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Gather Grants Empower Us

By Gather Grants

by Shira Colsky

My name is Shira Colsky. I live in Smyrna, and while I don’t belong to a synagogue, being Jewish and expanding my circle of Jewish friends is important to me. I love cooking and hosting events so when I learned that Federation was offering Gather Grants of $180 to make Jewish celebrations more fun and welcoming, I was excited to apply.

Actually, I applied and received the Gather Grant three separate times!

With my first Gather Grant, I hosted a Sukkot event. The grant funds paid for materials to build my very first sukkah. I invited 12 people over for a homemade dinner to share in the sukkah. It brought back incredible memories of celebrating Sukkot at Hillel at the University of Florida.  I would never have been able to build my own sukkah and have this incredible event without the grant. I ended up using my sukkah throughout the holiday—spending time with friends and family in the Sukkah we built together. I’ve always wanted to have my own sukkah, and the Gather Grant helped me make it happen.

I used my second grant to host a mahjongg Shabbat. A small group of my friends and I had learned mahjongg from our Jewish moms (where else?!). We played several games following dinner. It was a really lovely Shabbat.

The third grant I received was intended to support hosting an event in honor of Israel’s 75th Birthday. Three close friends from college and I shared a family-style dinner at Aziza, an Israeli restaurant on Atlanta’s west side. We loved the atmosphere, the food, and the chance to be together. It was a fantastic night enjoying incredible food and celebrating Israeli culture.

Gather Grants have helped enhance my Jewish celebrations and connect with my Jewish ATL community.

Apply For a Gather Grant

Making (Accessible) Jewish Places

By Gather Grants, Jewish Abilities Atlanta, Making Jewish Places

When Eleanor Pearlman heard about Gather Grants last fall, she knew she had to do something that involved kids. “I love working with kids, being around them,” she says. Gather Grants are an initiative of Federation’s Making Jewish Places, Next Gen, and PJ Library Atlanta that gives community members $180 microgrants in order to hold events in their neighborhoods and gather meaningfully. Immediately, Eleanor knew what she wanted to do.  

She and her parents went to Kroger and Spicy Peach and bought candy and frosting. They split the materials up and created individual kits so neighborhood kids could make their own candy sukkahs. “Kids love candy,” Eleanor says, and she’s right. The children and parents who attended the gathering each got a bag with supplies, and Eleanor gave a talk about sukkot and its symbols: sukkahs, lulav and etrog. Then, she invited the kids to use their candy and make and decorate their own sukkahs. The families had a blast making and eating their sukkahs, and Eleanor facilitated the whole thing. 

Relational Engagement Manager, Carla Birnbaum, was immediately impressed with Eleanor’s application for funding. “The Gather Grant program is meant to engage Jewish Atlanta in a meaningful and empowering way. Eleanor’s idea was both of those things and more. Her resourcefulness and enthusiasm surrounding this program is wonderful!” 

Eleanor is a senior in high school, and in addition to being great with little ones, she’s also a woman with a disability.  

“Sometimes adults don’t know how to talk to me. They might say ‘Oh, I’m so sorry you’re in a wheelchair.’ But I’m grateful for my wheelchair; my chair gives me freedom and independence.”  

But kids aren’t intimidated. “Kids think my chair is neat and interesting, and they take it at face value.” It’s one of the reasons she loves being around children so much; they understand that people are unique.   

February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), when Jewish organizations and communities worldwide work to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities. Organizations like Jewish Abilities Atlanta work all year to ensure that Jewish people with disabilities don’t miss out on any aspect of Jewish life, but not all Jews know about these resources.  

In addition to being a wheelchair user, Eleanor also lives with a chronic illness. She sometimes has to miss classes due to appointments or hospitalizations, but says that her Jewish school has been extremely helpful and accommodating. They understand her needs as an individual, and work with her and her family to make sure she isn’t missing out.  

Eleanor says, “I think it’s important for parents of kids with disabilities to do their research and find resources.” She says that parents shouldn’t assume that their kids can’t participate in activities like summer camp. Eleanor herself attended overnight Jewish summer camp at Camp Simcha Special every year that she was eligible except 2020, when camp was closed due to COVID.  

Eleanor says she would love to do another Gather Grant. “For somebody who is disabled, it’s sometimes hard for me to go to other people’s houses to celebrate shabbat or other holidays—there might be stairs, or narrow hallways, or other inaccessible spaces. To bring people to my home, to my sukkah, is much easier and more relaxing.” The next round of Gather Grant applications opens on March 1 and will be themed around Israel’s 75th birthday. 

JADAIM might be ending today, but we should focus all year on making Jewish Atlanta an accessible and inclusive place for all people.  

Sign Up Now for a Shabbat Gather Grant

By COMMUNITY, Making Jewish Places, NextGen, PJ LIbrary

Applications are open now for the next round of Gather Grants! Are you looking to grow your community? Have you considered hosting a Shabbat dinner, but feel like it might be too expensive? Apply for a Gather Grant this month and let Federation support your celebration!

The program gives $180 microgrants to individuals in the Atlanta metro area who host a gathering in their community for a designated holiday or initiative. The theme for the winter 2023 cycle is “Embracing and Elevating Shabbat.”

Gather Grant applications are open now and will be accepted until Tuesday, January 31. The gatherings which receive grants must be completed between February 1 and February 26.

Shabbat is arguably the most important holiday in Judaism—and it happens every week! Every seven days, we have the opportunity to rest and reflect with our loved ones. If you already host a Shabbat gathering, or if you would like to host your first one, sign up for a Gather Grant and let Federation help you celebrate.

Past Gather Grant recipients say:

“My husband and I just bought our home this year, and I had not before been able to host people in the way I can now. I always celebrated shabbat growing up and being able to host others this year really felt like an amazing full circle moment. Also, a friend who recently converted helped me plan; it was the first time she helped organize a shabbat meal!”

The biggest impact for my family was the ability to make new friends in our community. It is so important for my children to have Jewish friends to grow up with and see at services. Thanks to this program we are getting invitations to come for meals at the homes of the other participants. I am excited to watch these relationships grow.”

If you’re new to Shabbat, don’t worry. One Table says, “There is not one single way to celebrate Shabbat, so don’t worry that you’re going to do something wrong! Shabbat is always there for the taking and does not require anything fancy.” Their website is an excellent resource for first-time Shabbat-celebrators and hosts.

Your Shabbat event could be a sundown dinner, a Havdalah celebration, or a daytime Saturday gathering. There is no one way to celebrate Shabbat—get creative! Apply today for your Gather Grant and plan a Shabbat celebration to bring some warmth to the winter months.

Moishe House Without Walls Energizing Jewish Life OTP

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Making Jewish Places

When you think of Moishe House programming, your first thought might be one of the four physical locations inside Atlanta’s perimeter, or one of the 150+ Moishe Houses spread across 30 countries around the globe. However, in Atlanta’s Northern suburbs, Moishe House Without Walls (MHWOW) has emerged as a compelling Jewish nexus for young adults to “do Jewish” together. With support from Federation’s Making Jewish Places initiative, three young adult leaders, known as MHWOW “hosts” have cultivated a Jewish community of friends and peers away from Atlanta’s city’s center by offering consistent programming at least once per month. The hosts decide who they want to invite, where they want to host, what Jewish topics they want to explore, and when they want to gather. Activities can range from Friday night Shabbat dinners, holiday observances, learning events, to cultural celebrations.

Thanks to the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s Making Jewish Places (MJP) microgrants initiative, since July 2021, three MHWOW hosts – located in Kennesaw, Smyrna and Cumming – have successfully built Jewish community through 33 programs engaging 90 unique participants. “We are so grateful for the partnership that the Federation has provided since we launched this initiative in the North Atlanta suburbs,” said Dave Press, Senior Director of Advancement for Moishe House. “The demand for this programming has exceeded our expectations, and the leadership demonstrated by the MHWOW hosts has been incredible. We are so proud to be able to support these young adult leaders in their efforts to create and build community for their peers.”

Collaboration Celebrated at JPro Conference

By COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY, Making Jewish Places

Earlier this month, 20 Atlanta Jewish professionals gathered in Cleveland for the JPro Conference, along with their counterparts from around the country. The theme was collaboration – a chance to unpack where Jewish professionals have been over the last two years of the COVID challenge and where we might go now, together. It was the first cross-sector gathering of Jewish community professionals since the pandemic began.

Our Atlanta professionals led two presentations that demonstrated the collaborative power of grass roots community building through our Making Jewish Places (MJP) Initiative. Atlanta is nationally known and admired for Making Jewish Places by many Federation communities. So, we were excited to share MJP’s strategic vision that empowers people to grow their own community in authentic and relevant Jewish ways.

An important MJP vehicle are our $180 Gather Grants which allow people to create their own Jewish events. Gather grants cross generational lines and are offered to young adults, PJ Library families, and families in targeted areas of Atlanta.  Past grantees have built community sukkahs, created Hanukkah block parties, even established a Jewish culture group in a 50+ community. Another example of MJP’s grass roots power is how it transformed an annual East Cobb/Roswell Hanukkah party from a top-down Federation organized event, to a collaborative, locally driven celebration that brought together several synagogues in the area.

Listen to Danniell Nadiv, Federation’s Senior Director of Jewish Journeys, Places and Welcoming, talk about the power and potential of Making Jewish Places.

Get a Gather Grant to Elevate Your Shabbat

By COMMUNITY, Making Jewish Places

Jewish Federation of Great Atlanta’s Making Jewish Places (MJP) initiative is pleased to offer a new round of $180 Gather Grants to make Shabbat experiences extra special. MJP grants are about you, your family, your friends and neighbors! If you have an idea for a way to make your Shabbat celebration more inclusive, more welcoming, or just “more fun,” please apply here. Applications are due by April 25, and awards will be announced by email on Friday, May 13.

Gather Grants help organizations and individuals create radically welcoming spaces and engage people right where they already live.  If you have questions, please reach out to Pam Cohen at

By filling out a Gather Grant application, you agree to:

  1. Celebrate Shabbat (in a way that has meaning to you).
  2. Host an event with at least two other households.
  3. Post about your event on social media and include information about Federation’s Gather Grants.
  4. Fill out a post event survey about your experience hosting this program.

Canton GA’s Shalom Club — Way More Than Mah Jongg

By COMMUNITY, Making Jewish Places

The name Soleil at Laurel Canyon has a bit of a California ring to it, but actually it’s a 55+ residential community in Canton, GA.You might be surprised to learn that 110 out of 900 residents at Soleil are living in Jewish households, most of whom moved from all over the U.S. to be closer to their grandchildren and adult children. (Federation identified this trend in its last Community Study). You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Soleil’s Jewish residents launched a vibrant Jewish group called the Shalom Club, back in 2016. It is open to anyone in the community who has an interest in Jewish heritage and currently has 92 members!

Federation’s Relational Engagement Manager, Carla Birnbaum recently “discovered” the Shalom Club and its lively President Marvin Polikov. “They’ve truly made a Jewish place at Soleil, and Federation’s Making Jewish Places grant has supported several of their programs. Most recently club members came downtown to tour The Breman Museum’s History with Chutzpah exhibit”

Sure, some folks play mah jonng at Soleil, after all, most of them are retired. They love to look at life through a Jewish lens. The club had a virtual second night Passover seder. They built a sukkah for Sukkot. They baked hamantaschen for Purim. They decorated Soleil’s public spaces for Hanukkah. There is a Yiddish group, a genealogy group, a current events group, a book and movie group, and a Lunch Out group for meeting, eating, and conversation.

Many Soleil residents were synagogue members in their former communities, but for many, the Shalom Club gives them new ways to continue to engage Jewishly.

Marvin Polikov’s wife Sheila commented, Marvin and I were born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska where we were very active in many Jewish organizations such as the JCC preschool, B’nai Brith, ORT, Council of Jewish Women, and our synagogue.”

We moved to Georgia from the Midwest three years ago, mainly because two of our sons moved to Atlanta after they graduated college. They are both married, joined a Temple, and gave us five grandchildren. One of our granddaughters just celebrated her bat mitzvah. We love that Soleil has a viable Jewish community with the Shalom Club offering many educational activities and celebrations of all the Jewish holidays. Marvin and I have made many new friends because of the Shalom Club and have continued our involvement in our new community as we did in Omaha.”

Roberta B already lived in Atlanta but still found the move to Canton an adjustment. Moving to Soleil was a big life change. We didn’t know anyone here. And we were the only Jewish family in our section. I met several Jewish people through other friends from my previous neighborhood and from my teaching days in a Jewish day school here in Atlanta. When the Shalom Club was started, I became involved with activities and was on the original board for three years. I have made many wonderful friends through the Shalom Club. Many of us are originally from New York and even though we all have different backstories our Jewish faith gives us a common bond”

Ex-New Yorkers, Sunny L. and Arlene Z explain why they’ve joined. “We want to be a part of a Jewish organization. There is a strong camaraderie between Soleil residents and a stronger bond among other Shalom Club members. Living here in Georgia, and being Jewish, is not an easy combination. Things are very different here. A feeling of belonging motivates participation. Celebrating Holidays with others is just wonderful.”

These Shalom Club members are Jewish ambassadors. Rodney B.said, “What I value most is that the Shalom Club of Soleil provides a means for its Jewish residents, and non-Jewish residents who wish to belong, to gather, socialize, celebrate our heritage, and share our life experiences with one another.”

Birnbaum agrees. “The people I’ve met who live at Soleil are enthusiastic, confident Jews, who continuously create ways to engage in their faith. We can learn so much from them and I can’t wait to see what they plan next!” Contact Marvin Polikov to learn more about the Shalom Club.

The Sex Positivity Series Jewish Parents Asked For!

By Making Jewish Places

Many Jewish families want their kids to be exposed to sex education classes that take a “body positive,” Jewish approach to sex and puberty. Now, with grant support from Federation’s Making Jewish Places initiative (MJP), a program called EVERYbody is being piloted for 6th graders at Congregation Gesher L’Torah (GLT). EVERYbody is rooted in Jewish values such as: b’tzelem elohim (made in the image of God), kavod (respect), and v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha (love your neighbor as yourself).

After interviewing several local and national organizations, MJP partnered with SOJOURN (the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity) and the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta (JWFA) for funding to write the curriculum. This unique collaboration kicks off on Sunday, December 12, at Congregation Gesher L’Torah in Alpharetta. All sessions will be facilitated by a team of health educators.

Topics in the EVERYbody curriculum include:

  • Basic anatomy
  • Puberty and physical changes
  • Gender and sexual diversity
  • The impact of social media on self-image
  • Healthy relationship and sources of strength for positive mental health

Gesher L’Torah’s Education Director, Rebecca Gordon is excited about the series: “This much needed program has been requested by the community for years, and we are grateful to have partnered with SOJOURN to create a rich and appropriate series. These collaborations are what makes MJP programming successful and necessary to make Jewish Atlanta stronger. Our parents are thrilled!”


June is Pride Month! Here’s How to Celebrate:

By COMMUNITY, Making Jewish Places

National Pride month is a special time: as President Biden said in a proclamation, “Pride is both a jubilant communal celebration of visibility and a personal celebration of self-worth and dignity.”  In June, SOJOURN, Atlanta’s advocacy organization for LGBTQ+ issues, will honor the beautiful partnerships and communities that are happening in Atlanta and continue to educate the Jewish community so that all children, teens, and adults feel worthy, affirmed, and valued.  

To celebrate Pride month, SOJOURN will be hosting a series of conversations via Instagram Live to educate, inspire, and connect with our community. Follow us @sojourngsd to tune in! 


Looking ahead to the Shmita Year


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.