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On a Mom’s Trip to Israel, Carla Takes the Mic

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By Carla Birnbaum, Federation Relational Engagement Manager
I recently traveled as the Federation representative on the Jewish Women’s Connection of Atlanta (JWCA) Momentum Trip, along with 40 other women. Our group was one of several representing 300 Jewish moms from the US and Israel. Thanks in part to generous funding from Federation, the Atlanta contingent was the largest and we even had our own bus.

While you are on the bus, there is one strict rule — you must sit with someone new each time you board. Preferably someone you don’t know, or don’t know well, and it can’t be someone you’ve sat with previously.

As the bus became our home base, each woman had the opportunity to “take the mic” and share with the group. Sometimes it was something lighthearted about what’s going on at home (“You’ll never guess what my kids are eating for dinner tonight”). But more often we shared deep stories about our family history, growing up with Holocaust survivors, or meaningful lifecycle moments and memories.

Because of my role on the trip, our leaders, Julie Silverman and Batsheva Gelbtuch, encouraged me to take the mic early and often. These two women are beautiful souls. Their faith, dignity, and nurturing spirits give women space to grow. It is difficult for me to speak in front of large groups but on the afternoon of the second day, it was my turn.

I spoke about Yokneam and Megiddo, our Partnership cities in Israel and the programs we help support there. I spoke about Federation’s work within Atlanta and around the world, and our newest initiatives, including the one I lead, called Making Jewish Places. I spoke about my family and how I left corporate America to work in Jewish communal service, and my passion for working directly in the northern suburbs where I live.

Hillary
One day I sat next to Hillary, who has a dry sense of humor like mine, and we laughed so hard we cried. We talked about our families and the adventures in parenting teenage girls (mine) and adult children (hers). We live five minutes from each other in Atlanta, but it took going to Israel for us to connect.

Marci & Michelle
I sat next to Marci and Michelle on a hard day. My youngest daughter had called at 3:00 AM Atlanta time, upset because she wasn’t feeling well. Hannah had gotten her COVID vaccine the day before. At 11, Hannah is not a baby, but she is, of course, my baby. My very capable husband had things well under control, but it was hard to be away while she was sick. Marci and Michelle both checked in with me all day. We all knew Hannah would be fine, and she was, but they still found time in between climbing Masada, swimming in the Dead Sea, and riding a camel to check on me (and Hannah) that day.

Stacey
Stacey and I only sat next to each other for about ten minutes. Long enough for me to find out she’s always wanted to come on this trip, but she has a lot of professional commitments that would make it difficult. She said to me, “COVID made me realize that if I didn’t take the time for myself to do this now, I was going to miss out. So, I’m here.” It wasn’t until later that I found out that Stacey was a Judge and had to find not one but three people to fill in for her while she was away. Stacey and I also fell in love with the same Israeli Jewelry designer. And it’s a mitzvah to support the Israeli economy.

The Two Lisas
I sat with two Lisas. One celebrated her birthday on the trip. Lisa and I spent several days discussing the birds of Israel among other things – like her history in Atlanta (I think she knows everyone) and our families. The other Lisa sacrificed sleep to watch the Braves win the world series one of the first days we were there. At breakfast the next morning, she proudly wore her Braves shirt and hat and told us all the exciting news. She also patiently explained a thousand times why the Braves won the World Series, even though the teams are from the US and Canada only.

Israel Missed Us
I discovered that as much as Americans missed visiting Israel, Israel missed us! There were signs of welcome wherever we went, and people would stop us on the street to talk to us and talk about their families and friends in the States. And the places they visited when they traveled. And in the shuks and shops, and, of course, we did our best to support the Israeli economy. We also celebrated Rosh Chodesh and Sigd (an Ethiopian Jewish holiday), along with Shabbat in Jerusalem, and each of these holidays merits its own article.

“Family” in Israel
Shabbat in Jerusalem ends early, around 4:30. After a majestic havdalah (a ritual marking the end of Shabbat) at the Kotel, a group of us decided to walk over to Ben Yehuda Street. As we were walking, I heard a young man yelling my name. Now, remember I’m on a trip with a bunch of women. I turn around and it’s the 13-year-old son of a friend from Camp Ramah, who is studying to become a rabbi.

Again, I hear my name and this time it is a friend who made aliyah two years ago. She is happy to play tour guide and takes us through the shuk to the best stalls to get knafeh (a sweet pastry). As we are walking back toward the hotel, I’m explaining to the group that it’s common in Israel to run into people, and that I don’t actually know everyone in IsraeI.

I hear my name again. This time it’s a couple of our Atlanta gap year teens who were returning to Jerusalem from their home hospitality Shabbat experience. They joined the group and came with us to our hotel, and we all sat together talking in the lobby about their adventures and experiences (I also may have brought them Halloween candy and treats from home). We gave them all big mom hugs and well wishes from Atlanta, and a few of them came back the next night to visit again!

What It all Meant
In the end, here’s my big takeaway. We were all part of a shared community of women, all moms who are raising Jewish children. None of us are experts, and we learned and grew together. We opened a door when we started our journey, and have now returned more connected, more empowered, and ready to inspire others to jump on the bus and take a Jewish journey.

Learn more about Jewish Women’s Connection to Israel.

Your Support Saved Lives in Haiti

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On August 14th, 2021, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake crippled southern Haiti, killing at least 2,200 people. Over 12,000 people were injured, and 130,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Haiti was already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, unparalleled economic hardship, as well as social and political unrest in the wake of the assassination of its president weeks before. Haiti’s hospitals were quickly overwhelmed, and people were unable to get the medical care they desperately needed.

With support from Federations like ours, aid from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) came almost immediately. JDC provided life-saving care to people like Esther (an alias) in the small community of Rita. Esther’s house collapsed on her during the earthquake, breaking her pelvis. Eight days after the earthquake she had yet to be seen by a medical team; she was essentially stranded, unable to seek medical care. Thanks to your support for JDC, the medical team was able to provide assistance and arrange medical evacuation to get Esther the treatment she needed.

JDC and Haiti share a rich history, dating back to the late 1930’s and early 40’s when JDC helped Jewish refugees find haven from the Nazis in Haiti and neighboring countries. In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, claiming over 200,000 lives. JDC quickly responded, partnering with local organizations to provide short-term food, water, and medical care, as well as long-term educational and livelihood resources.

After the 2021 earthquake, your contributions provided:

  • Lifesaving care and supplies quickly to the most affected people in the most remote locations; 2,500 pounds of essential supplies, such as bandages; gauze; and surgical gowns, masks, and gloves
  • Mobile clinics and medical supplies for the injured
  • Food to the hungry
  • Medical equipment to overwhelmed hospitals

The Federation system is skilled and experienced in disaster response. In the words of Djerhy Jn Baptiste, JDC’s consultant on the ground in Haiti: “From 2010 until now, I’ve seen firsthand that JDC is unlike any other humanitarian organization, mobilizing its local partners and listening to what they need. These local partnerships are crucial for a successful disaster response; these organizations are deeply rooted in the communities they support, with decades of outstanding impact.”

See JDC in action in this video.

Abe Besser: A Life Rooted in Philanthropy

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The Atlanta Jewish community lost a very special person and an outstanding philanthropist when Abe Besser died on April 26, 2021. Abe was fervent in his love for Jewish Atlanta and contributed to almost every Jewish organization in town. Abe was extremely proud that he was a consistent donor to Federation’s annual Community Campaign for more than five decades. Known for his support for Holocaust remembrance, Abe was also a benefactor of the Besser Gymnastics Building at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA), numerous programs at Jewish Family & Career Services, and established philanthropic funds at Atlanta Jewish Foundation.

We share Abe’s story because it sits at the intersection of philanthropy, memory, and entrepreneurship. It is a testament to how one individual chose to pay his blessings forward for the benefit of our Atlanta Jewish community. And it illustrates precisely how Atlanta Jewish Foundation can help anyone create a lasting philanthropic legacy.

Born in Krzepice, Poland, Abe was the youngest of seven children. To protect his sisters from being taken by the Nazis, his father sent him to a labor camp. His years of hard labor included walking in the snow with no shoes, and so he rejoiced on the day American planes dropped flyers announcing that the Americans had landed. “When I was in the concentration camp, I promised myself that if I survived, I would build a memorial so that the world would not forget.” Along with his beloved wife Marlene Gelernter Besser, he also planned and executed the outdoor memorial at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta to the six million Jews who perished in the Shoah. He envisioned this as a memorial to his family and to the community as a living tribute for future generations.

What drove this immigrant entrepreneur to give so generously? Abe Besser’s obituary provides clues to his ingenuity and tenacity. Before even arriving in America, Abe founded a cab company in Berlin to serve the American soldiers. At age 24, when he immigrated to the United States, it is said that upon arrival in New Orleans, he literally kissed the ground in thanks. As a new immigrant, Abe was sponsored by the Rosenthal Sheet Metal Company. He paid his debt back to the company over three years and went to night school to learn English. Abe began his career by building houses and apartment complexes throughout greater Atlanta.

Abe Besser’s philanthropic focus on Holocaust remembrance was deeply embedded in his life experiences. In an interview archived at The Breman Jewish Museum, he was asked, “What would you want people to learn about the Holocaust?”

He replied, “What I want them to learn, to see [is] what had happened in a civilized country, what a civilized country did to human beings. Therefore, I want them to see that this education is being brought forward, and taught, and taught, and taught [so] that an atrocity like that would never happen again to human beings. This is the only thing I’d like to see. That it will not occur again, regardless of what religion a person believes. What right does any country have to eradicate a nation because of their religion? The United States is a free country, and everybody believes whatever they want to believe, and that’s the way it ought to be. I’d like to see more and more education, more and more people to understand the Holocaust and the atrocities that happened [so] that it will not occur again. This is my only wish.”

Being Radically welcoming in our online engagements

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Virtual Engagement Best Practices

By Russell Gottschalk, Innovation Manager

These virtual gathering “best practices” are drawn from successful engagement forums that happen in real life but are sometimes neglected when programming virtually during our new normal:

  • Honor your audience: I believe strongly that any event opt-in is based on the axis of compelling and convenience. If something is really compelling yet inconvenient (think a trip to Bonnaroo), you may still attend. If something is convenient yet not compelling (think about some of the virtual gatherings you have passed up recently), you may not attend. The key for virtual engagement lies in building up the case for a compelling use of participants’ time and the best way to begin that conversation is showing your potential attendee that their time is valued because THEY are valued. Virtual gathering invitations should be direct, personal, and sincere. Chances are that your audience isn’t required to opt-in (like an all-pro staff meeting).
  • Design the space: Thinking of ways that your virtual areas can mimic those in an in-person event is another successful strategy for making these engagements more engaging Think about the best ways to replicate the experience of randomly interacting with a stranger, strolling a vendor market, and sitting for a featured presentation or break away for a smaller group chat. By creating a virtual space that is more like our real-life experiences, we can expand the opportunities for learning, connection, and joy. One virtual engagement tool that we have been using to achieve this is hopin. (More on hopin below)
  • Engineer serendipity: the last point acknowledges that surviving a pandemic while staying sane is hard. Let’s be real, sometimes it’s hard just to put on pants before signing into a work-from-home day. We have the opportunity as event producers and curators of experience to surprise and delight our attendees. This could be pairing people from various backgrounds that happen to serve the same community or bringing live music into the event or just maybe taking time to check in with each other about what content we’re binging these days. Virtual gatherings can feel stale because we’re spending so much time in front of our computers. But this bland default is a rainbow of opportunities when you’re willing to reach towards fun.

We won’t know what 2021 will bring for virtual engagements, in real life events, or in my opinion the likelier outcome of a hybrid model. However, we do know that we can bring successful real-life concepts to a virtual space with the right intention and tools. We have the power and together, we can inspire connection and community that is both convenient AND compelling.

Hopin: A virtual platform you should be aware of (I could see this being removed, shortened or just put onto a web link for click more)

Over the course of one week in November, Federation hosted three different virtual gatherings on hopin, a platform designed to create engaging and dynamic events. Though they happened close together in time and were hosted on the same platform, they served very different purposes with audiences of little overlap:

  • Innovation’s quarterly Wisdom Pairings engaged dozens of Jewish Atlantans in meaningful conversation to create and deepen relationships for personal growth and/or professional development
  • The Jewish Camp Initiative’s Southeast Camp Fair welcomed dozens of potential campers and their families to learn more about our partner camps throughout the Southeast and across the country
  • Federation’s monthly staff meeting hosted dozens of colleagues and special guests to discuss and discover how we’re leaning into Fearlessness, one of our organization’s guiding values

Despite these different functions and audiences, our team used familiar and compelling tactics in each gathering.

 

 

 

More Latke Recipes

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Savory Beet Latkes
A great way to use up root vegetables. We recommend using a food processor for shredding.

Ingredients
¼ cup chopped scallions
1 Tb. fresh thyme
2 cups peeled and shredded beets (2-3 medium)
1 cup peeled and shredded celery root (½ small root)
1 cup peeled and shredded carrots (2-3 medium)
1 cup peeled and shredded Idaho or russet potato (1 large)
¼ cup rye or whole wheat flour (holds the raw latkes together)
1 cup crumbled goat cheese (about 5 oz.)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 Tb. Neutral oil such as canola, plus more as needed for frying

Directions
1. Prepare a plate with layers of paper towels to drain the pancakes.
2. Place scallions, thyme, salt, beets, carrots, celery root and potatoes in a large bowl and mix well. Gently squeeze out excess moisture. Scatter flour on top of the vegetable mix and mix.
3. Combine the cheese and egg in a small bowl. Fold into vegetable mixture.
4. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pancake, use a ¼ cup measure to scoop vegetable mixture into the skillet. Flatten gently, using the back of the measuring cup or a spatula, making sure the pancakes don’t touch each other. Fry for 4 to 5 minutes on one side until brown and crisp. Then flip to fry the other side until browned and crisp. Transfer latkes to lined plate to drain.

Excerpted from The Berkshires Farm Table Cookbook. Copyright 2020 by Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner. Reproduced by permission of The Countryman Press. All rights reserved.

Zucchini & Leek Latkes
Popular in Israel for both Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah. From The Katamon Kitchen

Ingredients
4 leeks, washed and sliced
1 tsp olive oil
2 zucchinis, shredded
1 clove garlic, minced
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of chili flakes
salt and pepper
oil for frying
sliced scallions for garnish
sour cream (topping)

Like onions, leeks have many layers and usually a lot of sand in between those layers. Clean leeks by cutting off the root end and the darker green end then slicing the leek lengthwise and then cutting the leeks into half circles. Fill a large bowl with water, place the sliced leeks in the water and swish the leeks around to separate the layers. All of the grit will fall to the bottom and you just have to skim the clean leeks off the top. Place the leeks on a towel to drain before sautéing.

Directions
1. Heat a large pan over medium heat. Pour in 1 tsp olive oil. Add the cleaned and drained leeks to the heated oil, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 5-8 minutes until the leeks are slightly soft.
2. While the leeks are cooking, shred the zucchinis. Place the shredded zucchini in a towel and press out the excess moisture. (Don’t skip this step! If there’s too much liquid the patties won’t bind well.)
3. In a large bowl, mix together the sautéed leeks, drained zucchini, garlic, eggs, flour, baking powder, and spices.
4. Add vegetable oil to the same pan you cooked the leeks in and heat over medium heat.
5. When your oil is hot, add heaping spoonfuls of the latke batter to the hot oil and cook the patties about a minute per side.
6. Place the cooked latkes on a plate lined with paper towel and sprinkle with salt.

COVID-19 in Jewish Atlanta — The Movie!

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Day-to-day living in a pandemic sometimes obscures the fact that we are living in truly historic times. Local filmmakers and storytellers, Adam Hirsch, Jacob Ross, and Gabby Spatt felt the need to document it all, and now, with funding from Federation Innovation Propel Grant, they’re creating a film that shows how the Atlanta Jewish Community responded to the multiple and complex challenges caused by the COVID-19 crisis with unprecedented generosity, creativity, and collaboration. It’tentatively titled “Jewish Atlanta COVID-19 Story,” and you might see it at the 2021 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (AJFF). 

We’re thrilled that this documentary project is moving forward thanks to the partnership of The Breman Museum, Federation Innovation, and the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival to support its creation and distribution. 

AJC’s Dov Wilker Celebrates the Abraham Accords

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As a Zionist, I have always lived by the motto from Theodore Herzl “.אם תרצו, אין זו אגד ה” “if you will it, it is no dream.”

I felt that way on September 13, 1993, when we were called into the gymnasium of my Jewish day school, to watch the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn. I felt that way the following year on October 26, 1994, when we were called into the same auditorium to watch the signing of the Israel-Jordanian Peace Treaty.

I remember the feeling of pride and euphoria on both of those days. As a middle-school student, I knew that something special had occurred. We sang, we danced, and we prayed that this was just the beginning. We assumed that it would be an annual thing!

And finally, twenty-six years later, I am able to feel that way again. The signing of the Abraham Accords, between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, and Bahrain and Israel, was nothing short of spectacular, the fulfillment of a dream. The dream of Israel living in peace with its neighbors.

And this peace, this dream did not happen overnight, nor the way we expected it to, but it happened and that is what matters.

It was because of dreamers and organizations like American Jewish Committee that traveled for decades to the Gulf, engaging with leaders, in an effort to help them see things differently.

We should be grateful for the dreamers, those who have taken on the monumental tasks of achieving something that none of us thought realistic, especially at a time of global crisis.

5780 was a hard year, but we should remember the bright spots: the Abraham Accords, passing of Hate Crimes legislation, increased activism, a focus on diversity within our community and a robust community response to Covid-19, just to name a few.

These bright spots are what will keep us focused on doing all we can to make 5781 an even better year.

What will you do this New Year?

By CARING, COMMUNITY, People in Need, PHILANTHROPY, Uncategorized

Wishing each other a sweet and healthy Jewish new year is traditional on the high holidays. But this year, it’s not enough! Jewish hopes and needs in a COVID world are poignant and powerful.

In a year unlike any other, your gift to the 2021 Community Campaign really can make hopes and dreams come true. So many are counting on us. Please give to the 2021 Community Campaign today!