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Linda Selig Awarded the 2022 Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award

By PHILANTHROPY

On December 11, 58 Lions of Judah from Atlanta will travel to Phoenix, Arizona for the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Lion of Judah. The International Lion of Judah Conference is a biannual event for women philanthropists who help shape the Jewish world. And this year, Linda Selig will be honored as the recipient of Atlanta’s Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award.

Linda Selig sat down with the Breman Museum and discussed what winning the Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award means to her, and the legacy she hopes to leave in Atlanta and beyond. Click here to watch.

“We are thrilled that so many of Atlanta’s Lions of Judah are able to come to this very special 50th Anniversary celebration. Ours will be the 2nd largest delegation, topped only by NYC. Our Lions represent a cross section of our Jewish community – I think it speaks volumes about the passion, commitment and leadership of Atlanta’s Jewish women,” stated Tamer Stern, President of Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy.

The Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award is a national honor bestowed upon a Woman of Valor in Jewish communities throughout North America, as selected by her peers. The honor is bestowed on “extraordinary women who have set a high standard for philanthropy and volunteerism.” The award is named for Norma Kipnis-Wilson and Toby Friedland, the co-founders of Jewish Federations of North America Lion of Judah program.

“Linda Selig is an inspirational champion for Jewish Atlanta and has dedicated much of her life to sustaining our local and international community,” shared Federation President & CEO, Eric Robbins. “She has served as our Federation’s Board Chair and Campaign Chair, and alongside her daughter, Stacey Fisher, has served on the board of Hillels of Georgia. Linda and her husband Steve, have been instrumental in building a thriving Jewish Atlanta!”

At the conference, Atlanta Lions will gather with women from across the world to address the most critical issues facing our domestic and global communities, including rising antisemitism and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The conference is an opportunity to meet philanthropists from across the world and make connections that strengthen our Jewish community today and help us build for tomorrow.

Their Daughter Knew that Hunger Doesn’t Take the Weekend Off

By COMMUNITY, Generosity, PHILANTHROPY

In the coming weeks, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is launching a new quarterly magazine: Generosity. Generosity will highlight stories of philanthropy, charity, and community in Jewish Atlanta. As a first look, here is a story from our inaugural issue.

Staci Robbins was a beloved elementary school teacher in DeKalb County whose life ended far too soon—but whose legacy has carried on in a big way. “Staci taught in a Title I school with a 93 percent Hispanic population. She was fluent in Spanish and utterly devoted to her kids,” her father Ron said. “She was named Teacher of the Year at Montclair Elementary School in DeKalb County,” her father said.

Staci’s commitment to her students, even as she battled illness, led her parents to launch an Atlanta metro chapter of Backpack Buddies — a nonprofit that provides six nutritious meals to kids who are food insecure over the weekend. Backpack Buddies is one of several national programs providing much needed weekend nutrition to vulnerable families and children.

A 2021 study in the Economics of Education Review, provides evidence that weekend food programs like Backpack Buddies have a positive effect on academic performance in the form of increased reading test scores, and suggestive evidence they also raise math scores. The effects appear strongest for the youngest and lowest performing students.

“Our daughter had many students who received free and reduced lunch at school but were not eating well over the weekend. Staci knew firsthand about kids who took turns eating over the weekend because there wasn’t enough food at home. She understood that kids who eat poorly or come in hungry on Monday mornings are not primed to learn,” Tamra Robbins said.

Though they lived in Savannah, GA, Ron and Tamra Robbins moved back to Atlanta in 2017 as Staci’s illness progressed. “Even when she was on dialysis, she remained a fierce advocate for her kids and for Backpack Buddies. We established Backpack Buddies of Metro Atlanta in Staci’s memory. It has grown beyond our wildest dreams and has become a meaningful mitzvah in her memory,” her parents said.

They started small at Congregation Beth Shalom where a group of volunteers gathered weekly to pack shelf-stable food items in backpacks that were discretely distributed to 10 kids at nearby Kingsley Elementary School in Dunwoody. Though Kingsley was perceived as an “affluent” school, there was a need. The extent of food insecurity in suburban schools was eye-opening.

Jonathan Halitsky, who is now Backpack Buddies Director of Operations and its only paid staff member, underscores the dimension of the problem. “One in six children in Georgia are hungry. “There is hunger in virtually every public school in the metro area.”

As Ron and Tamra became cheerleaders for Backpack Buddies in Atlanta, they reached out to churches, school groups, and synagogues to grow the volunteer base. “It was a tremendous service opportunity. High school students, and bar/bat mitzvah kids got involved. The phone rang and rang as organizations asked how to get involved and became our Community Partners.  Today the program works with 25 partner organizations.

At first, each organization purchased its own food, packed bags, and delivered to local schools. Terri Bagin, a volunteer, described what happened as Backpack Buddies took off.  “Ron had the idea that Backpack Buddies should cultivate new sources of food donation. He developed relationships with local food banks so Backpack Buddies could receive shelf-stable food donations. Thanks to several “angels’ in the community, Backpack Buddies became a 501c3 in order to receive charitable and food donations. Debbie Levinson, who manages the Helen Marie Stern Fund was an early funder. Eventually, as space for bulk food storage became a challenge, realtor Debbie Sonenshine found an affordable 2,000 square foot space in a strip mall that hadn’t been rented in seven years.

The pandemic threw the organization some curveballs, but by spring of the 21-22 school year, Backpack Buddies and its community partners were processing and packing 6-8 weeks’ worth of food supplies. “We took last summer to really ramp up and acquire more food, refine our operations, and train Community Buddies on the distribution system. Digital ordering means that organizations can choose the most convenient pickup times. Each student’s weekend bag consists of five proteins, two vegetables, two cereals, two fruits, three snacks and two juices. There is no charge for the food, and all items are purchased by Backpack Buddies or donated by charitable food sources. The offerings are varied and include tuna, chicken, ravioli and macaroni and cheese.

Toward the end of the last school year, Backpack Buddies served 800 children a week, and this school year nearly 1250-1500 children a week receive food. “We’d love to be at 2,000 children a week,” Halitsky says with pride. “This will require more donations and an expanded Backpack Buddies partner network.”

Halitsky says, “Now that Backpack Buddies provides its partners with all the food and has perfected its order and delivery system, we are running on a pure donation model. This makes it possible for any school with a need to get involved, and any organization that wants to volunteer, to help. We can’t eradicate hunger, but we’re addressing children’s weekend needs in an efficient and targeted way.”

Staci Robbins would be proud!

Learn more and volunteer to combat hunger among children at www.backpackbuddiesatl.org.

Paying it Forward with Philanthropy

By COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

By Matt M. Bronfman

I recently had the good fortune to attend the Women’s Philanthropy Fall Event featuring Ana Sazonov as a speaker. Ana was born in Ukraine, and with the support of the Jewish Federation, her family immigrated to Israel when she was six years old, where she began her Jewish journey. Through a fascinating series of twists and turns, Ana now is the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Columbia, South Carolina—one of the youngest Federation leaders in North America.

Her story, from being a beneficiary of services to working to ensure other Jews receive the services they need, drives home the importance of paying it forward.

It is now campaign season, and I hope when you receive the call, you will think of the unknown future Ana of the world. I also hope you realize that your gift to the campaign benefits not merely the individuals and organizations that directly receive funding, but also lays the foundation for the next generation of donors and doers in the Jewish community. 


Honoring Karen Botnick Paz With a Fund in Her Name

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, PHILANTHROPY

Karen Botnick Paz has spent much of her adult life advocating for people with disabilities in the Jewish community. This month, she is retiring as the Donor Research and Special Projects Associate at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. In her honor, the Karen Botnick Paz Jewish Abilities Fund has been established at the Atlanta Jewish Foundation.   

Karen has dedicated herself to the Jewish community and championed programs that provide resources to help individuals and families navigate the challenges of living with a disability. This passion has been Karen’s lifelong focus and is deeply personal to her.   

As a young girl, she went to Camp Barney Medintz, first as a camper in the early 70s and then as a counselor. She remembers that one year, a girl in her cabin was developmentally disabled, and this young woman had no specialized support. She recalls how difficult camp was for this friend and how some of the other girls in their cabin didn’t understand her struggles; they singled her out and made her feel different.  

Witnessing this had a profound impact on young Karen. “It was a different time, of course; there was so much we didn’t know. But how much easier would this camp experience have been if she’d had the resources she needed?” Through social media, Karen has reconnected with her. This woman, now in her 60s, is finally going to college—with those cabin mates from long ago cheering her on as she proudly posts her most recent accomplishments. 

Special needs support in Atlanta’s Jewish community was just beginning in 1966 when the Atlanta Bureau of Jewish Education started a Sunday School program called Havanah. In 1976, in partnership with the Atlanta Jewish Community Center, a day camp program was added. In September 1982, the Atlanta Bureau of Jewish Education re-structured Havanah, adding a program called Amit to serve students with learning disabilities. Havanah continued to work with students with more significant developmental disabilities. 

Karen began her involvement with Amit as a volunteer in the late ’90s as a board member for Jewish Educational Services (JES). At the time, Amit was a special needs Sunday School program run by JES. In 2001, it became an independent agency serving the Atlanta Jewish community in a broader capacity and eventually a SACS accredited school program called The Amit Community School. In 2004, Karen’s work as a volunteer transitioned into a professional role as Director of Programming at Amit.   

While at Amit, she worked closely with the Coordinated Network of Services for Persons with Disabilities, which was started in 1989 by the then-named Atlanta Jewish Federation. It brought together three agencies: the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA), Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS), and The Amit Program. Of these programs, Karen says, “MJCCA provided social and recreational programs, JF&CS offered vocational support and independent living, and Amit expanded special education support services.”  

In 2013, Karen began working at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta as part of the Philanthropy Team while continuing her passion for disability advocacy. 

In 2015, a diagnosis made her life’s passion even more personal. She learned that she has an inoperable brain tumor, which she has likely been living with for 10 or more years. The news was shocking but also explained so much. The seizure medication affects her energy levels, and the tumor’s location impacts her executive function (and it has been doing so for a long time). Karen’s children have learning differences, and her daughter has Tourette Syndrome. Karen spent years learning what accommodations they needed to be happy and successful adults and was able to use those lessons to advocate for her own needs. The parallels remind her of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “Coincidences are G-d’s way of remaining anonymous.”  

She says that proper accommodations for people with differences are invaluable. Her children have thrived thanks to the specialized support they received. And thanks to the resources at her fingertips, Karen could continue her career. She felt she must continue her profession after her diagnosis, saying, “Doing this work has been more than a job. It has been a supportive place for people to connect while working to make the community more inclusive and welcoming.”  

While Karen is retiring from the professional world, she does not plan to stop her advocacy work anytime soon. “Because I have institutional knowledge of our community, I feel a responsibility to represent all those who came before. I want to continue championing the connections and relationships that have made such a difference. There is still work to be done.” When asked what she looks forward to about retirement, Karen says, “Aside from spending more time with family and friends, I want to tap back into my creativity and use those skills to preserve family history and memories; we all deserve to be more than a picture on a wall once we are gone.”  

The Karen Botnick Paz Jewish Abilities Fund will undoubtedly ensure that. This endowment will support Federation’s Jewish Abilities Atlanta (JAA) initiative. JAA aims to provide a welcoming and accessible Jewish community, foster collaboration around disability inclusion, and increase the capacity of Jewish Atlanta organizations to engage people with differing abilities. Karen says, “Our community offers a wide net of services, and people don’t always know they’re available until they need them.” She hopes more people will learn of Jewish Atlanta’s accessibility initiatives and feel welcomed into the community. And the fund that bears her name will allow many more people in Atlanta to benefit from JAA’s work.   

Karen shared, “I have been blessed with a meaningful career and ongoing opportunities to make a difference. This quote, which I learned from my late father, has shaped my life both professionally and personally: The work is not for you to finish, nor are you free to desist from it. Pirke Avot: 2:21.” 

Karen will be thanked for her service to the community at the Women’s Philanthropy Fall Event on Wednesday, October 26th, at 6:30 pm at Temple Sinai. Register for the Women’s Philanthropy Fall Event here.  

To contribute to the Karen Botnick Paz Jewish Abilities Fund, please click here.

Fall Holidays and Reveries

By COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

By Matt M. Bronfman
As I write, we are amidst the most festive time of year. Between the High Holidays, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah, autumn is full of celebrations and reflections.  

Last week, we observed my favorite (and perhaps the most important) day of the year: Yom Kippur. It is the one day I can truly turn away from the outside world and look inward, reflecting on my failings over the past year (ask my family, they will fill you in) and thinking about how I can improve in the year ahead. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z” l taught, the single most important lesson of Yom Kippur is that it’s never too late to change, start again, and live differently from the way we’ve done in the past.  

And now, we celebrate Sukkot, when we spend time with family and rejoice in the bounty of our planet. This year, while I dine in our sukkah and relax with my loved ones, I’ll think not only of how lucky we are but also of those who are less fortunate. After the last several years, I am especially struck by life’s inequities during these times. My family and I have so much to be thankful for, but there are so many in Atlanta, and around the world, who are struggling. 

As we celebrate the nascent new year, I ask that we devise new and improved ways to make our community a better place: from finding new ways to engage interfaith families, to creating more Jewish places, to feeding those who are hungry, to housing more of those in need of shelter. As 5783 unfolds, please, please continue to donate your money and your time. But also, join me as board chair of Federation in looking for innovative ways to push our community forward. I welcome your input, and you are welcome to email me at any time to discuss your ideas. 

I look forward to connecting with as many of you as possible in the year ahead. 

Debbie Kuniansky on Why She Endowed Her Annual Lion of Judah Commitment

By Atlanta Jewish Foundation, PHILANTHROPY

Debbie Kuniansky recently spoke to the Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy Board on why she chose to endow her annual gift to Federation and how others can accomplish the same. Debbie has been a valued Atlanta Jewish community leader for many years and is currently a Member of Federation’s Board of Trustees. Unsurprisingly, she is passionate about taking care of the Atlanta Jewish community. “I appreciate what I have here in Atlanta because I didn’t always have it,” she says.

Debbie grew up in Lakeland, Florida, where there wasn’t a significant Jewish presence. “We didn’t have BBYO or a JCC; there was no Jewish elder-care home…we had one small synagogue with a part-time Rabbi,” she says. Debbie moved to Atlanta right out of college, and immediately joined a synagogue. When her children were young, she started volunteering for their preschool at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. The more time she spent in the Atlanta Jewish community, the more she wanted to help sustain it.

One way that women can give to Federation is through The Lion of Judah Endowment (LOJE). This is a charitable gift of at least $5,400 established under the woman’s name. This endowment provides ongoing support to Federation and the many organizations we support.

Endowing her Lion was very important to Debbie, but she wasn’t sure how to make it happen. “I want to be able to help take care of my community even after I’m not here,” she says. “I want to make sure my kids and their kids have this vibrant Jewish community.”

Debbie’s husband, Doug, suggested she make the endowment through a life insurance policy. Each year, they make regular payments toward the policy (which are tax deductible). Someday, the payout on that policy will be donated directly to charities that mean the most to Debbie and Doug.

“I love that our community plans for the future,” she says. “People who came before me made plans and commitments, and my family and I benefitted from them.”

When she thinks of the people who came before her, she thinks of a great Jewish legacy of leaders and community builders who inspired her. Now, Debbie feels like she’s part of that group constantly striving to make things better—not maintaining the status quo.

To learn more about making endowments, the Lion of Judah Endowment, and more, Rachel Rosner.

How Federation Partners with Jewish Day Schools

By COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

Atlanta’s Jewish Day Schools are a cornerstone of our community. The lessons that children learn and the friends they make while attending school will stay with them their whole lives, and their experiences there can make or break their connections to Jewish life. Federation supports our local schools in many ways and aims to give kids the best possible experience while they learn.  

Day schools receive an annual allocation from Federation based on enrollment. For the current fiscal year, the total allocation for our community day schools is $1,124,736, which represents 13% of our annual allocations. Additionally, just under $500,000 has been distributed to schools since 2020 from Federation’s Covid Relief Fund to help cover the costs of Covid response and reopening.  

Our various initiatives support day schools in other ways, including:  

  • ALEF Fund provides scholarships to day school students 
  • The Shinshinim cohort works in 5 of our partner schools and runs activities about Israel, holidays, Jewish culture, culture, and more 
  • Jewish Abilities Atlanta provides disability inclusion training to day school students and professionals and provides microgrants for inclusion projects (like sensory spaces and flexible seating options) 
  • Federation’s Community Security Director, Neil Rabinovitz, works with day schools on security assessments to keep our schools safe 
  • PJ Library partners with some schools on concerts and other programming 
  • The Atlanta Jewish Foundation manages many schools’ endowments and helps donors direct gifts from their Donor Advised Funds to the schools

Federation and the Jewish Agency For Israel (JAFI) are also planning The Partnership 2Gether Educators Seminar in 2023. This trip will take teachers from our local day schools to our partner region in Israel, Yokneam. There will be several learning sessions before their departure in January 2023 coordinated by the Federation. This is a unique educational experience to learn more about the Israeli educational system and explore additional opportunities for connection between Atlanta and Israel. The school twinning programs promote the sense of Jewish Peoplehood and shared responsibility for students in schools in Atlanta, Yokneam and Megido. Students have the chance to meet each other for dynamic conversations around issues such as Jewish Identity and Social Responsibility. Twinning programs, likewise, link educators for professional and personal enrichment. 

If you want to support the Jewish Day Schools of Atlanta, you can donate to Federation’s Partner’s Fund. Money from this fun is granted annually to each of our schools and makes a significant impact on the way young Jewish kids experience school.  

Josh Comiter Moved to Atlanta and Made His Mark

By COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

Josh Comiter moved to Atlanta from South Florida in 2021. He’d been an active member of the Jewish community there. When he relocated, he wanted to continue his involvement in Jewish causes. Family friends directed him to Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, and he made his first donation this year.

Josh is in his late 20s and feels that a strong Jewish community in his hometown had a major impact on his life. He wanted to give the youth of Atlanta that same opportunity. “All of my closest friends I grew up with are people I met through the Jewish community—friends I made in Jewish day school, lifelong friends. If I can give back and that will help someone have a similar experience, I think that’s very important.”

Statistics show that younger generations aren’t donating to causes like their parents and grandparents did. Many factors impact this—many millennials and Gen Z don’t have the same disposable income levels as previous generations—but you don’t have to make a big gift to have a big impact.

When asked if he had a message for other young people about the importance of charitable giving, he says, “Whether you realize it or not, if you’re a Jew living in Atlanta, the Federation has benefitted you in some way. And I feel it’s essential for [the younger generation] to give, even in small amounts, because there are still people out there that need help.”

To make your donation to Federation, click here.

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Three Generations of Giving

By COMMUNITY, PHILANTHROPY

Albert, Gary, and Jeffrey Marx are part of a proud lineage. Grandson Jeffrey is in the fourth generation of Marxes to call Atlanta home, and this Jewish family has made their mark on their city. The family business, Piedmont National, has been working with other companies in the state since 1950. But their broader commitment to Atlanta’s Jewish community is truly where they have made a difference. In this video, son, father, and grandfather explain how philanthropy is a guiding principle for their family and why they choose to give to Federation.     

Federation’s 2023 Community Campaign has begun, and you can make your own donation by following this link. Federation’s Partners Fund supports more than 70 organizations that make a difference in the lives of Jewish and non-Jewish people in Atlanta and all over the world. Establish your family’s own legacy of giving and help Federation connect and support Jews across the globe.   

Engaging Teenagers in Jewish Life

By Atlanta Jewish Foundation, JumpSpark, PHILANTHROPY

Being a teenager is hard. Hormones, increasing responsibilities, and long school days can make teens feel overwhelmed and cause them to disengage with their community. Federation supports many programs for young people in Atlanta (and abroad!) to get involved in Jewish life, and hopefully help them find community and a sense of purpose.  

The Jewish Foundation of Atlanta is launching the Young Philanthropy Fellows, which aims to teach teenagers about philanthropy through firsthand experience. The inaugural cohort will open their own Young Philanthropist Funds and learn about grantmaking. This group will inform each other about organizations and issues they care about, make size visits to local nonprofits, and engage in round-table discussions with professionals. They will engage in discussions about power and privilege and learn how to mitigate the occasional unintended consequences of charitable giving. Most importantly, they’ll learn how even young people can make a big difference. Applications for the Young Philanthropy Fellows are due September 19. 

Jumpspark offer resources for connection and growth to teenagers across Atlanta. They aim to empower and educate Jews from every part of our city, and to bring them together to learn and collaborate. Their initiatives include the Strong Women Fellowship, Gap Year Israel Scholarship, the Root One Experience (a summer travel program to Israel) and Navigating Parenthood (a series of workshops for the parents of teenagers to help them better understand the struggles their kids face).  

Internationally, Federation supports the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Active Jewish Teens (AJT) initiative. This is a Jewish-identity building platform for 12-17-year-olds who live in the former Soviet Union. This program brings young Jewish people together and aims to give them a sense of community. They host a range of social, cultural, and leadership building activities, as well as holiday and Shabbat celebrations. With 63 active locations, including four in Belarus, AJT is helping young people in the Former Soviet Union connect with their Jewish identity and other young Jews across the world. 

Young people are the future, and their participation in, and enthusiasm for, Jewish life is essential to the future of Jews everywhere. Federation is proud to serve them!