Israel@70 Should Be Just a Start for Atlanta
OpinionEditor's Notebook

Israel@70 Should Be Just a Start for Atlanta

We need to build on this energy to keep Jewish Atlanta rolling.

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

It would be a lie to say Jewish Atlanta’s Israel@70 celebration was perfect.

In a perfect world, the kosher food vendors, with no basis for estimating how many hungry mouths would be wandering around the Park Tavern, nonetheless would have exactly balanced supply and demand. The ice cream would have lasted until 4 p.m., and no one would have needed to stand in line for more than five or maybe 10 minutes for a burger or shawarma.

In a perfect world, Midtown traffic would have melted away, enabling rapid transit for people who decided midafternoon Sunday, April 29, to join the party. No one would have run into gridlock around Piedmont Park and decided in frustration to reverse course and head home to watch the Braves on TV.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have felt the need for such thorough if friendly security checks to ensure the safety of the thousands of people who thronged together in a vulnerable, confined space.

That perfect world isn’t Earth in the 21st century.

But we came about as close to perfect as anyone could have hoped for.

Start with the weather. Sunny, 70 degrees, modest humidity and a gentle breeze make for a pleasant combination any time of year, but after our seemingly endless streak of rainy weekends, it felt heaven-sent.

Then there was the crowd. It’s rare when the true strength of our community — our diversity in all meanings of the word — is on display.

Even on the rare occasions when the full range of religious observance comes together and we get Sephardim and Ashkenazim in one place — as happened in August when Federation, the Marcus JCC, Jewish Family & Career Services, Jewish Home Life Communities and the Atlanta Rabbinical Association combined to bring us The Collective — few of the 10,000 to 15,000 Israelis in metro Atlanta turn out. And not enough of the non-Israelis join the event that’s most important to the Israelis, Yom HaZikaron.

But this day was different from most other days. Israelis turned out to join the rest of us in celebrating our shared homeland’s biggest birthday yet.

Great credit goes to everyone at Federation and partner agencies for planning such a vibrant range of activities and food and music. There was not something for everyone; there were multiple things for everyone.

In addition, people who had every reason not to spend the day at the park because of other big events in the community still joined the celebration. After all, one of the dangers of activating the potential of a growing community is that there aren’t enough days in the year to go around.

It would have been understandable if the Temple Kol Emeth crowd, for example, struggled to make it down Interstate 75 after the congregation’s big annual gala, the Avodah Awards, the night before.

And the nearly 400 people preparing hours later to mark Congregation Beth Jacob’s 75th anniversary — yes, the Toco Hills stalwart is Israel’s big brother as well as the older sibling to much of Atlanta’s Orthodox community — couldn’t have been blamed for passing on an afternoon in the sun.

But they were there in force and used the opportunity to launch what could be the next big communal celebration, the creation of a world-record cookie flag mosaic on Sunday, June 3, with a potential windfall of $1.35 million for three charitable organizations in Israel.

The cookie fundraiser may be the best sign of all to come out of the Israel@70 event. Not because of the impact of the money raised or the excitement of getting our community some Guinness notoriety, but because it’s an immediate effort to build on the momentum.

Ultimately, Israel@70 will be nothing but a nice memory if it proves to be a one-off opportunity to come together. But if it’s just a start of the great things to come in the Front Porch era, we might look back one day and smile at how excited we got about such a small, imperfect, albeit fun party.

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