Gerry Benjamin recently handed over the reins of Ahavath Achim Synagogue to new president and local attorney Gary Alembik, who happens to be a member of the LGBTQ community.
“I am a Conservative Jew and gay,” Alembik told the Atlanta Jewish Times. “For many years, I had difficulty finding acceptance in the Conservative Jewish community. I represent a new face in the leadership at Ahavath Achim. I am the face of diversity and inclusion. When I first joined Ahavath Achim many years ago, I identified few faces like mine. Now, I am proud to say, that my AA family and its leadership are made up of a collection of beautiful and talented diverse faces.”
Alembik assumes leadership of Ahavath Achim at a moment of relative security concerning the congregation’s future, which has been shored up by generous endowments.
The permanent endowment is anticipated to exceed $10 million by June 30, and recent $1,000,000 Leadership gifts include Sanford Orkin’s family endowing the AA Senior Rabbinical Chair, Marilyn Ginsburg Eckstein funding the AA Cultural Arts Program, The Gerry & Vicki Benjamin Family Charitable Foundation endowing the congregation’s Building Capital Improvement Fund, The Gregg & Beth Paradies Family endowing the Membership Engagement Fund at the $250,000 level and Eileen and Adolphus Coolik at the $100,000 level.
Earnings from these funds will go toward balancing the annual operating budget, while ensuring financial stability for future generations of congregants.
The new president is excited to take the helm at a time of unprecedented changes in how Jews affiliate and observe their religion.
“We have opened our arms, hearts and membership to our LGBTQ Jewish community, Jews of color and interfaith families,” Alembik said. “We recently changed our bylaws to welcome interfaith families into membership and sacred spaces. We have partnered with Arlington cemetery and Dignity Memorial to acquire a new AA section, the Unity Garden, for the burial of multifaith families.”
Other innovations include remodeling the main sanctuary, remodeling the Cohen Pavilion (the main entrance) and Srochi Hall event space, expanding the social action and mitzvah projects and improving virtual space by investing in technology via the Shirley Reisman Media Outreach Fund.
Congregants at Ahavath Achim laud Alembik for his upbeat demeanor, religious service participation and the fact that he “shows up.”
“I have been guided by the principle that a mitzvah is even stronger than prayer,” he says. Alembik volunteers with Project Open Hand, the Atlanta Community Food Bank, a quarterly blood drive and is co-chair of Operation Isaiah and the Arnovitz Leadership Institute.
He is married to Stephen Graves, his partner of 15 years, who is a principal analytics programmer at Chick-Fil-A. “Steve supports my spiritual journey and my AA community,” Alembik told the AJT.
“He often attends Friday Shabbat services. He’s currently working on a project to analyze synagogue data. I have attended Stephen’s Virginia Highland Church whose choir appeared at AA in an HIV Havdalah service. Steve and I have hosted Mat Laney, the Virginia Highland pastor at our home. Interestingly, Matt recently introduced me to an interfaith couple who was interested in joining a shul.”
Alembik is no stranger to synagogue life. He grew up at Atlanta’s Congregation Shearith Israel, where his grandfather was a shammas. “My grandfather’s shul was the center of his life,” he recalled.
“I have wonderful childhood memories of him holding my hand as we walked down North Highland Avenue to shul. He took so much pride in exposing me to Judaism and his shul life. Grandpa Alembik taught me the true meaning of a Beit Knesset. As I begin this new journey as Ahavath Achim’s president, I reflect on my grandfather and the influence he had on my Jewish and synagogue life. I know he would be proud of me.” Alembik’s father and multiple family members were Holocaust survivors, which further encouraged him to strive to be a better Jew.
A graduate of George Washington University and Mercer Law, Alembik has practiced for 34 years. For 10 years, he was a judge in the Fulton County Family Division and served in the Family Violence court. Currently, he maintains an arbitration and mediation practice.
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Gerry Benjamin
- Ahavath Achim
- Gary Alembik
- Conservative Judaism
- Sanford Orkin
- AA Senior Rabbinical Chair
- Marilyn Ginsburg Eckstein
- AA Cultural Arts Program
- Gerry & Vicki Benjamin Family Charitable Foundation
- The Gregg & Beth Paradies Family
- Eileen and Adolphus Coolik
- Arlington Cemetery
- Dignity Memorial
- Cohen Pavilion
- Srochi Hall
- Shirley Reisman Media Outreach Fund
- Project Open Hand
- Arnovitz Leadership Institute
- Atlanta Community Food Bank
- Stephen Graves
- Congregation Shearith Israel
- Beit Knesset
- George Washington University
- Mercer Law
- Fulton County Family Division