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Day School Seniors Reflect on an Abnormal Year


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


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. 

Supporting Holocaust Survivors: “Barry’s” Story


by Cherie Aviv, Chair, Holocaust Survivor Support Fund

“Barry” (his name has been changed for privacy) grew up in a loving Jewish home attending synagogue, observing Shabbat, playing dreidel, and eating Jewish foods. But when the National Socialists came to power and enforced Nazi rule, Barry was forced to wear a yellow star, quit school, leave home, and was transported by train to Auschwitz. By jumping off the train, and not getting caught or killed, he hid in the forest and used his skills, determination, and drive to survive. His family was not as fortunate, and the horrors of that period left a mark on him, as they did on all Holocaust survivors.

Survivors of the Holocaust like Barry deserve to live out their lives comfortably, with dignity and support. Barry made a life for himself in Atlanta. As his health deteriorated, without family to care for him, financial resources to meet Barry’s needs became paramount. Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS) provided case management, and The Holocaust Survivor Support Fund (HSSF) provided funds so he could live his remaining days respectably and not alone, with a caregiver at his side. HSSF also provided Barry with grocery gift cards, medical assistance, prescription assistance, and transportation help.

HSSF, convened by Federation, provides funds to meet the needs of Holocaust survivors, like Barry, as they get older and to supplement Claims Conference funds from Germany that are sent to social service agencies, in this case JF&CS. Claims Conference funds are insufficient to meet the needs of Barry and others like him, making HSSF support vital.

To support this important outreach:

Our Responsibility
Holocaust survivors have a short window to receive this precious care. It is an act of community responsibility and an expression of the Jewish value of chesed (loving kindness) to care for the final generation of survivors who are still with us. As dollars diminish, our support for HSSF provides this very special population the opportunity to live their remaining years as fully as possible and with dignity.

Who does HSSF Support?
In Georgia, at least 218 of the 277 Holocaust survivors receive financial, social, reparations assistance, or support services. Of these 218, two-thirds receive some type of financial assistance. Beginning in Fall 2020, HSSF funds also supported survivors in remote locations in the southeast that are served through JF&CS-Atlanta.

Needs are growing
The needs of survivors are growing as they age. The average survivor age is 86. More than 25 percent of survivors receiving financial support have annual incomes that fall below the Federal Poverty Level.
HSSF allocated over $1.5 million for survivors through March 2021.

Supporting HSSF helps provide:

  • Home-delivered meals — this has a significant impact by providing peace of mind and the comfort of a reliable food source.
  • Grocery gift cards to improve survivors’ physical health by giving them access to more nutritious food options and easing concerns about having enough food, which can be a source of anxiety.
  • Prescription assistance, which takes a huge toll on survivors who may face large co-pays and often are on multiple expensive medications.
  • Homecare, which provides the greatest need to help survivors with activities of daily living, from bathing, assistance with food intake, and basic human needs.
  • And much more…

HSSF, convened by Federation, is a partnership of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Jewish Family & Career Services, Jewish HomeLife Communities, The Breman Museum, the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, and Eternal Life-Hemshech to meet the increased needs of homecare, health care, social services, assisted living support, and financial assistance for Holocaust survivors in our community.

To support this important outreach, visit:
To learn more about HSSF, visit:

Passover: A Time to Ask Tough Questions

By CARING, COMMUNITY, People in Need

Passover is a challenging time. It is challenging to meet all the requirements, to prepare for family rituals, to prepare for Passover via Zoom instead of in person, and to balance the material world with the spiritual practice in a society that is not Passover friendly. The Passover Seder is all about asking questions, and it challenges us to ask the tough questions that we might, could, or should ask of ourselves, especially as they relate to tikkun olamrepairing the world. 

Our Passover rituals poignantly remind us that knowledge is not the same as practice. That no matter how much we know, we are still obligated to engage in the practice of the mitzvot whether it is at the Seder table or in our daily lives. And we can expand that practice by asking those tough questions: Are you asking the right questions of yourself and your community, your leaders to combat the injustices around us? What does this time of need due to the pandemic demand of me?

This year the theme of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) Interfaith Hunger Seder on March 31 is Our Sacred Obligation: Fighting Food Insecurity. While education and awareness are still key, we will be exploring ways our community fights food insecurity, not just through chesed and giving, but by asking the tough questions justice demands of us, “Why is there food insecurity and what can we do about it?” We hope the Jewish community will join us in looking for these answers on many different levels, not just now, but throughout the year.  

The Passover Haggadah states, “… Let all who are hungry enter and eat and let all who are in need enter to share our Passover.” We have the opportunity, especially in a challenging year such as this, to be grateful for what we have and to challenge ourselves to go further in our Jewish work of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and making the world better and more just. 

Learn more about the March 31 Hunger Seder here.

Rebecca Birch: An emerging leader for inclusion

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

Rebecca Birch, Assistant Tikvah Support Director at Camp Ramah Darom, has been selected as this year’s Robyn Berger Emerging Leader. The presentation of this award brings to a close Jewish Abilities Alliance’s month-long celebration of the Power of Inclusion, honoring 21 individuals who made an impact on inclusion in 2020. Ramah Darom’s Tikvah program supports campers with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, communication disorders, ADHD, anxiety disorders, and other disabilities. Audra Kaplan, who directs the program says, “Our approach is that every counselor is an inclusion counselor, and Becky has made sure that each counselor felt equipped to support each of their campers. At camp, she designed and ran age-appropriate activities for each age group around topics of inclusion and acceptance.”

Becky’s decision to work professionally in this field is the direct result of her years at camp. At Ramah Darom she guided the expansion of support for campers in typical bunks and those who require a higher level of support. In summer 2019, Becky led the staff inclusion training and then in summer 2020, led the full staff training in preparation for Kayits Babayit (Summer at Home), a virtual program. “Becky has been an integral part of not only developing our model of inclusion support, but also in helping to transform our community,” Audra Kaplan adds. “Camp Ramah Darom is proud to recognize her as a true example of the power of inclusion!”

Jared Jay has something to say

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

Jared Jay is a nonverbal young man with autism, but his message is loud and clear when he uses his letter board. We asked Jared to share his thoughts for our Atlanta community during Jewish Disability, Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion month (JDAIM).

I am autistic. I am non-speaking but not non-thinking. I communicate by spelling on a letterboard. I am silent, but I am also not.

Belief is my family cornerstone. We are Jewish and I like Judaism because it gives me hope I can survive my challenges. A Jew is a survivor and we fight in the face of fear. Facing fear is what we do. Can I tell you why? In our past others have tried to silence us but they never prevail. History has tried to erase us but we are chosen to show the world how truth in the face of darkness always shines as a light. For me, my darkness is my silence and the way society acts about my disability. But my truth, my light, are my words. Sit in my silence and hear me speak.

In today’s world, people are afraid to silence their minds and because of that, fear overpowers them when they have an encounter with a silent person. As a silent Jew, I am here to illuminate a new way of being, seeing and living.

Respect. That’s my innermost wish for the world. I am feeling that with respect the world would care more about minorities. I hope that life will become more inclusive for others like me and not like me. I grieve for those who will stay silent without ever having the opportunity to express themselves. I am hopeful for the families who saw for the first time that the doctors who said we are not connected were dangerously wrong.

I am proud that I am one of the revolutionaries.