Big Boost for Culture at Ahavath Achim

Big Boost for Culture at Ahavath Achim

Longtime member gives a million dollar gift for music and other cultural programming.

Marilyn Ginsberg Eckstein and her late husband, Sam, have donated $1 million for cultural programming at AA Synagogue.
Marilyn Ginsberg Eckstein and her late husband, Sam, have donated $1 million for cultural programming at AA Synagogue.

The Cultural Arts Fund at Ahavath Achim Synagogue has received a significant boost with a gift of $1 million from Marilyn Ginsberg Eckstein, a lifelong member of the Peachtree Battle Conservative congregation.

The gift will help expand and enhance the long-established and thriving cultural and public affairs programming at the synagogue.

Synagogue President Gerry Benjamin says he expects the community is likely to see more of the same in the next few years.

“The quality of the presentation have been outstanding. But to endow this cultural arts program with a permanent endowment like this is really wonderful. It allows us to continue to attract the best of the best. And we’ve named that after Marilyn and it’ll really have legs and grow.”

Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the AA’s Eizenstat lecture series in 2015.

For the past 33 years the synagogue has hosted the nationally recognized Eizenstat Lecture Series. It’s supported by Stuart Eizenstat, the former diplomat and high-ranking official in the Carter and Clinton administrations, who grew up in the congregation.

The series has welcomed two United States presidents, two Supreme Court justices, two Israeli prime ministers and three Nobel Peace Prize winners. This year, the lecture is expected to be delivered by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, although a firm date for his appearance has not been set. President Biden spoke at the synagogue in 2015 when he was Vice President.

Benjamin, the congregation president, believes it will be hard to top that kind of prestigious event.

“I think we can enhance perhaps the quantity of offerings and offer more than, say, three or four opportunities per year, which we’ve done historically. And maybe we can grow that to five or six opportunities per year. We could offer more performing artists and bring in some great guests for residencies on weekends. We’ll continue to innovate. And there’s been some discussion about incorporating perhaps some opportunities for young talent in our community to showcase their abilities.”

This month, on Oct. 17, the synagogue is offering its second annual Dr. Jerome and Betty Berman Memorial Concert of chamber music, with a three-hour performance of Beethoven pieces beginning at 3 p.m.

The concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, violinist David Coucheron, will be joined by his sister, pianist Julie Coucheron, cellist Charae Krueger and pianist William Ransom, who is a distinguished faculty member at the Emory University School of Music.

David Coucheron, the concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony, and his sister Julie will be among the performers at AA’s Beethoven concert on Oct. 17.

Beethoven’s well-known 5th Symphony, arranged for the rarely performed version for two pianos, is among the works to be featured in the free concert.

Ahavath Achim has been presenting these community concerts for over 40 years — first under the direction of Harriet and Sam Draluck, and since 2005 by Ivan Millender, who sees in the new gift more substantial support for the musical series that attracts an enthusiastic crowd but not a lot of money.

“The three daughters of Dr. Berman made a nice donation for this upcoming series. They’re my cousins and I have other contributions from members of my family, I get money that way for the concerts. And occasionally I get some nice checks from some of the people that come. But this million dollars, that’s a magnificent gift.”

Finances at the synagogue have been strong, even during the last year-and-a-half of the pandemic. There was a generous response to this year’s Yom Kippur financial appeal and the congregation expects to be in the black again this year.

Senior Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal finds the synagogue’s financial good fortune gratifying, but it has come, he says, after a lot of hard work.

“We have right now the strongest leadership in my congregation I’ve ever seen. We’ve always had good leadership, but this is incredibly strong on the financial point. And so there’s been this great focus on that. And we’ve been very blessed. We’ve gotten ahead of it. But a lot of it takes relationship building.”

Next year, when Benjamin’s term as AA president ends, he will be giving up the world of financial statements, profit and loss sheets and fundraising and going over, so to speak, to the other side: his first love, music.

Before he became a successful financial services executive, Benjamin studied musical composition and arranging at the University of Kentucky. Next August, when he hits 65, he’ll be retiring from the business world and going back to music. He and his wife are moving to New York City, where he’s been accepted as a nontraditional student in the Juilliard School of Music’s graduate program.

In two years, he plans to be back at AA to hear a performance of some of the music he’s written for his master’s degree. Perhaps he will be able to hear it performed, for the first time, as part of the Marilyn Ginsberg Eckstein Cultural Arts Fund.

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