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Sign Up Now for a Shabbat Gather Grant

By COMMUNITY, Making Jewish Places, NextGen, PJ LIbrary

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

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

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

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

Past Gather Grant recipients say:

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

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

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

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

PJ Library is Hosting a “Grand” Getaway

By PJ LIbrary

Calling all grandparents and grandkids! PJ Library is hosting its second Grand Getaway in partnership with Ramah Darom from January 27 to 29. This weekend is designed for grandparents and grandchildren to connect via interactive and engaging programming while celebrating Shabbat in the beautiful North Georgia mountains (and parents are invited, too!).  

Grand Getaway is a great opportunity for grandparents and their grandkids to spend time together while exploring Jewish traditions and different ways of telling their family’s stories. Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia, is a beautiful place to unplug from the hectic pace of modern life and connect as a family. This casual weekend of fun will be as relaxing as it is interactive. 

The program is designed for children ages 4 to 12 and will feature unique activity tracks for different age groups. Musical guest Hannah Zale will bring ruach (spirit) on this Grand Getaway weekend, providing storytelling and music to help bridge generations.  

The retreat begins on Friday afternoon with challah-braiding and decorating in preparation for a festive Shabbat dinner. Throughout the weekend, grandparents and grandkids will participate in Jewish-themed activities and crafts. Shabbat will close with a Ramah Darom favorite—Havdalah service around the campfire, followed by s’mores!   

Pam Cohen, the Family Engagement Coordinator at Federation, says “While much of our PJ Library Atlanta programming focuses on connecting families to others within the Jewish community, we love that this program is designed to enhance the connection within generations of a family.” 

Last year’s inaugural Grand Getaway was so much fun, and PJ Library is thrilled to be hosting this special event once again. Here are a few words from two of last year’s participants: 

“We are so grateful to Ramah and PJ because we’d never make the time to spend time together like this on our own.” 

“We very much enjoyed the concept of multi-generational family get together. Actually, the weekend served a dual purpose of spending significant time with our children and grandchildren, but also providing an outlet for discussion regarding the roles we play as Jewish grandparents in our youngster’s lives.” 

Additional information and registration information can be found here. Please reach out to Pam (PCohen@JewishAtlanta.org) if you have any questions.  

We hope to see you at the Grand Getaway! 

PJ Library Atlanta Heads Intown

By COMMUNITY, PJ LIbrary

For the past 4 years, PJ Library Atlanta has been meeting families where they are—with an emphasis on those living OTP. This summer, PJ Library Atlanta has been spending time learning all about its Intown families so it can bring unique, high-quality, low-barrier experiences to the breadth of our community. Through surveying families and studying the changing trends in PJ Library subscriptions, we know that the population of families raising young children is increasing in Intown Atlanta.

PJ Library Atlanta has a very successful history engaging families in Metro Atlanta.  This has traditionally been done by hiring a neighborhood connector (a part-time staff member) to establish programming in an area, connect families to each other, and deepen their relationship to the greater community.  In the past, connectors have been centered in Smyrna/Vinings, Dunwoody, North Fulton, and Brookhaven.

Now, we are replicating the model as Pam Cohen (Federation’s Family Engagement Coordinator, and former PJ Connector) is reaching out to families for one-on-one conversations to explore the findings of a survey which was posted in the new PJ Library Intown Atlanta Facebook group and plan events based on that feedback. Once we meet the right person, there will be a designated PJ Intown Connector to continue growing community connections and ensure PJ Library is meeting the unique needs of Intown Atlanta families.

If you are an Intown family, join the Facebook group for details on two park meet ups around Decatur and Grant Park planned in August! Reach out to Pam at pcohen@jewishatlanta.org with any questions.

Camp is for Families!

By CARING, COMMUNITY, PJ LIbrary

Family Weekend: Passover Edition April 1-3

Jewish camp isn’t just for kids anymore, it is for entire families! Federation wants you to experience the fun, freedom, and Jewish community that a camp retreat can create at Family Weekend: Passover Edition, April 1-3 at Ramah Darom.

Family Weekend is an early Spring retreat tailored for families with children ages 0-5, with a focus on fun activities to help families get ready for Passover. Activities will be specifically geared for little ones, with plenty of opportunities to be outdoors and connect with nature. You’ll spend time crafting, cooking, creating, and learning more about the traditions of Passover. There will also be enriching adult experiences, all in a beautiful camp atmosphere that is relaxed and casual.

With help from Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the cost for the entire weekend is just $400 – an incredible price that makes it possible for whole families to attend. We are proud to partner with these organizations to bring you this weekend: 18Doors, Be’Chol Lashon, Ma’alot Atlanta, PJ Library Atlanta, and the Israeli American Council.

The Treasure of Jewish Identity

By CARING, COMMUNITY, PJ LIbrary
by Lynn Sapertstein

As “Grammy” to Jake, Harrison, and their baby cousin, Juniper “June” Graham, I am in my element. And when my husband Jan, or I are reading Jewish-themed PJ Library books with them, it’s pure gold!

In Atlanta, free PJ Library books are mailed monthly to more than 5,000 children. Our grandkids get excited when new books, tailored to their ages, arrive in the mail. When we read together, Jake will ask about Jewish things I did when I was a young girl, or when his mom was little. I love how Harrison will snuggle in as I read to him about Shabbat and how his eyes shine when we bless the challah.  

We tell stories. We ask questions. When Hanukkah comes and we light the menorah that Jake made, it all comes full circle. The books are a springboard for deeper conversations. 

Throughout the pandemic many of my friends were not been able to see their grandchildren. They used FaceTime and Zoom not just to chat, but to read PJ Library books with them! The books are fun and colorful, and you learn along with your grandkids. In families where one parent or grandparent is new to our faith, PJ Library books are a safe and comfortable way to learn and grow in observance. 

I’m firmly of the belief that if you want to have a grandchild who loves Jewish traditions, and who understands Jewish values, you must put in the effort. Grandparents have a unique opportunity to show that Jewish identity matters. When we model Jewish values and traditions, they endure beyond our generation, beyond our kids’ generation, down to the grandkids. That is incredibly powerful!

Through PJ Library books we also have an opportunity to model Jewish generosity. It costs $40 a year for each child to have a PJ Library subscription. While the books are mailed for free, the program is not self-sustaining. I’d love to see grandparents with grandkids in Atlanta (or even out of town), become champions for PJ Library by supporting it with their donations so that more families can share the treasure of our heritage. 

Sharing The Same Moon. Sharing Our Lives.

By CARING, COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY, PJ LIbrary

All Jews share the same lunar calendar, and now twelve families from Yokneam, Megido, and Atlanta have officially begun sharing the moon! The project began two months ago to bring us together at a time when social distancing keeps us even farther apart. Working with our Partnership region, we paired Israeli families with families in Atlanta to build bridges.

Through letter writing these families are collaboratively building an interactive book together called The Same Moon. It tells the story of two families who live on opposite sides of the ocean who get to know each other by sending handwritten letters and photos throughout the year. The book features pockets where one can store the letters as a way to personalize the book for each family. Every month the book prompts the families to share something different about their lives — their hobbies, interests, holiday celebrations and traditions, favorite recipes, and more.

Katie Guzner, a PJ Library Co-Chair, loves the program. “We read PJ Library stories about Israel with our kids and tell them about my Birthright trip, and when my husband, Gennadiy, lived in Megiddo. Now our kids get to share stories with a family in Israel. It’s so precious to receive a letter from our pen pal family and for our girls to learn that we have so much in common.”

Finally Doing “Mommy” Things

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, PJ LIbrary

Discovering A Jewish Life in Atlanta
by Rachel Sigman

Living in the south and being Jewish can make one feel a bit disconnected at times. I live in the diaspora of Woodstock, and if you are Jewish up here, you won’t have everyone you meet inviting you over for Shabbat dinner.  That’s what I was able to expect in Miami and in New York, but here, not so much. Here, I am lucky if I can find Hanukkah candles when Hanukkah rolls around. Here, there is no synagogue nearby.

So it’s a miracle that adopting our son Jack was the best Jewish thing that my husband, Darryl and I have ever done.  He is a perfect little baby boy and has brought us immeasurable joy already.  Jack will turn one in March and watching him grow and achieve milestones brings our little family so much nachas (joy). As an older mother, it has also been a small miracle to finally meet other Jewish moms and build a Jewish life with this beautiful boy. PJ Library helped make that happen. I knew very little about PJ Library until a friend of mine signed me up for free Jewish books, just after we were matched with a birthmother. PJ Library brings Jewish families together and gives our kids a sense of Jewish community. Now I know I don’t have to move back to New York or Boca Raton. I can live in Woodstock and still be part of a large Jewish network.

I met my husband Darryl on JDate. He was also from New York and our families lived less than an hour away from each other in Florida. Darryl was raised in a Conservative family. I had gone to Hebrew school, had been to Israel, and even attended a seminary in Crown Heights. Darryl was working in the corporate office in Home Depot for 15 years already when we met. I was an elementary school teacher. Neither of us were practicing much at the time, but we both identified as Jewish.  We fell in love and got married.  It was bashert (pre-ordained).

Like many older couples, shortly after we married we discovered that we had some fertility issues.  We considered in vitro fertilization, but failed attempts at pregnancy and heartbreak sounded so bleary to me. Darryl’s father Fred suggested adoption to me many years ago. I loved that idea but did not yet have the gumption to make it happen.  Shortly after Fred’s death I turned 42 and realized that if I didn’t have a baby soon, it would never happen. I decided to commit every fiber of my being into becoming a mom. I pushed Darryl to go through the adoption process with me, knowing that he would one day thank me (he did).  In less than a year, we became mom and dad.

Our first PJ Library book came shortly after Jack was born.  A woman who used to volunteer in my classroom through Federation brought me a slew of books from PJ library for Jack.  I knew I wanted to raise my son as a Jew and made sure to give him a kosher bris so that when the time came, his conversion into the fold would be joyous and painless.  I had stopped doing Jewish things before Jack was born, but now I was eager to do mommy things.  When Hanukkah rolled around, I began looking at Facebook events and saw a familiar name: PJ Library!  PJ Library North Fulton was hosting a small Hanukkah party. Darryl and I took little Jack and it was there that I met Abby Adler and Leah Stinson, who are PJ Library Connectors.

Leah and I met for coffee.  She told me more about the wonderful programs that PJ Library does for young children, even children Jack’s age. I joined the Facebook page for PJ Library North Fulton and since then have taken little Jack to many Jewish events. Babies and toddlers play side by side at these events while parents schmooze and get to know one another.  Sometimes we meet at a preschool where children get to play in all the classrooms.  Sometimes there is an event where a craft is involved or where doing mitzvot is encouraged.  I met several moms who have children Jack’s age who are committed to raising their children in a Jewish home. Some moms have held playdates in their homes.  I am meeting some very nice people and hope to establish and maintain friendships for our little family.

Who could have guessed that a little baby, born in Arkansas, would be the spark that connected me to my Jewish roots. I know that adopting a baby from a non-Jewish birthmother means that it is up to the adoptive family to decide if they want to raise their child in a Jewish home. For me, there is no doubt that I want Jack to live a Jewish life. Finally, I feel that I can. I wish you could see how Jack’s face lights up and how he claps his little hands to his favorite song, Hava Nagila. To me it’s proof that he already has a Jewish soul.

Books to Feed the Russian Soul

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, PJ LIbrary

Meet Our Russian PJ Library Connectors

Meet Masha Vaynman and Lana Severinsky, two Russian-speaking Jewish moms who are PJ Library’s newest Connectors. Both are long-time PJ Library subscribers who love how free monthly books bring Jewish traditions into their homes. Now, thanks to a grant from the Genesis Philanthropy Group, a foundation focused on developing Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews, they’re using PJ Library as a platform to build and engage Atlanta’s Russian-Jewish community.

Masha and Lana estimate that there are as many as 26 thousand Russians in metro Atlanta and that around 50% of them claim some Jewish heritage. Many are married to non-Jews and know very little about Judaism, but are eager to learn by reading Jewish-themed books with their children. These parents also wish to keep the Russian language alive in their homes. PJ Library books in Russian and in English are great vehicles for both.

“Books are so important to the Russian soul and psyche,” Lana explains. “You simply cannot find a Russian-Jewish family without books.” “So many Russian Jews were intellectuals in Russian society. They actually took their books along when they left,” Masha adds.

Nathan Brodsky, Federation’s Family Impact Manager, has watched the PJ Library program grow in Atlanta and sees a great opportunity in the Russian-speaking community. “PJ Library is built on supporting families’ abilities to form strong connections with other families. We offer over 200 opportunities for families to connect in-person each year, often bound by geography or age-range, and we are eager to expand to now support the Russian-speaking community.”

PJ Library Welcomes All

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, PJ LIbrary

What’s a “typical Jewish family?” PJ Library understands that’s not a simple question. According to Sarah Bernstein, Federation’s Family Impact Associate, “Atlanta’s PJ Library families live ITP and OTP. They come from at least seven different countries, speak many languages, and represent LGBTQ+, interracial and interfaith households.” While free Jewish book subscriptions remain the centerpiece of the program, there’s a growing focus in Atlanta on PJ Library as a community-building tool. Both PJ Library and PJ Baby create community programs that connect young Jewish families, right in their neighborhoods. Ana Rodriguez, who is a PJ Baby Connector in Smyrna/Vinings, exemplifies family diversity. Born in Guatemala, Ana is a Jew by choice and is married to Andrew. Together they are raising Melanie, who is now three. In her role as a PJ Baby Connector, Ana has met and befriended many Jewish families. “PJ Library has helped me to create a strong Jewish community around the area where we live. I’m finding Jewish friends for Melanie, and for me.”

PJ Library has an institutional commitment to honor family diversity. Every event they offer bears this message:  All events are open to interfaith, LGBTQ+, multiracial and families and children of all abilities. “We want to make it possible for anyone to participate and find Jewish connections,” Sarah Bernstein says. “If you’re an observant family, we’ll tailor an event in your neighborhood that respects your needs. Recently we’ve been partnering with the Jewish Abilities Alliance and have adapted events for children with disabilities.”

Andrea Waldman appreciates the openness. “I wanted to have additional ways of connecting to Judaism in our home since we are not members of a synagogue. As same sex parents we potentially have more obstacles as my partner’s parents practice a different faith/religion. I have a solid Jewish background however, through PJ Library we have actually become even more open and understanding to all perspectives.”

PJ Library also honors family diversity with books published in Hebrew, Russian and Spanish. “I wanted my daughter to have the opportunity to read and know more about Jewish values, traditions, and holidays in a way that make sense to her,” Ana Rodriguez remembers. “I am raising Melanie bilingually, so when I first signed up for PJ Library, I asked if there were any books in Spanish and Nathan Brodsky, Federation’s Family Impact Manager, mailed me three books! I was so touched by that.”

Keeping Judaism Alive in Our Little Family

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, PJ LIbrary

By the time my twins Megan and Brett were 14 months old, my marriage to their father was over. Their Dad isn’t Jewish, and after the divorce he was pretty detached from the kids. Suddenly, I was their everything. I realized it was up to me to keep Judaism alive in my little family.

Even before my divorce, I signed the twins up for PJ Library, and took them to Tot Shabbat at Kol Emeth. Later on I started looking into Big Brother programs for my son. You had to be at poverty level to qualify for these mentoring programs – but luckily, not for PAL, Atlanta’s only Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister program.

Amazing things happened the minute I met the PAL Program Manager, Carly Sonenshine, at JF&CS. She encouraged me to put both kids in the program and then matched us with our Big PALS — Bennett Ginburg for Brett, and Marni Bronstein for Megan. They take the kids to events, out for ice cream, and just have fun with them. To say my twins have bonded with them is an understatement.

A Big PAL fills in huge gaps for a single parent. They are friends in a way a parent can never be. Brett has ADHD and dyslexia and Bennett really understands it. Megan was nervous about going to Camp Coleman next summer, and Marni handled her anxiety beautifully.

Megan and Brett’s PALS give them one-on-one time I can never provide enough of. After three years with Bennett and Marni, they’ve found friends, role models and Jewish mentors for life.

If you think your family would benefit from the PAL program, learn more here.

By: Karen Bowen

Federation is proud to support the JF&CS PAL Program, which provides one-on-one mentoring relationships for children with trusted adults.