It’s Adar, the month when the Talmud says our joy increases. I’ve now lived in Atlanta for fifteen years and they really have been full of Jewish joy with weddings, b’nai mitzvah, Shabbats, baby namings, holidays, Israel@70, plus hundreds of conversations and encounters with you! At Federation we talk a lot these days about creating more Jewish places and being a radically welcoming community. Atlanta has been all that and more for me. Looking back on fifteen years, I thought it was time to share my own idiosyncratic list of welcoming Jewish events and places that fill me with joy. So here, in alphabetical order, are ten beautiful Jewish Atlanta places, events, and things I love.
About six years ago, a group of mostly Intown and Decatur families formed a havurah (fellowship group) to share Shabbat and the high holidays, lifecycle events, and learning. Some of us were already members of synagogues, and some of us were not. What we had in common was a wish to create an interactive, family-friendly worship experience that drew from the best of Reform, Reconstructionist and Orthodox traditions. The Atlanta Havurah drew us close and continues to give our kids and our families a joyous place to be Jewish.
Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
The month of February can be a slog, but not in Jewish Atlanta. We have the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival make the month fly by. For 21 days we get to binge on incredible films from around the world, all presenting a unique Jewish take on life. I love the mad scramble to order tickets online, and the conversations that happen when we stand on line waiting to go into the theatre and run into friends and neighbors. AJFF makes Atlanta feel like a small town. It’s a treasure.
Atlanta Jewish Music Festival
How incredible is it that Atlanta has a Jewish film festival, a book festival, and a music festival? My friend Russell Gottschalk created AJMF right out of Emory University, and in less than 10 years he turned it into an engine for fresh, unexpected and vibrant Jewish music. Russell’s vision for AJMF was to engage the whole community, which he did with teen open mic events, and concert venues in synagogues, coffee shops and clubs. Now, under a wonderful new director, Joe Alterman, AJMF is still innovating and building new audiences and expanding my mind about what Jewish music can be.
The Breman’s Bearing Witness Series
Atlanta’s small and dwindling Holocaust survivor community is precious to all of us, and The Breman Jewish Heritage Museum’s Bearing Witness series brings honor to them. The series features Holocaust survivors, all Atlanta residents, who share their personal stories of survival, endurance and resilience. I never fail to be inspired by the optimism that still shines through as they bear witness to one of darkest periods in modern history. As someone who works at the Selig Center, it is a joy to see the lessons of the Holocaust come to life for new generations when school groups visit The Breman on a daily basis.
JKG B’nei Mitzvah
Full disclosure: my wife, Ana Robbins, is the Founding Director of Jewish Kids Groups (JKG). That said, I dearly love JKG’s unique approach to bar and bat mitzvah. As a different kind of Hebrew school, JKG has a different take on bar and bat mitzvah. At JKG, bar and bat mitzvah is a two-year program of small group study that culminates in a group B’nei Mitzvah event. The kids come of age as a close group, learning together and doing individual projects. Some families choose to have a conventional synagogue service with Torah-reading; others, who are not members of synagogues, craft their own personalized experience or take the group option. How cool that this model started right in Atlanta.
Kiddush Lunch at Congregation Shearith Israel
What can I say? Congregation Shearith Israel is my shul and I love it. Kiddush lunch at Shearith Israel is a delicious reward for coming to services — the place where my Intown village joins together for fellowship, schmoozing and fressing (Yiddish for eating). Want to know who had a baby, who got engaged, whose parents are moving to Atlanta? You find out everything at kiddush. Shearith Israel has had some ups and downs, but today it’s bursting with young families and newcomers, thanks to our dynamic and caring rabbi, Ari Kaiman. For me, Shearith Israel is the essence of community.
I’ve written many times about Limmud Atlanta+Southeast, our immersive, inclusive, and multi-generational learning community that happens over Labor Day weekend up at Ramah Darom. Limmud runs 100% on volunteer power and is the template I love for Jewish engagement. The sessions are eclectic, from text study to making pita in an outdoor oven. We do yoga, share meals, hear great music, go hiking and just hang out. Everyone in my family, from teenage Sasha, to my uncle Bill, who is in his nineties, loves it. Limmud proves what can happen when you empower passionate people to create the programs they want, to their own specifications.
Israel Leadership Learning Journey
Of all my recent trips to Israel, last year’s Community Leadership Learning Journey was a standout experience. With support from a wonderful donor, we took a group of 70 Atlanta Jewish community leaders on a unique trip to Israel, not to be tourists, but to encounter each other. Our work on The Front Porch created a mindset to build bonds as community leaders, affirm and deepen our ties to Israel, and immerse ourselves in Israeli innovation. Through many deep and difficult conversations, we came to know each other and love each other. We returned with a commitment to continue respectful dialogue, to take each other’s calls, to assume the very best of each other, and keep our connections going. And we have! Our What’s App group continues, with weekly wishes for Shabbat shalom.
Shabbat on La Vista Road
Have you ever been in Toco Hills on Shabbat? Less than ten minutes from where I live, on any given Shabbat morning, you can witness a street scene that’s almost out of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Boasting at least seven congregations, from Reconstructionist to Orthodox, LaVista Road, the central street of Toco Hills, comes alive on Shabbat. Within the eruv (ritual enclosure permitting certain activities on Shabbat) families and individuals greet each other on their way to synagogue, walk home for lunch, and return again for Mincha and Maariv services. You’ll see kids racing down LaVista to catch up with their friends. You’ll see clusters of parents pushing kids in strollers, even men wearing long black coats and shtreimels (fur hat worn by some observant men), creating a glorious street scene that’s unique in all of Jewish Atlanta.
Sukkot at Oakhurst Garden
My beloved friend, Naomi Rabkin, z”l, was taken from this world too soon. Earlier this month we marked her first yahrzeit (anniversary of a death). When Naomi lived in Atlanta she not only managed Limmud Atlanta, she was the spark that created The Atlanta Jewish Food Alliance, the first Jewish community supported agriculture group, and the first public sukkah at Oakhurst Community Garden. During Sukkot, Naomi turned Oakhurst Garden into a magical Jewish gan eden (garden of eden). She packed the week with potluck picnics, Sukkot sleepovers, and a Sukkot baking competition. For some Jews and their loved ones, it was their first ever experience of a sukkah and the wonderful customs of our harvest .