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Impact Israel & Yemin Orde: Transforming the Lives of At-Risk Youth

By CARING, COMMUNITY, People in Need

For 450 at-risk youth from around the world, Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel is a transformational place. Located on 77 acres atop Mount Carmel, the village serves as a home, school, and safe haven for young immigrants who have suffered trauma and have no other place in Israel to call home.

The village’s youth are from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union, France, Brazil, and Israel itself. Through individualized therapeutic care, tutoring, and mentoring, empowers these marginalized teenagers to become accomplished students and successful professionals. The program strengthens crucial life skills and connects participants to their Jewish history.

“The Atlanta Federation has a long history of friendship and collaboration with Yemin Orde, says Deputy Director Susan Weijel. “You have supported our work, visited us, hosted our kids in Atlanta, and made us feel like extended mishpocha (family).” We are especially proud of that Atlanta’s Robert Arogeti now champions philanthropic support for Yemin Orde as the National Chair of ImpactIsrael.”

Robert Arogeti has a long history and personal connection with Yemin Orde that spans more than 30 years. He is also a past chair and lifetime trustee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. Now, through ImpactIsrael, he directs his philanthropic expertise to amplify Yemin Orde’s impact on more than 20,000 current students and alumni each year.

Promoting is just one initiative Atlanta has invested in. It provides students with a framework to overcome academic obstacles and truly believe in their ability to succeed. The Yemin Orde team provides academic support, extensive tutoring, an educational summer camp, and marathon study sessions to prepare students for matriculation exams. There is also a specialized computer science program for students who excel academically. As a result, many students have exceeded their initial academic goals.

Robert Arogeti takes personal pride in this work. Being at Yemin Orde with my wife and daughters reminded me of a mantra I try to live by: Living life by being Jewish every day.’ That has been the essence of Yemin Orde since I first visited in the mid-1980s with Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. After being an advocate, a funder, a believer, and a champion of Yemin Orde, it’s an honor to serve on the ImpactIsrael board of directors”

Expanded Emergency Services for Georgia and Regional Holocaust Survivors

By Aging, CARING, COMMUNITY, People in Need

We are excited to share that Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and JF&CS have become KAVOD SHEF initiative partners. The additional KAVOD SHEF funding will help meet the needs of survivors in Georgia and the Southeast region primarily for home care needs. It will be administered by JF&CS and will supplement Claims Conference funding and the impactful work of the Holocaust Survivor Support Fund (HSSF) improving the lives of survivors who need assistance.

Since 2016, Federation’s Holocaust Survivor Support Fund (HSSF), under the leadership of Cherie Aviv, has provided funding to address shortfalls from the Claims Conference to meet the needs of survivors in their final years. These funds provide survivors with grocery food gift cards, home-delivered meals, medical/dental-related needs, homecare, emergency assistance, and more in Georgia and remote locations in the Southeast.

There are 160 survivors in Georgia, and 58 in the regional program, who receive some type of financial assistance from the Claims Conference and/or HSSF funding. More than 25 percent of survivors receiving support have annual incomes that fall below the Federal Poverty Level.

Home care continues to be the most needed service and the costliest and additional help is now coming for survivors in Georgia and the Southeast region. The Seed the Dream Foundation has partnered with KAVOD, a long-time advocate for survivors, to establish the KAVOD Survivors of the Holocaust Emergency Fund (SHEF). KAVOD SHEF exponentially multiplies the dollars and vital services directly reaching survivors and ensuring their dignity and quality of living.

Ten Meaningful Weeks

By CARING, COMMUNITY, People in Need

With the understanding that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted our cities, Repair the World Atlanta launched a local cohort of Serve the Moment last fall. It offers a ten-week opportunity with a stipend for young adults to engage in critical racial justice work, tackle food insecurity, strengthen our education system, and combat social isolation, alongside contextual and Jewish learning. We’re honored to share reflections from two members of the Serve the Moment Corps, Justine Stiftel and Grace Parker, who were clearly changed and challenged during their service in Atlanta this spring.  

A fall cohort of Serve the Moment will soon be recruiting new members. To be put on the email list for the Fall 2021 application, please email servethemoment@werepair.org   

Justine Stiftel (They/Them):
“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it,” the famed quote from Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers), came up frequently during my time as a Serve the Moment Corps Member through Repair the World. Indeed, the twenty young adults in our spring cohort could never have finished our work responding to the lasting economic and social effects of the pandemic. Nonetheless, we made plenty of headway repairing our communities and strengthening our connections to Judaism. 

I had the pleasure of being partnered with Second Helpings Atlanta, a non-profit redistributing surplus food to those in need. I revised and evaluated their contact system, improving communications with their food donors, partner agencies, and volunteers. I learned the serious impact that the pandemic had on food access in our city. Thirty to forty percent of the food produced in America ends up in landfills, while one in five children in Atlanta is food insecure. It was an honor to contribute to fixing this disconnect. 

At our cohort’s weekly calls, we reflected on our experiences with our different non-profits. We heard from Jewish leaders and non-profits across the metro, expanding our knowledge of the needs of the most vulnerable populations. As the program lined up with the seven weeks of the Omer, we often connected with the seven lower sefirot. 

In 10 meaningful weeks, Serve the Moment has enabled me to learn about my city, my career goals, and my Judaism.  

Grace Parker (She/Her):
If there’s one thing that I learned from this past year it is that even in the toughest of times, there is always a silver lining. For me, that silver lining has been my experience with Repair the World’s Serve the Moment program and my partner organization, Concrete Jungle, a local nonprofit working to address food insecurity. Through Serve the Moment, I was able to dedicate the extra time on my hands toward meaningful and impactful work during a period that felt overwhelmingly helpless and hopeless for so many, myself included.

Having just moved to Atlanta during the pandemic, I was also able to connect to my newfound community in a truly special way — meeting new people, seeing new places, and taking part in conversations I would not have been exposed to otherwise. I feel incredibly grateful for this program and the countless lessons it has granted me, from lessons in empathy to a deeper connection with Jewish community service to fresh perspectives on rectifying the injustices our world faces now more than ever. I did this program to serve others, but ultimately, with each smiling face receiving their weekly nutritious groceries, I was given the greatest gift of all. 

Day School Seniors Reflect on an Abnormal Year

By CARING, COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, People in Need

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Learning: Humans Crave Connection

By CARING, COMMUNITY, People in Need

May is mental health awareness month, and good time to look more closely at Federation and Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS) recent COVID-19 Jewish Community Self-Care Study. The study revealed that two particular age groups in our community experienced the greatest stress and anxiety during the pandemic year. Many mental health issues, including substance abuse, surfaced from the survey, but the deep need for activities that support human connection was evident across all age groups. 

Under 24yearolds reported high levels of anxiety and loneliness because they couldn’t be with their friends. They also worried about the vulnerability of older loved ones to the virus. We know that a robust social life is core to this age group.Those under 24 lack the life experience to cope and understand that this too will pass. As we think about responses to their needs, a core question for this age group is how do we help them build resilience skills and stronger selfcare practices? 

35-44yearolds, especially parents who were homeschooling their kids, were deeply affected by the combined stressors of meeting their responsibilities to their families and doing their jobs. They feared the illness, were anxious about supervising their childrens’ education, and felt high stress around taking care of others. Core questions for this age group: TV watching, visiting in person, exercise, being outdoors, and cooking sustained this group. How can we balance their family responsibilities with their need for personal care? 

Dan Arnold, Director of Clinical Services at JF&CS believes the stress we are experiencing may not subside any time soon. He cites the “Shadow Pandemic” where mental health concerns are expected to follow even as COVID cases decline, “We’re in the midst of a collective trauma,” Arnold says. “Trauma often overwhelms the ability to cope and diminishes the ability to feel a full range of emotions. Clinicians need to understand the sense of betrayal, confusion, and loss that so many are feeling.” 

Amy Glass, a director in Federation’s Community Planning and Impact helped design and field the self-care survey. She feels theres a strong community call to action coming out of the results. “I hope every Jewish professional will think creatively about how their programs can enhance mental health resilience. want us to come together to mine new responses from our organizations that address supporting good mental health. The survey showed that people want exercise buddies, and activities that bring people together — they want to feel connected!” 

Conquering Shame, Cultivating Trust

By CARING, COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, People in Need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the full survey results. 

A New Blueprint for Inclusion in Jewish Atlanta

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, People in Need

In early 2020, the Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) engaged in a study of disability inclusion in Jewish Atlanta with an organization called MatanMatan works with Jewish professionals, communities, and families to create and sustain inclusive Jewish settings for people with disabilitiesThe study was an opportunity to reflect on our community’s past efforts and to re-evaluate needs and areas for deeper focus and support.  

Then came COVID-19. As the pandemic began to unfold, the study took on even more importance. It was clear that individuals with disabilities were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, facing increased social isolation, cuts in crucial services, and increased vulnerability to their health and wellbeing.  

Thanks to the consulting team from Matan, wnow have identified a framework that promotes and enhances a vision of a Jewish Atlanta that is fully inclusive of individuals with disabilities and their families across the lifespan. Here are some of the ways how we hope to close the gap between what currently exists and what the community aims to accomplish:   

  • Establishing and supporting coordinated communal inclusion efforts and unified community goals  
  • Prioritizing funding for inclusion across the lifespan and ensuring sustainability  
  • Creating a shared communal vision of acceptance and support for individuals of all abilities  
  • Training for all community professionals and lay leaders to create an even landscape of inclusion knowledge and capability  

We look forward to sharing the outcomes of this study and our road map for the next several years as we deepen our work alongside our community partners, in making Jewish Atlanta a place where people of all abilities are welcomed, included, and embraced in all aspects of Jewish life. 

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.

Doing the Work to Close the Inclusion Gap or A Framework for an Inclusive Jewish Atlanta

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, People in Need, PHILANTHROPY

Community Study on Disability Inclusion 

Annie Garrett, Jewish Abilities Alliance Manager 

In early 2020, the Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) engaged in a community study of disability inclusion in Jewish Atlanta. The study was an opportunity to reflect on our community’s past efforts with disability inclusion and to reevaluate needs and areas for deeper focus and support. Shortly after we embarked on this work, the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold. As we started to understand the impact of the pandemic, this study took on even more importance. Individuals with disabilities are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, facing increased social isolation, cuts in crucial services, and increased vulnerability to their health and wellbeing. This study has shed light on our community’s most current and pressing needs and will provide crucial data and direction to continue lifting disability inclusion as a priority across all aspects of Jewish life.  

JAA worked closely with a consulting team from Matan, spending many months interviewing Jewish communal professionals, lay-leaders, self-advocates, caregivers, and family members. As a result, we have identified a framework that promotes and enhances a vision of a Jewish Atlanta that is fully inclusive of individuals with disabilities and their families across the lifespan. This framework identifies several areas of inclusion work over the next several years to close the gap between what currently exists and what the community aims to accomplish:  

  • Establishing and supporting coordinated communal inclusion efforts and unified community goals 
  • Prioritizing funding for inclusion across the lifespan and ensuring sustainability 
  • Creating a shared communal vision of acceptance and support for individuals of all abilities 
  • Training for all community professionals and lay leaders to create an even landscape of inclusion knowledge and capability 

We look forward to sharing the outcomes of this study and our road map for the next several years as we deepen our work alongside our community partners, in making Jewish Atlanta a place where people of all abilities are welcomed, included, and embraced in all aspects of Jewish life.