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ATL’s Moishe House Without Walls

By CARING, COMMUNITY, NextGen

We’ve shared stories in Fed5 about Atlanta’s four Moishe Houses (MH) where young adults live together and create meaningful, welcoming Jewish communities for themselves and their peers. Atlanta currently has Moishe Houses in Toco Hills, Virginia Highland, Buckhead, and a house for Russian-speaking Jewish (RSJ) young adults in Brookhaven.  

But Moishe House also impacts Atlanta through a growing network of Moishe House Without Walls (MHWOW) hosts. Here, individual hosts create Jewish experiences with support from the Moishe House organization. MHWOW hosts decide who they want to invite, where they want to host, what they want to explore in Judaism, and when they want to gather. Activities can range from Friday night Shabbat dinners, holidays, learning events, and cultural celebrations. 

In addition to MHWOW hosts in Intown Atlanta and inside the perimeter, we also now have three new MHWOW hosts in Kennesaw, Smyrna, and Cumming, thanks to the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s Making Jewish Places (MJP) microgrants initiative.  

Each host serves a different demographic and has a unique vision for their monthly MHWOW programming. programming. Additionally, an existing MHWOW host relocated from Los Angeles to Cumming in March 2021 and has been leading programming and building community.   

One host wrote about the vibrant and inclusive community she aims to create with ongoing MH support: “I want to engage with Jewish young professionals who are looking for a relaxed community of their peers. I am targeting those who may not feel comfortable joining a larger organization but want to socialize with a smaller group of friendly faces. My programming ideas are centered around the Jewish holidays, especially the lesser-known ones like Tu B’Shevat (terrarium making!), Shavuot (ice cream sundae bar!), or Tu B’Av (Galentine’s games!). For the more well-known holidayswe’ll try Sushi in the Sukkah, an interactive Seder on Passover, hamantaschen baking on Purim, a latke exchange on Hannukah, and themed Shabbat dinners.   

“My goal is to create a small but deeply connected group of openminded friends, who enjoy fun activities and celebrate Jewish holidays in a way that is meaningful to us, and to give back to our larger community through volunteering time/money.”   

In May, MHWOW host Zach Givarz took eight participants on a Shabbat weekend in the mountains. The group celebrated the beauty and love of Shabbat through food and celebrations.  

A group of women gathered, led by MHWOW host Leah Berryhill, to celebrate Shavuot and the spring harvest with roses and rosé wine. The participants made flower arrangements and took time to enjoy and connect safely outside at a local community park.  

MHWOW host Shira Colsky hosted an ice cream party with nine friends in honor of Shavuot. They discussed the history of this less-known Jewish holiday and enjoyed various homemade ice cream flavors! 

Learn more about MHWOW in our area, email: withoutwalls@moishehouse.org 

They Clicked from the First Phone Call

By Aging, CARING, COMMUNITY, NextGen

Brian M., who lives near the JF&CS office in Dunwoody, stopped in at the beginning of the pandemic and asked how he might be of help. He filled out a volunteer application and was directed to Vivienne Kurland, Program Coordinator of One Good Deed, JF&CS’ friendly visitor program supporting older adults. 

His timing was terrific. One Good Deed was quickly pivoting to a Phone Friend Program connecting volunteers with older adults who were at heightened risk of loneliness and isolation due to COVID-19 guidelines. 

Sharon Spiegelman, One Good Deed’s Program Manager, and her partner Vivienne Kurland, had a match in mind. They had met with a man named Leonard shortly before the pandemic and had a good feeling about Brian and Leonard being a great match.  

To quote Brian, “This was a friendship that clicked from the first call!”   

The pair quickly established a close bond around a common interest — sports. “We’d recap what happened in sports, with no judgments, no matter what teams we root for.” After a FaceTime call, Leonard said, “I get a vicarious thrill out of hearing what you’re doing at your job.”  

As soon as both Brian and Leonard were both fully vaccinated, they arranged to meet. Brian had previously said on a FaceTime call, “I look forward to the day when it’s safe enough to meet in person.” 

Now it’s happening! So far, the pair have enjoyed lunch together and a tour of Tucker, where Leonard lives. Brian reciprocated with an incredible treat for Leonard who had not been to a baseball game in four years — he got tickets to a Braves game, and they sat right behind the dugout, where both enjoyed complimentary food and beverages! 

Learn more about supporting an older adult through One Good Deed. We also celebrate Sharon Spiegelman who is retiring from the program she managed and sustained for more than 15 years. Thank you, Sharon! 

Hillels of Georgia Partners with JF&CS on Student Mental Health

By COMMUNITY, NextGen, People in Need

Elliott B. Karp, CEO of Hillels of Georgia, could see that Jewish college students across Hillel’s eight Georgia campuses were feeling isolated, anxious, and depressed. Requests for on-campus counseling services were pushed to their limits.

“Hillels of Georgia is committed to the wellbeing of our Jewish college students including their mental health,” Karp said. “Even before the pandemic, today’s generation of college students already exhibited the highest rate of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and unfortunately, suicide. COVID-19 only exacerbated this reality for our students. Given our commitment to being a Jewish ‘home away from home’ for our Jewish students, we felt an urgency to create Be Well With Hillel as a collaborative partnership with JF&CS.

Thanks to a generous $25,000 grant from Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, Be Well With Hillel is now providing free, virtual, confidential counseling services by a licensed clinician from the Frances Bunzl Clinical Services of JF&CS to any Jewish college student in Georgia.

Susan Fishman, the JF&CS clinician providing services, has an extensive background in college student counseling. She has found that virtual therapy works better than she imagined. “This is a modality that works especially well for college students. I’ve discovered that the stigma attached to mental health issues has dialed down a bit during the pandemic. Suddenly it’s OK to ask for help. Students are doing it earlier, not letting things build up to a crisis.”

Be Well With Hillel will continue to offer services throughout the summer, with a focus on transitioning to college in July and August and will provide group webinars on mental health and other issues as a way of providing support to Jewish students. Learn more here.

Because It’s Our Turn: Thoughts on NextGen Philanthropy

By Atlanta Jewish Foundation, COMMUNITY, NextGen, PHILANTHROPY

Jonathan Arogeti always heard his parents and grandparents say that giving back to the community was a central family value. “They told us, you have three options with money — spend it, save it, or give it away. And they believed by far that giving it away, if you are able, was the very highest value. During this time in my life, I’m doing all I can to encourage my peers to get involved in philanthropic giving. It’s our generation’s time to build on and sustain this incredible Atlanta community.”

Arogeti vividly remembers how his family’s support for Hillels of Georgia brought the commitment home. “We all attended the dedication ceremony of the new Hillel building at Emory,” Jonathan says. “It was just a few years after my grandfather’s death, and there was so much meaning to see my grandmother’s pleasure at the depth and impact of this gift. I was in college, and it felt so relevant to my stage of life.”

Now, when he can direct his philanthropic giving, Jonathan works closely with Staci Eichelbaum, Atlanta Jewish Foundation’s Director of Philanthropic Advising. He serves as a mentor to Atlanta young adults who have grown up blessed with family resources. With Eichelbaum, Arogeti has led two cohorts of a four-month NextGen Legacy group that helps NextGen donors clarify their own philanthropic interests — and equally important, teaches them to initiate discussions about where they would like to see family resources allocated and how they can participate.

Arogeti explains, “When you are coming of age in a family with the capacity to be generous, we want you to think about what your philanthropic interests look like from a structural and decision-making standpoint. In the group, we ask, ‘Does your family let you speak up and participate in philanthropic decisions? If not, how can you get more involved?’ “

He adds, “When the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund was gearing up last year, we encouraged our Legacy participants to ask their parents if they were participating.  Some had never asked about these decisions before.”

Arogeti also empowers the NextGen Legacy groups to be very specific about their personal priorities. “For example, tell your family, ‘I’m interested in environmental projects that lower carbon footprint. How can you support me in that?’” Jonathan is a founding member of the Repair the World Advisory Council and makes his own gift, but he also asks his family to make a gift to amplify the commitment. “They do it because I asked them,” he says. “It’s tremendously empowering!”

“We’re a fortunate group, but we agree that talking about money is always hard — even with your parents. The idea is to get these conversations started. The first thing I ask each new group is, ‘How many of you told your families that we asked you to participate in NextGen Legacy?’ I’m frequently surprised by how many have not! Having peers on the same journey as you takes away some of the hesitancy and helps you learn what is possible.”

To learn more about NextGen Legacy, and upcoming cohorts, contact Staci Eichelbaum, Director of Philanthropic Advising, Atlanta Jewish Foundation.

Atlanta’s Sober Spiritual Community

By CARING, COMMUNITY, NextGen

Food and booze are omnipresent in Jewish life, marking most holidays and every Shabbat. How should we, along with Jews in recovery, and their loved ones, approach the ubiquity of alcohol, even when it is part of sanctifying our observances? And with Purim coming, how can we make a holiday where getting drunk is actually encouraged, a safe and holy experience for everyone?

“We definitely need more healthy places for Jews and other people in recovery,” says Marc Pimsler, a founder of Sober Shabbat events in Atlanta. His pivotal moment of commitment to recovery happened in 2004 at Congregation Kol Emeth during the high holy days. Today, with a decade of sobriety under his belt, Marc knows how precarious the road to recovery can be.  “I think a lot about the challenges of leading a sober Jewish life. Purim is the holiday that exemplifies the addict’s dilemma. It’s all about hiding, putting on a show. My substance abuse was a kind of pageantry, finding a way to numb myself, take away the pain by creating a disguise. Like Esther, I was hiding my authentic self.”

Rabbi Malka Packer-Monroe, Director of InterfaithFamily Atlanta,­ and Mandy Wright, Program Manager of JF&CS’s HAMSA program (Helping Atlantans Manage Substance Abuse), have been partnering to create sober spiritual options. Rabbi Packer-Monroe speaks to the special challenges of Purim: “According to Jewish law, those who identify as Jewish are supposed to become so inebriated on Purim that they don’t know the difference between Mordechai and Haman. There is a teaching that we are to get so drunk that we experience everything as G-d. Good and evil are both part of G-d’s world and we should experience them as one.”

“The irony is that for people in recovery from addiction, it is drinking and drugging and using other substances that blocks them from their connection to a Higher Power. Using substances was their way to check out and not be present with the “Mystery.” One way to the Source of Life for many people is through quiet meditation and spiritual community.  We’re creating places for Jews and their loved ones to celebrate in spaces where there is no alcohol. We would like to support Jewish organizations and institutions who are hosting Sober Purim experiences for adults.”

Taking their lead from InterfaithFamily and HAMSA, more and more organizations in Jewish Atlanta are adjusting their practices. This year’s Purim Off Ponce event will not be fully dry, but there will be a signature non-alcoholic drink served, crafted by a mixologist who caters to sober events.  Other Jewish events are featuring “mocktails” and other alcohol-free options. There have been national Birthright Israel trips for people in recovery. It’s also possible to host a virtual sober shabbat through OneTable Atlanta and OneTable offers a guide to creating a OneTable sober Shabbat.

HAMSA’s Mandy Wright says, “We want to push our community to shift the culture around drinking by offering fun, appealing, non-alcoholic alternatives either in place of, or in conjunction with, the traditional alcoholic offerings at fundraisers, celebrations, and more.”

“And remember, the word ‘sober’ doesn’t just refer to alcohol. Sobriety is for all people in recovery, whether from trauma, abuse, mental illness, or substance abuse. For years I thanked G-d for alcohol and drugs. They saved me from killing myself. But now, I’m married and in the first healthy relationship of my life. My husband Ashley is a Christian whose depth of spirit is amazing. He re-inspires me every day to cherish Judaism and stay on a healthy path.” says Marc Pimsler.

Becoming a Changemaker

By CARING, COMMUNITY, NextGen

Earlier in 2020 Federation recruited more than 25 young adults from metro Atlanta to join the inaugural Jewish Changemakers Fellowship, a three-week online leadership development experience hosted by Jewish Federations of North America. One participant was Zoe Katz, a 2019 graduate of Agnes Scott College who interned with JFNA’s Israel Action Network to combat the delegitimization of Israel and BDS on college campuses.

I took 78 pages of notes throughout my three-week Jewish Changemakers fellowship. Looking through those pages now, there is one quote from my notes that sticks out as I reflect on my experience. I listened to a podcast about supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities. As the podcast encouraged me to use my own story and challenges to create change, the podcast guest mentioned the Jewish proverb: “I ask not for a lighter burden, but broader shoulders.”

As one of 500 fellows between the ages of 20-25 from around the world, I listened intently to rabbis, leaders of Jewish organizations, activists, community and coalition builders, and my fellow fellows. In Zoom breakout rooms, we discussed Rabbi Hillel, Theodor Herzl, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and John Lewis, who passed away during the fellowship. At times, I was in awe of the content. Who was I to participate in these conversations? I am no agent of change. Some of the Changemakers were established professionals, writers, and activists with large followings. I had less than 200 Twitter followers. Yes, I always considered myself a leader and was recognized as one in college. But was I an agent of change? What did it even mean to be a changemaker?

It meant broadening my horizons. It meant broadening my shoulders.

The fellowship was split into three sections: the Story of Self, a week of personal and professional development; the Story of Us, a week of learning about the global Jewish community; and the Story of Now, a week of service and advocacy. It was okay that I didn’t think of myself as a changemaker –  these three weeks would guarantee that I would learn.

Week one started with us writing down a “six-word story of self.” In essence, it was a tagline for ourselves and a thesis statement for who we hoped to become over the course of the fellowship. On day one, I scribbled down, “finding my story, always staying myself.” By Friday, the sentence read, “passionate storyteller and value-focused Changemaker.”

It was a vast improvement.

At the beginning of the fellowship, I was most excited for week two,–  the Story of Us. In college, I studied Jewish history. (Specifically, I wrote my senior history thesis on Jewish Pirates–  yes, really.) In my research, I got to visit the Jewish community of Jamaica, which sparked a passion for learning about global Jewish communities. And wow, did the curriculum deliver. From learning about Cochini Jews in India to discussing the question of ‘Who is a Jew?’ with my cohort, I drank in the content and conversation like it was water and I had just finished wandering the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.

My favorite elective of the fellowship was that week, too. Entitled Finding Your Narrative in the Israel Conversation, I spoke passionately in our breakout rooms about my frustrations with the Israel conversation on campuses. Facilitated by JFNA’s Israel Action Network (IAN), I also worked up the courage to ask the Director of IAN for an informational interview to discuss Jewish organizations and my career. Now, a few months later, I’m interning for IAN, and I’m specifically working on programs to combat the delegitimization of Israel and BDS on college campuses.

By week three, I found friends in hundreds of fellows. We texted each other and made memes about the content we were learning. I organized a writing group and conducted a writing workshop on Sunday. Through Facebook groups, we organized extracurricular video chats — as if we were in a conference center, and we could hang out after sessions in the lobby, just chatting about anything and everything. On the last day of the fellowship, I was selected to ask Representative Maxine Waters a question about solidarity and coalition building in front of all 500 fellows, the president of JFNA, and other Congress members. It was terrifying and exhilarating. It was change-making.

It’s been a few months since the fellowship ended, but I continue to be amazed by the relationships I formed. We champion each other on social media, we network, we work together to create and advocate. I simply would not have the tools, the vocabulary, or the inspiration to do this work before the Changemakers fellowship. Before, my shoulders were narrow. I often collapsed under the weight of uncertainty, and the sheer amount of work there was to make a more just world. Now, my shoulders can bear the weight of change. I have the muscle to get the job done. And they continue to broaden more and more—all thanks to the Jewish Changemakers fellowship.

NextGen Steps Up

By CARING, COMMUNITY, NextGen

In partnership with Repair the World Atlanta and Shalom Corps, NextGen is excited to launch a virtual volunteer program to bring together young adults to work with seniors living in assisted living and skilled nursing and rehabilitation homes. COVID-19 has brought many challenges, and one we continue to see are the effects COVID-19 have on seniors who are living in assisted living. It’s not as easy for families to visit, and technology can often be challenging to navigate.

We’re launching a handful of ways for NextGen in Atlanta to make a different. You can create playlists and listen to the music with a resident – often a source of conversation and happiness. You can talk to a resident and work to capture their history through a conversation – there is nothing families value more than having stories written down to share with future generations. And we can’t forget about the amazing professionals who have worked day in and day out during COVID to bring fantastic care to residents – we’ll be working on ways to send them exciting surprises to thank them for their care.

Registration will open soon. Please fill out the interest form below and we will be in touch when we launch our first round of volunteer activities.

Purim in a Box

By COMMUNITY, NextGen

This Purim (like this entire past year) is a bit different from years past. While we can’t get together in costume to read the Megillah and celebrate, we can fulfill another mitzvah for the holiday – sending Mishloach Manot (Purim gift baskets). Your free Purim box from NextGen Federation contains enough supplies to create four Mishloach Manot bags filled with a Hamantaschen-making kit and recipe, snacks, fun crafts, and more. Register today to pick up your free box.

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Hanukkah In A Box

By COMMUNITY, NextGen

NextGen Federation is partnering with Moishe House to bring you Hanukkah in a box! Why sit on Zoom for another hour when you can get everything you need to celebrate your way sent right to your house? We’ll send you a menorah, candles, gelt, and more!

Thank you for your interest. This form is now closed.

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.