AJC Celebrates Advocates Elise Eplan and A.J. Robinson

AJC Celebrates Advocates Elise Eplan and A.J. Robinson

On May 5, the American Jewish Committee presented their 2022 Distinguished Advocate Award to Elise Eplan and A.J. Robinson at the Woodruff Arts Center.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

A.J. Robinson and Elise Eplan received the prestigious 2022 Distinguished Advocate Award at The Woodruff Arts Center.
A.J. Robinson and Elise Eplan received the prestigious 2022 Distinguished Advocate Award at The Woodruff Arts Center.

On May 5, the American Jewish Committee presented their 2022 Distinguished Advocate Award to Elise Eplan and A.J. Robinson at the Woodruff Arts Center.

Eplan is the founder of The Eplan Group, a consulting firm that advises philanthropic and nonprofit organizations, and was the founding president of Hands On Atlanta, a community service organization that places over 30,000 volunteers annually. She now serves as an associate director of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, is a trustee of The Paideia School and a board member of the Jewish Home Foundation.

AJC CEO Dov Wilker, flanked by Veronica Toscano (left) and Maria Franco (right).

Robinson is president of Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID). He manages the overall strategic functions of CAP and ADID, two groups committed to making the Atlanta community — and, specifically, the city’s downtown — more livable, vital and diverse.

Before joining CAP, Robinson was president of Portman Holdings, where he managed all aspects of the firm’s real estate development and property management processes, including assets such as SunTrust Plaza, AmericasMart, Atlanta Decorative Arts Center, Westin Charlotte, Westin Warsaw and Shanghai Centre.

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival’s Kenny Blank chats with Tomer Zvulun of the Atlanta Opera.

Event Cochair Kent Alexander greeted the crowd inside Symphony Hall and recognized diplomats from the Netherlands, Argentina and Israel in addition to local city council members. Robinson’s three children and Eplan’s two children each spoke about their parents’ inspiration in molding them to be good citizens and Jews, from celebrating Shabbat, golf games and positive work ethic to role modeling.

Past AJC President Ilene Engel subbed in for Craig Kaufman, AJC regional president, who was on the mend. Engel spoke of AJC’s impact globally, nationally and locally, especially when it comes to helping refugees cross the Ukrainian-Polish border and evacuating Ukrainians to Israel.

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Falcons’ owner and philanthropist Arthur Blank introduced the night’s honorees. Blank ribbed Franklin for leaving potholes in the city’s streets and spoke of his friendship with the Walton family (Walmart) and their mutual understanding of the importance of philanthropy.

“Thanks to [Home Depot] stock, my mother left an estate of $20 million in a foundation which gave away $40 million and has $60 million left,” he said.

Rev. Bogdan Maruszak, who delivered the closing comments, posed with Simone Wilker.

Eplan was credited with managing funds for foundations and families, as well as for learning from her father, Leon, to make sure that everybody had a voice. She quoted the late Chief Rabbi of the UK, Lord Jonathan Sacks, on the importance of “finding G-d in community,” recalling that she entered AJC through ACCESS, their young professional division. “Our board members have the youngest average thanks to Dov’s efforts,” she said.

Robinson was labeled “Able John” for his vision of making Downtown Atlanta the heart and soul of the city. “I knew I was receiving an award but thought that, since I have been attending AJC events for 40 years, it would be an ‘attendance trophy,’” he quipped.

AJC CEO Dov Wilker interviewed the honorees in a modern, seated format, punctuated with comments from other speakers.

Maddie Cook spoke on behalf of ACCESS, the AJC’s young professional division, and posed with former AJC President Ilene Engle.

ACCESS Cochair Maddie Cook and Eli Medoff of Leaders for Tomorrow spoke about the dynamism AJC offers future generations. Cook elaborated on the goal of educating young citizens of the world though Black/Jewish Coalition projects and leadership retreats. Medoff, a Weber School student, spoke of his visit to a village in Spain where it was his role to speak to the mayor in Spanish about antisemitism. Robinson noted that “there is tremendous competition for young minds today” and these kinds of “touchy feely” projects work well.

He spoke of his roots in Tennessee — “not exactly a hotbed of Jewish life” — where antisemitism was more individual as opposed to today’s rapid spread of disinformation.

Robert Peterson (Black/Jewish Project Alum) spoke about his mother, who was one of the victims of the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings, and how his AJC peers provided solace at that difficult time. Israel’s Consul General to the Southeast, Anat Sultan-Dadon, invoked news of the day’s tragedy: the murder of three Israeli citizens.

“We will not be broken or deterred,” she said. “The AJC is a willing partner in this new era of Middle East politics with the Abraham Accords.”

Robinson recalled that he was 12 on his first trip to Israel and that “now, 25-30 trips later, Israel’s sophistication is impressive to Jews and non-Jews.”

“We must reinforce our Jewish identity, candles in the window during Chanukah, Purim, customs we should share,” he added.

“Celebrating Judaism is different for everybody,” Eplan said. “But we all agree that we need to be the light among the nations.”

The closing benediction was provided by Rev. Bogdan Maruszak of the St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Clad in a flowing black cassock, he explained that war has no winners and contrasted Ukrainian struggles in gulags to the terrors of antisemitism.

“Israel celebrated 75 years and I wish them 750 more,” he said. “Ukraine is only 10. We need weapons, knowledge and money to stop this war. I am Polish and, in 1939, it started in Poland and could have been stopped early. We need more than sanctions. Diplomacy is over.”

After a minute of silence, the crowd filed out of Symphony Hall.

Earlier in the evening, Andrea Young, daughter of former Mayor and Ambassador Andrew Young — and current executive director of the ACLU — told the AJT, “We have worked with Wilker and the AJC on several efforts through the Black/Jewish Coalition. It’s so important that we bring together our collective experiences. And serving on boards with A.J. is one of the reasons we located the Center for Civil and Human Rights downtown.”

A Kosher Touch provided a magnificent feast in the Woodruff lobby with extensive food stations representing Israel, South Africa, Asia and the South.

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