark

Despite the strides made in gender equality, it’s dispiriting to see how many young girls still avoid math and science classes. By the time these girls get to high school, their lack of exposure to STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) can foreclose exciting educational and career opportunities. Today, women make up nearly half of the working population, but only 26% work in STEM fields. That’s why Atlanta Jewish Academy (AJA), in partnership with JumpSpark, and with grant support from Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta (JWFA), created the Young Women in STEM Career Fair, held March 17 at AJA. The goal was to open doors for 8th-12th grade girls through mini-classes and face-to-face networking opportunities in STEM subjects.

“Female role models are so important,” said Rivka Monheit, an AJA parent who chaired the Program Committee. She’s just one of the parents who reached deep into her Rolodex to find professional women to would share their passion for science and math with young high school women and become potential mentors. Monheit is a patent attorney who advises chemical firms and puts her science background to work every day. She is passionate about exposing girls to STEM early, so that if they do pursue science careers, they don’t fall into the so-called leaky pipeline. “There’s a 50% drop out rate of women leaving science careers or simply not advancing,” Monheit says. “We want to help girls get the right training and plot their course.”

The STEM Career Fair definitely lit a spark with AJA students. “The Young Women in STEM event was extremely empowering! I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, but I never knew I wanted to be a doctor. This event gave me the courage and empowerment to keep going on and live up to my dreams with the strength of being a woman,” said Tali Feen, an AJA Upper School Student.

The mentors were similarly enthusiastic. Dr. Amanda Cooper Cohn, a Senior Advisor for Vaccines at CDC said, “I loved being at the Young Women in STEM Career fair both as a mother with my two teenage daughters and as a mentor.  Seeing the girls engaged with a variety of STEM professionals made me realize the world of opportunity is so much bigger for these girls than it was for me, which is exciting but also underscores the importance of mentoring girls through the process of entering STEM professions.  All the girls were curious, engaged, and interested in careers where they can make an impact. I also loved sharing my own path as well as hearing about the paths of the other amazing STEM volunteers at the fair.”

The STEM Fair was also the kick-off of a mentoring program for girls that will launch next school year. JumpSpark is the lead partner on this aspect of the initiative and is accepting applications that will match girls with STEM mentors. Find out more and apply here. Girls from any school are invited to apply. Applications are open now through April 17. Mentees will be notified June 2019.

Feeling at Home, Far from Home

By COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, Shinshinim Atlanta

Feeling at Home, Far From Home
by Itay Yekutiel, Israel Shinshin

My experience as a Shinshin (young Israeli emissary) in Atlanta for the past two months can be expressed through the song by the Israeli band, Hatikva 6.  The song begins with a guy saying, “Here I am. I came to the world to give the time. Hello everyone, I’m ready!” He asks himself, “What is my purpose in this world?” It brings me back to the day I boarded a plane to Atlanta with seven other Shinshinim and went on the journey of a lifetime. We landed in Atlanta and it took me a long time to realize, here I am, this is what I’ve been waiting for so long! Every place we visit, and every person I talk to, just adds more to my experience, my journey, and my life.

Originally I am from Tel Aviv, but shortly before I came to Atlanta my family moved to Holon, a small city near Tel Aviv.  Here in Atlanta I live in Toco Hills, a diverse neighborhood with many different types of people and different religious communities. It’s fun to see the differences, and also to see how everyone looks and acts like one big community. My hosts are the Gal family — wonderful people, with parents Erica and Raanon, and four lovely children, very similar to my family in Israel. It really feels like my house. They love me and their home feels like mine. I never believed I would feel so at home in a place so far from home!

I had a lot of apprehensions about coming here, like how will the high holidays be? And how will the prayers be? And how different is it from home? But the truth is, it’s not that different, and it’s not that strange — it’s very similar! As an observant Jew living in Atlanta within the Jewish community, I arrived with many questions and saw a lot of new things. For example, in the synagogue, the partition between men and women is very different. In Israel, the men are usually downstairs and the women upstairs, or sitting behind the men. The second thing I saw was that the women said the blessing over the challah, which in Eretz Yisrael does not happen. Also, on Sukkot there were women who handled the four species. There is a lot of equality between men and women in many things, this is the main difference that I noticed.

Much of our volunteering happens at schools. At first I thought to myself, “What? Every morning I have to get up early and go back to school? Didn’t I just graduate high school?” And the truth is that all I thought I’d learned about myself and about life has been rediscovered here. Each lesson feels significant, and every hour of the day, even my free time, is important and adds to the great puzzle of my journey.

I’m loving Atlanta — the people, the atmosphere, the culture, the food, the music, everything! The most positive experience I’ve had so far was the evening all the Shinshinim went to the BeltLine Lantern Parade, and as we walked there, we heard songs in Hebrew. We saw that there was a Chabad community singing near a sukkah, so we started dancing and singing with them. We felt like a family and it was a moment of fun and happiness and connection to the country in the best way possible!

As a Shinshin, it’s fun to be in the center with everyone asking questions and being interested in hearing about our lives in Israel. Yet slowly I have the thought of “this journey is going to end very quickly.” I always think that time is running away from me. So I go back to the words of Hatikvah 6 and the line, “And everything is before me” For me, the truth is that everything really is before me and my journey has just begun!

What Teens Say About the Strong Women Fellowship

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, JumpSpark

JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship Expanding to Serve More Teens

Applications are now open for the second cohort of the Strong Women Fellowship. With the success of last year’s launch, and the support of Federation, JumpSpark is excited to expand the program to include peer leadership opportunities, community groups for ongoing connection and interaction based on geographic location.  Each month teens in the Strong Women Fellowship meet speakers, visit organizations and engage in relevant learning that speaks to what it means to be a woman in our times. Year two will feature an all-new, incredible slate of speakers including, Lindy Miller a former candidate for GA Public Service Commission, Whitney Fisch of Jewhungry the blog, Dr. Tarece JohnsonSOJOURN, and more. The program targets teens in grades 9-12. 

Here’s what participants say about the program: 

“My expectation of the Strong Women’s Fellowship cohort was totally different from the experience I actually had. Much to my surprise, and delight, there were no parasha readings or lessons on the history of Israel. Instead, I met so many accomplished, empowered, women at every meeting, I was inspired by their unique stories and enjoyed the discussions we had…but most of all I enjoyed having the opportunity to make friends with other Jewish girls. I’ve met so many amazing people from all over the city that I would have never met otherwise.”  – Ariel Raggs 

“The fellowship provided the opportunity to speak with other women across a range of ages, and through these discussions I grew as a woman and become a stronger and prouder Jewish woman, too. Women across the globe have been using their voices to advocate for what they believe in, and through this fellowship, I too, have been given tools to do the same in my Jewish community and hopefully across the world.” – Tamar Guggenhei

“[The Strong Women Fellowship] ended up being a place I could safely share my ideas and opinions with other girls who would listen. I didn’t think this group would affect my life very much, but it’s left me with new ideas and new friends. It gave me a whole new perspective on the world and other girls; it was so much more than I expected, and I’m grateful for all the experiences.” – Maya Laufer 

Learn more here. Applications are open to all Jewish teens in grades 9-12 from the Atlanta metro area. Reach out to Laura Gronek with any questions.

Learning from and Loving Yuval

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, Shinshinim Atlanta

by The Levy Family

When Atlanta Shinshinit (feminine form of Shinshin) Yuval Modan moved into our guest room in October, our entire family fell in love with this poised, mature, and beautiful 18-year-old young woman from Hod HaSharon, Israel. This is Yuval’s first time in the U.S., and her first time away from home, but you’d never know it. She is friendly and adaptable, like a puzzle piece that fits in and completes our family. She has created a special relationship with each one of us.

For Sydney, our 11th grader, Yuval is like a sister. “She has been teaching us Hebrew and sharing her Israeli traditions with our family. Molly braids challah with her most Fridays, Jordan watches Grey’s Anatomy with her, and I spend hours talking to her about our life experiences. Through bonding with Yuval, I have learned about her high school life in Israel and her passion for the scouts. She has introduced us to Israeli games and food.”

My husband Sam and I agree — Yuval has become our Israeli daughter.

Our family hasn’t had much exposure to Israel. I haven’t been since 1995. My husband Sam’s second trip to Israel was last January, on the Community Leadership trip, and Jordy went to Israel with Davis Academy. Yuval has changed all that. This summer Sydney is going to Israel with Camp Judaea and is already thinking about doing a gap year in Israel after high school. Yuval will be working at Camp Barney Medintz this summer while Sydney is there. I believe that Yuval’s positive experience in Atlanta gives Sydney the confidence to go to Israel on her own. What a gift!

Yuval teaches us all the time. Not just about Israeli food and culture and language, but about how to be an ambassador. In turn, I think we’ve provided a wonderful nest for her in our home. Teenagers are at their most vulnerable when away from home. If you open your arms and your heart to a Shinshin, you’ll give a gift to your family.

When she left for Atlanta, Yuval’s mom said, “Don’t fall in love with America or you might not come home.” I totally understand her mom’s worry. But I know Yuval’s love for Israel is deep. She can’t wait to serve in the army and is passionate about her land. We are excited to welcome Yuval’s family for Passover at our home — all of them, except her oldest brother, who is serving in the army, will be here soon.  It brings our families full circle and sets up a lifelong friendship for all of us.

Shinshinim Atlanta brings 18-year-old Israeli high school graduates to Atlanta for a year of service. If this story touched you, consider welcoming a Shinshin into your own home next school year. Find out more about hosting here, or contact Ezra Flom, Shinshinim Atlanta Director at 562-234-6609.

Atlanta is Exemplary

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, Shinshinim Atlanta

Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) was in Atlanta last week to update an enthusiastic crowd at Federation on the current priorities of the Jewish Agency. In this time of resurgent antisemitism, Bougie shared what keeps him up at night. It’s the relentless attempt to delegitimize Israel on American college campuses. It’s the rise of white nationalism in the United States. It’s the popularity of Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in Great Britain. It’s the instability of life for Jews in Latin America. It’s the attacks on synagogues and individuals in the U.S. and Europe.

But underlying all of this, Herzog worries that Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are growing apart, and that without more exposure to each other, more opportunities to learn from each other, the Jewish people could experience a devastating rift. Herzog’s priority, as the leader of the agency that helped resettle 35,000 Jews in Israel last year, is to safeguard Israel as a home for world Jewry, and also to build bridges. He actually thinks Atlanta is doing a remarkably good job doing both.

In meetings with local rabbis, and the organizations that work with our Shinshinim, Herzog lauded Atlanta’s partnership with Yokneam and Megiddo calling it “one of the most successful Federation partnerships in Israel.” He singled out the Shinshinim program — a program created by the Jewish Agency for Israel — for the way it brings the positive message of modern Israel around the world.

As the forward face of the Jewish People, and an agency not controlled by the government of Israel, JAFI, plays a unique role telling Israel’s story. The agency is represented by three pillars: Global Aliyah, the Impact of the Jewish People, and Connecting Jews Worldwide.

The secret sauce of the Jewish people, he muses, is our ability to rally for each other. “Even Winston Churchill was impressed by the Jewish idea of the collective, the idea he believed helped keep the Jewish people together through the ages,” Herzog said.