Ahavath Achim Synagogue paid a moving tribute during the Shabbat morning service Saturday, Feb. 10, to its two rebbetzins, Susan Hart Sandler and Brooke Haber Rosenthal, and the crucial role they play in congregational life.
The recognition was part of a weekend dedicated to wives of the rabbis who have served AA throughout its history. David Covell of Avenue K catered a grand Kiddush after the service.
The rebbetzins’ friends Delcy Harber and Erica Cozewith introduced the honorees, who addressed the large crowd in the Buckhead synagogue’s main sanctuary.
Sandler has handled many synagogue roles with grace and determination. Through her social work at Weinstein Hospice, she has helped families face end-of-life issues with dignity.
She said that when her husband came to Atlanta for his initial interview, she insisted on accompanying him “because this is really about teamwork.”
Rosenthal also wears many hats, from co-chairing the parent organization for the Ahava Early Learning Center, AA’s preschool, to founding Modern Elders, a nonprofit organization to help seniors struggling with today’s pervasive information technology — all while shepherding her husband and four young children.
“Many of the good deeds done by rebbetzins can be widespread to all folks within the congregation in terms of making others feel welcome and in various community kindnesses,” Rosenthal said.
Rabbis Neil Sandler and Laurence Rosenthal gave their wives priestly blessings, thanking them for the myriad of works they perform for the synagogue and the community.
Maryanne Garber delivered an oral history of the rebbetzins of Ahavath Achim from its start in the 1880s through the illustrious Reva Epstein and Rae Goodman to the present. Garber focused on how each woman fulfilled the ever-changing role of rebbetzin in her own way.
A short documentary, “The First Ladies of AA,” fleshed out Garber’s talk during a gala Saturday night. Written by Vincent Coppola, narrated by Miriam Strickman-Levitas, directed by Bobby Ezor, and produced by Paul and Donna Grady of Dewitt Smith Video Productions, the film was as much a love story as a history.
The gala featured Joe Gransden and his 16-piece band in Srochi Hall. After cocktails, Helene and Michael Kates of the Baal Shem Tones led a high-energy hora highlighted by the rebbetzins being lifted high above the crowd.
Music arranger Wes Funderburke crafted a medley of the honorees’ favorite singers, from Diana Ross to David Bowie.
Cover Ups Linens and Magnum Lighting adorned the hall with spectacular décor. Gourmet Catering by Chef Alex provided a sampling of the best cuisine from the rebbetzins’ hometowns, Los Angeles (Rosenthal) and New Orleans (Sandler), as well as Atlanta.
One highlight involved Sandler and Rosenthal finishing the line “You might be a rebbetzin if …”
Among their punchlines:
- “You prepare Shabbat dinner for six and end up with 16.”
- “You buy season tickets to the theater or a sports event but need to sell them or find alternative dates for nearly every game or performance.”
- “You go to the grocery store and run into so many people you know, you end up walking out 30 minutes later without the groceries you came for.”
Garber summed up the celebration: “It’s not only what you do that we love. It’s who you are.”