It wasn’t until Dr. Ron Eichel moved to Atlanta and immersed himself within the city’s compassionate and welcoming Jewish community that he began to fully live out a regular practice of tzedakah (giving back).
“I didn’t come from a background of philanthropy and was drawn in by close friends to become involved,” he said. “I felt that the Jewish community was such a big part of my success professionally that I wanted to give back as much as possible.”
Hailing originally from Nashville, Ron moved to Atlanta almost 50 years ago, a newly minted young doctor, fresh out of his residency at Indiana University. He set up a successful pediatric dentistry practice in Dunwoody in August 1969, and later served as president of The Children’s Dental Center of Atlanta, Inc., for many years – selling the business, now called Dentistry for Children, in 2012.
After involvement with Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta for more than 48 years, the recent retiree created a Donor-Advised Fund (DAF) with Atlanta Jewish Foundation, The Ron and Nanci Eichel Family Foundation, to fulfill his philanthropic goals and give toward causes he cares about.
One of these causes is Birthright Israel (Taglit). Since its inception in 1999, Birthright has sent more than 650,000 young Jewish adults from 67 countries to Israel, to experience the country’s vibrancy of Jewish life, culture and history, while forming powerful bonds of friendship along the journey.
Ron can instantly recall the power of his own inaugural visit to Israel in 1983, to visit his son, David, who was enrolled in the High School in Israel program. Since then, he has made several return trips, including recent missions with Birthright Israel and AIPAC.
Last year, Ron had a meeting with his dear friend, Doug Ross, Atlanta Chair of Birthright Israel and member of the National Board of Directors, along with Carole-Ann Levine, Vice President Southeast Region for Birthright Israel Foundation, and Zohar Raviv, International Vice President of Education for Taglit-Birthright Israel.
They explained that the program was facing a wonderful dilemma of sorts.
When Birthright expanded its program at the end of 2017 to include a slightly older cohort, ages 27-32, in addition to the traditional 18-26 demographic, it experienced a surge in applications.
In fact, Birthright had received more than 5,000 applicants within the first 48 hours, but could only fill 600 spaces, mostly due to a shortage of buses.
Ron immediately saw where he could make a difference and stepped up by donating four buses through his fund with the Foundation.
“The potential of reaching out to that older age group was so powerful,” Ron recalls. “I chose to help the situation by volunteering to buy some buses to accommodate what I felt should be a very responsive group.”
While in Tel Aviv in July, on Birthright Israel’s 18th anniversary mission with 80 other donors from around the country, Ron was able to witness the tangible, first-hand results of his gift. Carole-Ann Levine arranged for him to meet one of the “older” cohorts his gift had helped to bring there.
“It was a wonderful experience,” he said. “I was totally overwhelmed by their response and what they had to say, and what the experience meant to them. I was so moved by it, that I decided to fund six more buses over the next five years.”
You might say a resonant theme in Ron’s life is l’dor v’dor – generation to generation — as Ron’s children, Dr. David Eichel and his wife Judy, and Allison and Dan Howard, have blessed him with six brilliant grandchildren, four of whom have already participated in Birthright Israel trips. The remaining two plan on doing so when they soon become age eligible.
“It’s something my family is really committed to,” he said.
That commitment goes for his larger Jewish Atlanta family as well. As a longtime member of Temple Sinai, Ron has great faith in future generations – having observed the exuberance and generosity of young people in his circles.
“What is so gratifying now is to see so many of the generation younger than me—so many of our children have become so involved in the community, that it really strikes me as a family affair.”