Building a Jewish Future Tops Federation’s Agenda
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Building a Jewish Future Tops Federation’s Agenda

Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta's 113th annual meeting was full of exciting and ambitious new initiatives.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Award winner Jessica Sacks poses with Eric Robbins, left, and Board Chairman Mark Silberman.
Award winner Jessica Sacks poses with Eric Robbins, left, and Board Chairman Mark Silberman.

The most intriguing moment of the 113th annual meeting of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta came during remarks by Eric Robbins, who is nearing his third anniversary as president and CEO of the philanthropic hub.

As Robbins addressed several hundred people in the gymnasium at the Marcus JCC on June 5, a sketch of a futuristic-looking building briefly appeared on a screen behind him.

It was one version of what the Federation headquarters at Spring and 18th streets might look like if plans to redevelop move forward. The futuristic design (which the Federation declined to share for publication) was eye-catching. “That is the dream” was all Robbins offered when asked later about the sketch.

Discussion about the three-acre site have included expansion of existing space occupied by the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, offices for smaller Jewish organizations, a small theater, and residential space. Planning has been underway for more than a year, after the Federation committed to remaining in midtown Atlanta. The Atlanta Business Chronicle had reported that the site was valued at $25 million.

Marilyn Shubin presents her namesake award for Maya Selber to her mother, Melissa Fay Greene, alongside Federation President-CEO Eric Robbins.

Beginning his second year as chair of the board of trustees, Mark Silberman announced that the Federation raised more than $18.8 million in the most recent fiscal year, an increase of more than $1.3 million over the previous year.

While the Federation’s general allocations will be announced in the coming weeks, Silberman outlined grants made through its separate Innovation Fund to expand outreach. The recipient projects included programming for teens, interfaith work, mental health treatment, connecting women entrepreneurs in Atlanta and Israel, and matching younger and older members of the local community in a mentoring relationship.

At the beginning of his remarks, Robbins said, “It’s a sacred moment to be in this role at this time.”

From the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh to the shootings at the Chabad center in Poway, Calif., and incidents of anti-Semitism throughout, “We had a challenging year this year in the Jewish world,” said Robbins, who grew up in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. “We’re still in mourning about that,” he said. “We will be for a long time.”

Robbins said that the Federation has strengthened its security response planning. “Just as importantly, we’ve doubled down on what we’re going to do to help strengthen this Jewish community. We’re not just going to protect it, that’s not enough. We have got to continue to strengthen and build Jewish identity among us and the next generation.”

Building Jewish identity was at the heart of a presentation by Mike Leven, chairman and CEO of the Georgia Aquarium, about an initiative called the Jewish Future Pledge, which will debut in Atlanta.

Mike Leven outlines the Jewish Future Pledge initiative at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s annual meeting.

“Each new generation’s relationship to Judaism is becoming more and more disconnected,” Leven said.

A pair of prominent surveys back up Leven’s contention. The 2013 Pew Research Center study of American Jews reported that 22 percent overall qualified as “Jews of no religion.” A 2017 report by the Public Religion Research Institute found about one-third of Americans who identify as Jewish were “cultural Jews,” who consider themselves Jewish but with no religious attachment. PRRI also reported that 53 percent of those under age 30 qualified as “cultural Jews.”

According to Leven’s presentation, the $11.6 trillion inherited by the baby boomer generation will have grown to between $30 trillion and $68 trillion when inherited by the millennials.

Those signing the pledge agree “that upon my passing, at least 50 percent of all my assets left for charitable purposes will be directed to efforts to strengthen and serve the Jewish people and/or the State of Israel.”

“We have a monumental opportunity for sustaining the Jewish future, to sustain the Jewish people not only here, but in Israel and all over the globe,” Leven said. “We are trying to create a movement right here, starting in the Atlanta Federation, to secure the Jewish future.

“I need more Harry Maziars to help me sell it,” Leven said, referencing the Atlanta native, legendary salesman, and long-time communal leader who received the Federation’s 2019 Lifetime of Achievement Award at the annual meeting.

In accepting, Maziar referenced the Hebrew word hineini, meaning “I am here.” For those involved in the Federation, the appropriate word is hineinu, meaning “We are here,” he said. “We are here. We are here for a multitude of good causes, for a vibrant and connected community and we are here for our fellow Jews.”

Recent Propel Grant Winners

Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta Innovation received 45 proposals for its PROPEL Innovation Grants and recently announced 10 awards ranging from $10,000 to $25,000, totaling almost $200,000. PROPEL’s goal is to help launch transformative, creative and scalable projects that reimagine Jewish life in Atlanta.

• Hillel Georgia Tech – TOM (Tikkun Olam Makers)
• AgeWell Atlanta – Information and Referral Concierge
• OneTable Atlanta – Atlanta Fellow
• Congregation Bet Haverim – Community Rabbi
• Moishe House
• Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta – JCC on Wheels
• Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Jewish Education Director’s Council and the Atlanta Rabbinical Association – Reimagining Jewish Education
• Tradition Kitchen
• The Blue Dove Foundation – Mental Health Responder Toolkit
• Repair the World – Solidarity Through Service

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