Like the eclipse of a heavenly body in a rare and special event, the Columbus Jewish community has experienced three reunions over the past 30 years. The driving force behind this year’s reunion, on April 23 at Pickneyville Park, was Linda Satlof, chief organizer.
Attendee Barbara Sherman Mendel exclaimed, “All this is because of Linda, who did a fantastic job putting it together.”
On this gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon, Satlof welcomed the crowd of 130 adults, two rabbis, six children, and one dog, by thanking each of the committee members who worked as a team with the outcome of this flawless event. She said, “Today’s event is based on the impact that growing up in Columbus had on our lives, full of love and caring. And this is not our last hurrah!”
Local Rabbi Brian Glusman, who has served for a decade as rabbi of Columbus’s Shearith Israel Synagogue, commutes there for weekends and lifecycle events.
He noted, “Columbus is just special. Do we see this for Savannah or Augusta? Columbus here today is about connections and even transcends synagogue membership choices.”
Columbus, about an hour and a half drive from Atlanta in the western part of the state, has a population of 197,000, and is known for its Fort Benning Army base, and is set along the Chattahoochee River on the border with Alabama.
As Southern towns go, it also has a pull from even smaller communities, like local Judge Gary Jackson who stated that he commuted there as a child from his parents’ home in Pine Mountain, Ga. This AJT writer’s parents met in Columbus and moved the young family to LaGrange.
The reunion’s history began 30 years ago, when three Jewish Columbusites, Linda Satlof, Gail Cohn, and Esther Gerson Levine, were gathered at a Yom Kippur Break Fast and decided to create a picnic designed to gather the alumni of the Columbus Jewish community who resided in Atlanta.
Lynne Rabinowitz joined the trio “as she was the only computer-savvy person from Columbus the coordinators knew in Atlanta at the time,” recalled Satlof.
After several months, the picnic was a reality in an undeveloped pasture with a covered pavilion in Conyers in 1993. More than 180 attended then, ranging in ages from 25 to 108.
Twenty-five years later, in 2018, one of the founders was at a shiva minyan where she reunited with six former Columbusites and remarked how great it was they had all stayed in touch over the years. However, she was corrected by the six, because this was their first time together in more than 30 years, as they didn’t “meet the age requirement” to attend the 1993 event. It was 25 years to the date from the first one, and these six were challenged to coordinate a second picnic on April 22, 2018. With computers available then, three weeks later, 203 Columbusites, from five different states, as far as Oregon, gathered for another reunion.
This year, with the help of a 20-person alumni committee, multiple tri-boards, posters and decorations, past memories were brought to life. Table decorations included copies of Columbus newspaper advertisements of Jewish merchants from the 1930s through 2010. An original brass threshold plate from Kiralfy’s, a Jewish-owned dress store, was displayed.
Eric Singer, who stated that he lived in Columbus until age 11, said, “I consider myself a native and have seen people here I didn’t know.”
David Moskowitz, who was on the set-up committee, spoke of his teenage memories, “My 1957 ‘baby boomer’ bar mitzvah class of 15 was the largest in history. Columbus is where it all began. Lots of good memories.”
Reunion co-founder Esther Gerson Levine was impressed with the memorabilia that Satlof had prominently displayed on tables designed with artist Joan Weiss.
Levine said, “Columbus has influenced us all in a big way. I’m so excited after so many years.”
Pediatrician Pip Spandorfer, who said that he treated half the grandchildren of the people at the picnic, chatted alongside his mother, Rochelle, who raised a large family in Columbus.
Sherman Mendel, who had to cut short a trip to make it to the picnic, summed it up, “And everyone looks exactly the same!”