Most commonly referred to as the Festival of Lights, Chanukah is also sometimes called the Feast of Dedication. I like both meanings, but this year the second one has more resonance for me, as I think of the dedication that so many Jews in Atlanta have exhibited to improve not only the Jewish community but the community at large. I am reminded of this multiple times each week, when I walk just steps outside my office, because in September the Breman Museum opened our 25th anniversary exhibition, “History with Chutzpah.” One of six sections in the exhibition, “Benevolence and Community,” explores the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, defined as acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world.
There are so many examples of this in Atlanta that our co-curators, Jane Leavey and Sandy Berman, hardly knew where to start. And once they started, it was even harder to decide where to stop. Atlanta has benefitted so much from Jewish philanthropy throughout the years. But Tikkun Olam is not measured alone by the size of a grant; it can also accrue in smaller gestures. There is a 2008 quote from Laura Zaban Dinerman in the exhibition, where she recalls how one of her grandfathers had a separate phone line in his office just so he could solicit for the United Jewish Appeal during World War II, while one of her grandmothers sold poppies on the street to benefit Jewish War Veterans. “It was always part of what we saw in our lives,” she said of her giving family.
As I think of Chanukah 2021, I visualize all the bright lights that are leading our city and country out of the darkness of the pandemic. It’s what we do.
Leslie Gordon is the executive director of the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum.