Celebrating 20 years on May 18, Hillels of Georgia ushered in new officers, board members, awards, and CEO Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, who will officially assume his role this July.
In the annual event reception, Sernovitz spoke of his childhood growing up in a very Jewish Philadelphia (he attended the same high school as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but at a different time) compared to his experience later encountering antisemitism where he “was asked about his horns.”
Later he minored in Jewish studies and got connected to Hillel. Sernovitz later received his Master’s in education, then spent time in Israel where he was “shaken to the core being a few feet away from a bombed falafel stand and understanding what Israelis have to deal with.”
Looking toward assuming his new role, he quoted Atlanta Food Bank CEO Bill Bolling, who said, “We’re all overwhelmed with opportunity…as there is no reason that Hillels of Georgia cannot be the gold standard of the multi campus model.”
Later, inside The Temple sanctuary, Wayne Keil, interim Hillel CEO, introduced Michael Coles, a Hillel veteran who has consistently stepped up to the plate to lead. Coles, as a past board chair, stepped away to raise the important funds for the new world-class, 10,000-square-foot facility at the University of Georgia in a former bookstore building.
Coles, new incoming board chair, praised the selection of Sernovitz, who, from his clergy role at Temple Kol Emeth, “saw how to reach beyond Cobb County having just graduated from Leadership Atlanta.”
Coles later relayed his own history of overcoming obstacles, cancer, a serious motorcycle accident, a tough childhood, by leaning on the strength of 5,000 years of Jewish heritage.
Two students, Emma M. (Georgia Institute of Technology) and Stephen Sulimani (Kennesaw State University, transferring to UGA) provided reflections on how their lives have been affected by Hillel. The former, a Jew by choice, gave an emotional invocation and noted that Hillel enhanced her vision of collective identity where she could be “accepted as herself.”
Keil gave an energetic recount of his year in review as he watched students grow and learn. He was “at the tip of the spear” with the on-campus rise of antisemitic incidences – one at KSU where a professor described Passover as “barbaric and brutal.”
The case was initially dismissed as “free speech.” Keil said, “Without hesitation, we sat down with administrators turning the challenge into a success…the professor is no longer employed there.” He quantified the growing numbers of total Jewish engagements on campus, Passover meals, Birthright trips “went through the roof,” ending in his own commitment to sprint to the finish line. Weil was praised for his work in getting the new UGA building on schedule analogous to the miracle of Chanukah stretching oil to last eight days.
KSU student Sulimani reflected that, upon his arrival on campus as “a scared 17-year-old,” he found friends at Hillel. UGA campus director Jeremy Lichtig boasted of the Athens’ campus Hillel group growth to 60 students, and his ability to solidify AEPhi, SDT, and AEPi all working together and committed, hosting Shabbats, including various deans, and raising $5,000 for tzedakah through a basketball game.
Immediate past board chair Stacey Fisher presented the Opher Aviran Award to Lisa and Seth Greenberg based on their vision and support of Israel which aligns with the eponymous Israeli ambassador. They were recognized for their work at Congregation B’nai Torah and service on various boards and councils. Overlapping their past, Stacey and Lisa originally bonded over a six-week stay in Israel.
The Harry and Sherry Maziar Student Leadership Award ($1,000 grant) was presented to Jonathan Nooriel, who was in Israel that evening. The Professional Leadership Award went to Valerie Chambers for her work on the Kennesaw State University campus, where she “grew six student Shabbat dinners to now 40.” Chambers spoke of the overall growth of KSU to around 44,000 students, with the 600 to 1,000-strong Jewish student population “ready to explode.”
Coles closed the meeting with special thanks to the Marcus Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and other important sponsors.
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Hillels of Georgia
- Rabbi Larry Sernovitz
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Bill Bolling
- The Temple
- Wayne Keil
- Michael Coles
- University of Georgia
- Temple Kol Emeth
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- Stephen Sulimani
- Kennesaw State University
- Jeremy Lichtig
- Opher Aviran Award
- Stacey Fisher
- Lisa and Seth Greenberg
- Congregation B'nai Torah
- Harry and Sherry Maziar Student Leadership Award
- Jonathan Nooriel
- Professional Leadership Award
- Valerie Chambers
- Marcus Foundation
- jewish federation of greater atlanta