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New from JumpSpark: Amplifying Israel Teen Fellowship

By Atlanta Birthright Community Trips, GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

In 2021, JumpSpark is excited to add teen Israel travel to its portfolio. In order to create enthusiasm around that shift, JumpSpark is launching the new Amplifying Israel Teen Fellowship! This is a bold initiative to strengthen our relationship with teens in our partnership region, Yokneam and Megiddo, and to amp up teen travel to Israel.

As the program launches, four Amplifying Israel Teen Fellows will be chosen from the Atlanta Jewish community. They’ll work with four identified teen leaders in Atlanta’s partnership region. Our Atlanta fellows are ambassadors who will be trained as social media storytellers for the program as they build excitement for Israel travel.

Just as we bring Shinshinim to Atlanta from our partnership region, we want to connect Atlanta teens to Israeli teens. This Fellowship will be the first step in strengthening our connection to our partnership region and getting more teens to Israel.

“This Fellowship will be the first step in strengthening our teen connection to our partnership region and getting more teens to Israel,” says Kelly Cohen, Director of JumpSpark. “Connecting on a personal level is key. That is what this program seeks to do.”

“Nothing compares to having a friend from Israel who is your age or to experience Israel with your Israeli friend,” says Eliad Ben Shushan, Director of the Partnership. “This is also a fantastic opportunity for our Israeli teens to learn about the life of teens in Atlanta.”

Virtual Learning Wasn’t Cutting it for their Kids: Thanks to ALEF Fund, they’re an Epstein family now

By ALEF Fund, COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, PHILANTHROPY

When DeKalb County Public Schools announced that they would start the 2020-21 school year virtually, Susan and Scott Rosenbaum were worried.

“We were desperate for a safe, high quality, face-to-face learning option. Our second-grade son had a miserable spring with worksheets and videos. He needed a small class and a real live teacher. Our daughter was entering kindergarten. We wanted her to learn with other kids, not on a computer.”

“We toured The Epstein School and loved their model — two teachers in each classroom, small class size, and the wonderful mix of Judaics and secular studies. But tuition for two kids was not do-able for us. When we learned we qualified for scholarship support for both kids through ALEF Fund we were overjoyed. “

“This year at the Thanksgiving table when we went around to say what we were thankful for, my son said, ‘I’m thankful for my awesome school.’”

Susan and Scott were contributors to ALEF Fund even when their kids were in public school, years before they transferred to a Jewish day school. They knew it was an easy way to take the state taxes they’d have to pay anyway and turn them into scholarships supporting 20 different Jewish day schools and Jewish preschools in Georgia. “Everyone should support ALEF Fund,” Susan says. “The impact is huge.”

ALEF Fund needs you to support Jewish education! Hurry and renew your pledge. You have until December 31 to apply for a 2021 tax credit. Don’t miss this opportunity to support Jewish education. Our website, aleffund.org, is open for pledges. Renewing is easy — just log on as a returning user and follow the prompts. If you need assistance, call Rachel Rosner at 404-870-1879 and she will be happy to assist you.

As a past participant, you know that ALEF Fund is a win-win: redirecting state tax dollars to scholarships for hundreds of families a year.

Shinshinim Life

By GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, Shinshinim Atlanta

SHINSHINIM LIFE
By Amit Toledo

When the Shinshinim landed in Atlanta on September 27, I was feeling excited about the unknown and ready to tackle the two weeks of quarantine. Yet I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the fact that I was actually here. There were so many times over the last many months when all of us were worried the program would be cancelled for the year.
My adventure only began to feel real when I met my family, the Seitz’s, over Zoom just a few weeks before boarding a plane to Atlanta. I learned very quickly that they were the epitome of the “All American Atlanta Family” with their photo of the Braves in the background. I spent 30 minutes on the phone with my host sister Barri, who showed me her bedroom as we began getting to know one another.
Spending Yom Kippur and Sukkot in quarantine was the beginning of a new chapter in my adventure. Being quarantined with my Shinshinim cohort I learned quickly how to lean on and trust my new friends and colleagues. We cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and bonded over the two weeks in a beautiful Airbnb in a Roswell neighborhood. (I recommend the quarantine experience for future Shinshinim, not for Covid-19 but for bonding purposes.)
Many different supervisors, rabbis, Israeli community members, as well as current and past host families came to visit us and shared their experiences with our new group. It was overwhelming but I took it all in and learned a lot about the Atlanta Jewish Community.
I was nervous as I entered my new host home for the first time but quickly felt at ease. Though I expected it to feel awkward, it felt both natural and overwhelming — in the best way possible. Of course, the Braves were on TV, the energy was high, and my first American Shabbat dinner of hamburgers was delicious. Our family hike was the topping on the cake!
I’m very excited to see all of Atlanta and am looking forward to making an impact and seeing the changes that will happen in the year to come.

Home Away From Home

By GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, Shinshinim Atlanta

HOME AWAY FROM HOME
by Saren Schapiro, Host Family to Shiraz Bar Haim

Why did you choose to host a Shinshinit? What were you and your family hoping to gain?
Over the last few years, our family has seen the incredible experience our friends had hosting teens from Shinshinim Atlanta. Also, our two girls had unforgettable experiences learning with the Shinshinim at their Hebrew school at Or Hadash. When life slowed down this year and forced us to be home from work and school, the opportunity to devote time and attention to a Shinshinit was there. We signed up right away and were so excited when we heard that we would be hosting! I hope this year will be a year to remember for both our kids and Shiraz. We are excited to gain a daughter, big sister, and lifelong connection to Israel.

Tell me about your family’s feelings during the application process.

We were hopeful! No one really knew whether this year would happen or how it would look. We really just went with it, put ourselves out there, and looked forward to a unique opportunity.

So, you heard that you were chosen as a host family. It took a while to be officially introduced to your Israeli daughter. When you were introduced, how did the first meeting go? How did your family begin preparing for her arrival? What were your thoughts, plans, and emotions during this time?
That’s right! We didn’t find out this was happening until very close to the arrival time. The minute we found out Shiraz was paired with our family, we set up a time to FaceTime with her and her family in Israel. We met her mom, dad, and sister, and asked her all about herself. We showed Shiraz her new room as our girls jumped around in the background with excitement! Getting our guest room ready for her was a good incentive to do a little organizing around the house!

Tell me about the drive-by meeting on the day of Shiraz’s arrival. And then the Shinshinim’s two-week quarantine. How did your family manage that?
Meeting Shiraz that first day during the drive-by of their quarantine house was awesome! The girls made big Welcome signs, we brought our puppy along, and got to connect in person for the first time. We were able to get a feel for Shiraz’s personality and communication style. The two-week quarantine was HARD!!! We just wanted to hug her already! Shiraz’s birthday fell on the second day she was in Atlanta, so we were able to bring her a birthday cake and delicious lunch for an outdoor socially distanced party. We visited Shiraz in quarantine a few times over the two weeks, which really allowed us to get to know her. I was shocked and happy to see how quickly she clicked with my kids and was excited to engage with them and play, and how easily she seemed to fit into our family.

Tell me about Shiraz’s first week with you. What were the things you did together to begin the bonding experience?
The first day Shiraz was with us, we spent a quiet afternoon helping her unpack, showing her around the house, and exchanging gifts. Shiraz is such a kind, thoughtful person. She brought gifts for the kids, lots of games and toys, and asked them to help her unpack. They had a blast! My girls gave Shiraz a big basket of things we bought her to help her settle in. The first two nights Shiraz was here, my husband and I, and Shiraz stayed up late and talked forever. We discovered that Shiraz is an incredible young lady, very mature and insightful, with so many ideas and views. Over the first week we have been cooking (shnitzel night was the best!), hiking, playing, talking, having Shabbat dinner, watching movies, and making s’mores! Shiraz has quickly and easily fit into our family and made our house feel complete. We love her already!

How They’re Serving Jewish Atlanta

By GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, Shinshinim Atlanta

What does it mean to be a Shinshin in the midst of a global pandemic? It means summoning up courage and curiosity, dedication and drive! These young Israelis have already shown us they have all of that! The five Schoenbaum Shinshinim are currently working with over 25 Jewish and non-Jewish institutions in the Metro-Atlanta area this year — in person more often than not! Each Shinshin(it) spends time in our Jewish Day Schools between 2-4 days per week, and then in the afternoons and evenings they may engage in an after-school Hebrew School or youth group through Zoom.

Some of our synagogue religious schools have classes in person, some in a hybrid model, or on Zoom over the weekends. We are constantly finding creative ways to reach organizations that we were unable to add to our weekly calendars. The Shinshinim recently participated in Senior Week at the MJCCA, leading a program called “Growing up in Israel” where they shared their personal stories, their thoughts on serving in the IDF, and life in Israel during COVID-19. We plan to share a lesson on social media about the Ethiopian Holiday Sigd and will also amplify the MJCCA celebration of Hanukkah. 

We hope you will have a chance to interact with one of these inspiring and interesting young Israelis in the coming months.

JFF EXPANDS ITS REACH

By CARING, INNOVATION, JEWISH JOURNEYS, People in Need

It is a great heartache to want a child and not being able to conceive. Whether you are a couple or an individual wanting children, it is utterly demoralizing to see others sail through pregnancy when you cannot, and it is agonizing to discover that many reproductive technologies are financially out of reach.

It took a local Atlanta innovator, Elana Frank, to bring insights from Israel, where IVF treatments are affordable, back home to Atlanta where she launched the Jewish Fertility Foundation (JFF). Over the course of five years, this Federation Innovation grantee has had outsized impact on our Jewish community. JFF provides financial assistance, emotional support, and education for those in the Jewish community facing medical infertility. JFF’s mission and ambition is exactly what we look for in an Innovation grant recipient — a remarkable idea with potential for great impact in the Jewish world, and a team with genuine dedication to its success.

“With our initial grant from Federation Innovation, we were able to create a program which is literally now being implemented across the country” says Elana Frank. “We believe in partnerships, and that community investment is so important to our process. Innovation in Atlanta has gotten us where we are today.”

Elana and her team have more than delivered, and we won’t apologize for the pun! We’ve watched the Jewish Fertility Foundation enable the birth of 49 babies (so far!) and blossom into a network of support that is scaling beyond Atlanta. We continue to be inspired by their tenacity. With our support JFF was initially able to create a community support program specifically for the Atlanta orthodox community, as well as establish Fertility Buddies, an emotional support program which has been replicated nationally and continues to grow.

Since their first round of funding, JFF has been able to substantially expand their reach throughout the Jewish community, offering emotional support and resources for single mothers, multi-faith couples, and all those facing fertility challenges. “The Jewish Fertility Foundation embodies what we hope for in a grantee relationship at Innovation” says Jori Mendel, VP of Innovation. “We share the same belief in the power of community as JFF. Their contributions and participation in offerings like Path by Plywood and Propel grantee mentor cohorts show that working together makes us all stronger in our endeavors. JFF’s continual growth and success is a testament to that.”

Anyone Can Be a Philanthropic Champion

By AgeWell Atlanta, Aging, Atlanta Jewish Foundation, CARING, COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

Anyone Can Be a Philanthropic Champion 
By Etta Raye Hirsch

One of the best things that has happened in Jewish Atlanta is the consolidation of resources that make life better for older adults. Finally, with AgeWell Atlanta, we’ve pulled together all the supportive programs of Jewish Family & Career Services, the care of Jewish HomeLife, and the social opportunities of the MJCCA, into one entity. It took guidance from Federation to spearhead the effort, but the result is a much-needed coordination of services that makes me really proud! 

With the pandemic, our older population is struggling as never before. If you don’t make it easy for people to find the help they need, they give up. Now through AgeWell Atlanta, if you’re a caregiver or an older adult needing help, you just dial one number, 1-866-AGEWELL, and you can speak to a real live person who can guide you to the right resources. It’s just what our community needs now.  

For me, philanthropy is both a habit and a family imperative. Our family foundation is something my grown children are involved with as decision-makers, and something my grandkids are becoming well aware of. If you want to know how to leave your necklace to a family member, your attorney or financial advisor can set that up. But if you want to truly be a change agent, become an investor in the things you really care about. You can be a philanthropist at any level! 

I give to a wide range of nonprofits in our region, yet I rely on experts to advise me on my gifts. In truth, Atlanta Jewish Foundation (AJF) has educated me about opportunities I didn’t even know existed. I’m almost embarrassed to mention this, but I was “old” before I even knew what a donor-advised fund (DAF) was! Now I use my DAF as a tool for making grants and I want everyone to know about them. We have to say to folks, “Let’s make philanthropy easy for you.  

Atlanta Jewish Foundation makes it simple to support AgeWell Atlanta, and other older adult supportive programs, through your donor-advised fund. The Foundation can also guide you on how you can make long-term “legacy” commitments through the Jewish Future Pledge and the LIFE & LEGACY program. Both are vehicles to build up endowment reserves in our synagogues, schools, and organizations, to sustain their future. I’m on board!  

There are many ways you can donate, but why not do it through AJF? I can make grants online, or just call the Foundation and say, “Here’s where I want my gift to go, and they take care of it. They have the right people with the right skills and relationships to connect the dots and really amp up your impact.  

Inspired by Hillel

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, NextGen

Hillel Helped Me Find My Heritage
By Olivia K. Emmette
It all began with my great-grandfather, William Goodman. He was born into an increasingly anti-Semitic, pre-WWII Germany. His parents, both Jewish, had to make the tough decision whether to risk their child’s life by keeping the family together, or send him to America, where he could have a fresh start. They selflessly chose to send him to the States where he would be adopted by a Christian family. His parents were killed shortly after in a death camp. Without the brave sacrifice of my great-great grandparents, I likely would not be here. However, I wonder sometimes, “If the world had been a better place, would I have grown up Jewish at all?”

Recently, I joined Hillel at Georgia Tech, where I began to dive deeper into my Jewish heritage and community through social events and classes like Jewish 101 and Jewish Learning Fellowship. I am proud to say that I have found a home within the Jewish community, and I am so very grateful and excited to learn more about myself and my identity.

After I made the transition from a private, Catholic middle school, to a public school I immediately began to make friends with people from other faiths. I tried to explain my Jewish history to some of my other Jewish friends, but I never felt like I belonged. Many people said that because my mother was not Jewish and because I never went through the traditional upbringing (bat mitzvah, etc.) I was not Jewish. However, I never truly felt Catholic either because I was open about my Jewish history, queer, and my father did not practice Catholicism.

The story that resonated with me the most from the Jewish Learning Fellowship is about Rabbi Akiva. He was forty before he studied anything. He did not know the aleph-bet or any of the Torah, but he worked hard to learn. Akiva teaches us that it is never too late to find your faith and that we do not need to feel shame for what we do not know. And, ever since being a part of Hillel, I have been able to ask questions — no matter how elementary and without shame. It is truly a beautiful way to learn.

Finally Doing “Mommy” Things

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, PJ LIbrary

Discovering A Jewish Life in Atlanta
by Rachel Sigman

Living in the south and being Jewish can make one feel a bit disconnected at times. I live in the diaspora of Woodstock, and if you are Jewish up here, you won’t have everyone you meet inviting you over for Shabbat dinner.  That’s what I was able to expect in Miami and in New York, but here, not so much. Here, I am lucky if I can find Hanukkah candles when Hanukkah rolls around. Here, there is no synagogue nearby.

So it’s a miracle that adopting our son Jack was the best Jewish thing that my husband, Darryl and I have ever done.  He is a perfect little baby boy and has brought us immeasurable joy already.  Jack will turn one in March and watching him grow and achieve milestones brings our little family so much nachas (joy). As an older mother, it has also been a small miracle to finally meet other Jewish moms and build a Jewish life with this beautiful boy. PJ Library helped make that happen. I knew very little about PJ Library until a friend of mine signed me up for free Jewish books, just after we were matched with a birthmother. PJ Library brings Jewish families together and gives our kids a sense of Jewish community. Now I know I don’t have to move back to New York or Boca Raton. I can live in Woodstock and still be part of a large Jewish network.

I met my husband Darryl on JDate. He was also from New York and our families lived less than an hour away from each other in Florida. Darryl was raised in a Conservative family. I had gone to Hebrew school, had been to Israel, and even attended a seminary in Crown Heights. Darryl was working in the corporate office in Home Depot for 15 years already when we met. I was an elementary school teacher. Neither of us were practicing much at the time, but we both identified as Jewish.  We fell in love and got married.  It was bashert (pre-ordained).

Like many older couples, shortly after we married we discovered that we had some fertility issues.  We considered in vitro fertilization, but failed attempts at pregnancy and heartbreak sounded so bleary to me. Darryl’s father Fred suggested adoption to me many years ago. I loved that idea but did not yet have the gumption to make it happen.  Shortly after Fred’s death I turned 42 and realized that if I didn’t have a baby soon, it would never happen. I decided to commit every fiber of my being into becoming a mom. I pushed Darryl to go through the adoption process with me, knowing that he would one day thank me (he did).  In less than a year, we became mom and dad.

Our first PJ Library book came shortly after Jack was born.  A woman who used to volunteer in my classroom through Federation brought me a slew of books from PJ library for Jack.  I knew I wanted to raise my son as a Jew and made sure to give him a kosher bris so that when the time came, his conversion into the fold would be joyous and painless.  I had stopped doing Jewish things before Jack was born, but now I was eager to do mommy things.  When Hanukkah rolled around, I began looking at Facebook events and saw a familiar name: PJ Library!  PJ Library North Fulton was hosting a small Hanukkah party. Darryl and I took little Jack and it was there that I met Abby Adler and Leah Stinson, who are PJ Library Connectors.

Leah and I met for coffee.  She told me more about the wonderful programs that PJ Library does for young children, even children Jack’s age. I joined the Facebook page for PJ Library North Fulton and since then have taken little Jack to many Jewish events. Babies and toddlers play side by side at these events while parents schmooze and get to know one another.  Sometimes we meet at a preschool where children get to play in all the classrooms.  Sometimes there is an event where a craft is involved or where doing mitzvot is encouraged.  I met several moms who have children Jack’s age who are committed to raising their children in a Jewish home. Some moms have held playdates in their homes.  I am meeting some very nice people and hope to establish and maintain friendships for our little family.

Who could have guessed that a little baby, born in Arkansas, would be the spark that connected me to my Jewish roots. I know that adopting a baby from a non-Jewish birthmother means that it is up to the adoptive family to decide if they want to raise their child in a Jewish home. For me, there is no doubt that I want Jack to live a Jewish life. Finally, I feel that I can. I wish you could see how Jack’s face lights up and how he claps his little hands to his favorite song, Hava Nagila. To me it’s proof that he already has a Jewish soul.

Books to Feed the Russian Soul

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, PJ LIbrary

Meet Our Russian PJ Library Connectors

Meet Masha Vaynman and Lana Severinsky, two Russian-speaking Jewish moms who are PJ Library’s newest Connectors. Both are long-time PJ Library subscribers who love how free monthly books bring Jewish traditions into their homes. Now, thanks to a grant from the Genesis Philanthropy Group, a foundation focused on developing Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews, they’re using PJ Library as a platform to build and engage Atlanta’s Russian-Jewish community.

Masha and Lana estimate that there are as many as 26 thousand Russians in metro Atlanta and that around 50% of them claim some Jewish heritage. Many are married to non-Jews and know very little about Judaism, but are eager to learn by reading Jewish-themed books with their children. These parents also wish to keep the Russian language alive in their homes. PJ Library books in Russian and in English are great vehicles for both.

“Books are so important to the Russian soul and psyche,” Lana explains. “You simply cannot find a Russian-Jewish family without books.” “So many Russian Jews were intellectuals in Russian society. They actually took their books along when they left,” Masha adds.

Nathan Brodsky, Federation’s Family Impact Manager, has watched the PJ Library program grow in Atlanta and sees a great opportunity in the Russian-speaking community. “PJ Library is built on supporting families’ abilities to form strong connections with other families. We offer over 200 opportunities for families to connect in-person each year, often bound by geography or age-range, and we are eager to expand to now support the Russian-speaking community.”