Atlanta Scholars Kollel Event Features Disney Executive
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Atlanta Scholars Kollel Event Features Disney Executive

Disney attorney inspires with his personal decision process to become an Observant Jew.

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).

  • Rabbi David Silverman greeted guest speaker Jim Kapenstein, who flew in from California.
    Rabbi David Silverman greeted guest speaker Jim Kapenstein, who flew in from California.
  • Young women from Brookhaven Kollel were in attendance. Left to right Elaine Berkovich, Danielle Spelfogel, Maria Barton.
    Young women from Brookhaven Kollel were in attendance. Left to right Elaine Berkovich, Danielle Spelfogel, Maria Barton.
  • Jordan Tritt (right) introduced his friend, David Gutt, to Kollel.
    Jordan Tritt (right) introduced his friend, David Gutt, to Kollel.
  • Rabbi Yosef Vakrat, Congregation Ariel’s Israeli liaison, shared news of his new preschool venture with Rabbi Daniel Freitag, Chris Pena and Junko Horvath.
    Rabbi Yosef Vakrat, Congregation Ariel’s Israeli liaison, shared news of his new preschool venture with Rabbi Daniel Freitag, Chris Pena and Junko Horvath.
  • Eric Miller (left) and Ross Fishbein (right) flank Rabbi Yosef Shapiro, who has grown the Brookhaven Kollel to 600 participants.
    Eric Miller (left) and Ross Fishbein (right) flank Rabbi Yosef Shapiro, who has grown the Brookhaven Kollel to 600 participants.

After some COVID stalls and postponements, the Atlanta Scholars Kollel networking event attracted a crowd of 150 at City Springs on Dec. 6. This year’s guest speaker, Walt Disney Company Senior Vice President and Associate Council Jim Kapenstein, flew in from Los Angeles to share the emotional journey that brought him to a fuller and more fulfilling life through practice and belief in Torah. His presentation was titled “Decision of a Lifetime.”

As in past ASK events, the rabbis surprised the crowd with clever skits extolling the Kollel’s outreach efforts. This year, Rabbi David Silverman (Head of Kollel) and Rabbi Daniel Freitag tossed about possible tongue-in-cheek acronym alternatives to ASK, though “MASK,” “TOKE,” “CASKET,” and “MOSQUE” were ultimately rejected.

Rabbi Daniel Pransky gave a D’var Torah emphasizing Chanukah’s miracles of oil and survival. Kapenstein enraptured the audience as he told the story of his involvement in the Jewish community, starting in Dunwoody, and encompassing both his professional and family life. Kapenstein’s father, who died tragically at 34, was the co-chairman of Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign and was with Kennedy at the hotel when he was assassinated. He mentioned that his father had cautioned RFK against going into the kitchen to meet the workers before the tragedy occurred.

Fatherless at a young age, Kapenstein told the crowd that his two older brothers found their way to observant Judaism before he himself began asking serious questions. “Twenty-six years ago, I sat in the front row of such an audience as here tonight,” he said. “Asking heavy questions, such as, ‘How will Judaism play a role in my life? How will I raise my family? Would I want my daughter to join a sorority?’” Kapenstein wanted proof that a 2,000-year-old Torah was still alive; Rabbi Benyamin Friedman answered the call.

Rabbi Yosef Vakrat, Congregation Ariel’s Israeli liaison, shared news of his new preschool venture with Rabbi Daniel Freitag, Chris Pena and Junko Horvath.

Kapenstein, who wore business attire and matching tennis shoes, held the audience’s attention by speaking very softly and intentionally. “With 3 out of 4 [marriages being] intermarriages today, we all have the ‘max of 120 years’ to decide our purpose and make an informed decision. Think of COVID, G-d decides everything in the world. When have we witnessed such shut downs … even yeshivas closed. Never before!”

As a high-level corporate attorney for Disney, Kapenstein said that he had had to navigate his way through less-than-friendly environments while sticking to his values as an observant Jew. “Especially difficult since non-observant Jews were in the room, not observing the Sabbath. When they realized that I would not compromise, they came to respect me and went out of their way to schedule around observances,” he said. Along the way, he threw out big names like Bob Iger, George Lucas, and other giants of the industry.

The heartfelt core of his message was the role of learning and the caliber of the Atlanta Kollel staff. “I’ve experienced learning in L.A., but the Atlanta Kollel Rabbanim are like diamonds,” he said. “Nothing touches the rabbis here. When people like that believe in you, you ascend!”

Eric Miller (left) and Ross Fishbein (right) flank Rabbi Yosef Shapiro, who has grown the Brookhaven Kollel to 600 participants.

Kapenstein invited his wife, Jill Caller, to field questions alongside him. Having also grown up in a non-Orthodox setting, she described how the pair had made this journey together, growing — sometimes at different rates — and arriving at a wonderful family with five children. “We grew together by seeking advice from Rabbanim. I succeeded by not being a perfectionist. It wasn’t easy, but it’s so meaningful and worthwhile,” she concluded.

Another audience member asked Kapenstein to reveal what Disney’s next acquisition might be. An expert in mergers and acquisitions, Kapenstein demurred.

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