Rocking back and forth, Marks began the meeting with an invitation, “I’ve been saving a seat for you on the front porch.”
In front of a few hundred people in the auditorium of the Atlanta Jewish Academy, Marks conducted the final duties of his two-year term as chairman of the JFGA board. His successor, Mark Silberman, begins a two-year term as board chairman on July 1.
The stage – set up with red-and-white striped cushions on a pair of rocking chairs, a couple of crates with a vase of daisies on top, and a section of wooden fence – was intended to remind all present that JFGA’s “Front Porch” initiative will play a significant role in the organization’s future.
“For me this has been an honor and a privilege its been a humbling experience,” Marks said in his valedictory address.
Marks read aloud from a 1969 letter in which Rabbi Harry Epstein, z”l, for 54 years spiritual leader of Ahavath Achim Congregation, lamented the apathy of Jewish youth and the need to make Judaism relevant to young people.
“We’re struggling with those same ideals, same thoughts, 50 years later,” he noted.
“Jewish education, Jewish literacy, and Jewish tradition are central elements to a Jewish community,” Marks said, citing an increased focus by JFGA on growing educational opportunities.
Marks also used the occasion to admonish those present to take care in how they speak about Jewish organizations and individuals. “Tone matters,” he said.
Referencing the Hebrew term lashon hara (evil speech), Marks said, “We’re experts at it in the Jewish community. . . I ask everybody in this room to be mindful of hurtful speech.”
Marks noted that his term as chairman began about the same time that Eric Robbins became JFGA’s executive director.
In turn, Robbins praised Marks for streamlining JFGA’s governance structure and for creating a a culture “where we literally have broken down walls.”
Robbins also cited the Epstein letter, saying, “What keeps me up at night is apathy and relevance . . . That’s why we did the Front Porch,” a series of events held in a variety of settings, that drew hundreds of people who offered their thoughts about needs in the Jewish community.
“We have got to get everyone to care because Atlanta could be a model of how we’re going to address apathy and relevance in the 21st Century,” Robbins said.
Acknowledging concerns about JFGA’s future, Robbins said, “Front Porch wasn’t walking away from what this organization has been so committed to since it was founded, the continued support of the major organizations who have built this community and continue to serve this community.
JFGA remains committed to its traditional method of fundraising. “Nobody is walking away from that campaign,” Robbins said.
“But,” he continued, innovation comes with a price tag and greater resources will be needed, perhaps through the Atlanta Jewish Foundation, JFGA’s donor-advised funding program, to address those issues of apathy and relevance.
“Put your seat belt on,” Robbins said. “If we want to solve today’s problems we have to try a whole bunch of stuff,” some that will succeed and some that may not.
[In an email sent after the meeting, the Federation highlighted two prototype programs already moving forward.
[“One Happy Preschooler” is an initiative championed by Silberman, a grandfather of five. The program will provide each of 10 families with $1,000 tuition grants to enroll their children, ages 18-24 months, in a Jewish pre-school for the first time. The application deadline is June 29.
[The idea for the “Israel Baby Grant” originated with the Atlanta-based Jewish Fertility Foundation. Funds will be allocated to send a local couple to Israel, where the cost of fertility treatments is significantly less than in the United States. From an initial investment of $2,500-$3,000, the “Israel Baby Grant” may expand to serve additional couples.}
For his part, Silberman told the annual meeting that his two goals as chairman are to “redefine the definition of the word, the meaning of Federation” and to raise the level of philanthropic giving, to “breed a culture” of philanthropy in the community.
With a nod to the pressures of his new position, Silberman joked that he was looking forward to when his picture is on the wall of past JFGA chairmen.
Silberman headed a lengthy slate of board members approved by acclimation during the annual meeting. Among the other officers will be Lori Kagan Schwarz, vice chairman; Rob Leven, secretary, and Stan Sunshine, treasurer.
The awards portion of the evening featured presentation of the Lifetime of Achievement Award to Lois Blonder, who along with herannualnewslate husband, Jerry, z”l, endowed the Blonder Family Department for Special Needs at the Marcus Jewish Community Center and were benefactors of Jerry’s Habima Theatre.
In her acceptance speech, Blonder recalled moving to Atlanta at age 18, with her parents, to attend the University of Georgia, at a time when the area’s Jewish population was less than 4,000, and there were six synagogue and three Jewish country clubs.
She has seen great change in the Jewish community over 50 years. “I have likened it to a field of dreams,” Blonder said. “Not, if you build it they will come, but if it’s needed, we will provide.”
“The innovators and visionaries are showing the courage to develop the potential of our community for tomorrow,” she said, looking in the direction of Marks and Robbins, who were standing on the opposite side of the stage.
Adam Kazinec, co-chairman of the Federation’s upcoming 40-under-40 mission to Israel, received the Abe Schwartz Young Leadeship Award.
The Gerald H. Cohen Community Development Award was presented to Matt Shulman, whose community engagements include the Usher 1F Collaborative, a non-profit that funds research to save or restore the vision of those suffering from that disease.
Russell Gottschalk, who is stepping down after nine years as founder and director of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival, was honored with the Mary & Max London “People Power Award.”
Sally Mundell, founder and president of The Packaged Good, an organization that encourages volunteerism among children, received the Tikkun Olam/Community Impact Award.
- Front Porch
- Cuba Family Archives
- Jeremy Katz
- Jerry's Habima Theatre
- The Packaged Good
- Sally Mundell
- Joel Marks
- Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta
- jewish federation of greater atlanta
- atlanta jewish academy
- Atlanta Jewish Music Festival
- Russell Gottschalk
- The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum