Jewish Life in Intown Atlanta Is Booming
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Jewish Life in Intown Atlanta Is Booming

Intown communities have surged in recent years as new and old Atlanta residents find a new welcome in the city.

Chabad Intown has been thriving as a result of new residents moving back to intown neighborhoods from the suburbs.
Chabad Intown has been thriving as a result of new residents moving back to intown neighborhoods from the suburbs.

When Rabbi Peter Berg first came to The Temple almost 15 years ago, development of the area surrounding the Midtown congregation was just beginning to accelerate.

The ambitious Atlanta Station project of single-family homes, new high-rise and low-rise apartments and a pedestrian-friendly shopping center had all recently opened. The Woodruff Arts Center had expanded its building complex for the first time in 40 years. And Selig Enterprises had created the mixed-use 12th and Midtown project only a couple of miles from the historic Temple building. Rabbi Berg says he had the good fortune to take over leadership of the congregation at a time of considerable growth.

“It was very exciting when I first came here. But those numbers have grown every single year exponentially. And that includes, areas that have grown significantly in the last several years, such as Decatur or Inman Park,” he told the AJT.

Atlantans, who only a few decades earlier had fled to the suburbs and the new neighborhoods in North Fulton and Cobb counties, were now streaming back into the city. Completing the turnaround, in 2016, the American Planning Association named Midtown Atlanta to its list of Great Places in the U.S.

Rabbi Peter Berg has been an important fixture of the political and religious life of the Midtown community for almost 15 years.

But The Temple community has not been the sole beneficiary. In what is referred to as the Old Fourth Ward, south of Ponce De Leon, property values have risen sharply, and new construction is booming.

On a recent Friday night, the Chabad Intown Center hosted a Shabbat dinner for 80 people. Education programs for youth and adults there attract new arrivals who may be in search of a more meaningful Jewish identity.

Rabbi Ari Sollish arrived with his wife and young son not long before Rabbi Berg arrived at The Temple. He describes Jewish life in the intown neighborhood as “vibrant,” an atmosphere that he feels proud to have helped foster.

“It’s not what one would call an Orthodox community,” Sollish said. “I think one of the great features, I would say about Chabad, our intown community, is its openness, really, to every Jew. It’s not about denominational affiliation.”

After 15 years at Chabad Intown’s Jewish Academy, he has just announced his intention to leave in search of new opportunities in Atlanta.

New construction is booming across a wide belt of intown neighborhoods.

With fresh construction in Midtown, in the Old Fourth Ward and on the Westside off Northside Drive, the pressure to create more resources for the community has only grown. Dunwoody has the Marcus Jewish Community Center and the Berman Commons Assisted Living Center. In northwest Atlanta, the Jewish Home and the Jewish Tower are adjacent to Interstate 75, some distance from the newly revitalized communities in town.

Rabbi Berg thinks that community leaders may have been too eager to follow the initial exodus from the city and are now trying to play catch-up.

“I think there was a strategic error that was made in earlier years. More should have been done to prevent a mass exodus of a lot of the Jewish resources, particularly when The Temple, the largest congregation was still here. Now that so many people are moving in here the answer is to keep what we have in the suburbs, but also to rebuild back some of the resources that we’re missing,” he said.

To meet this demand, the Federation last year commissioned a community study by urban researchers at Johns Hopkins University and held a town meeting to discuss that report. But significant progress has been slow in coming. The Federation’s President and CEO, Eric Robbins, says that the agency is overworked and understaffed and responding to new, unanticipated challenges at home and in Jewish communities abroad.

For the past four years, the Federation has been working on plans for a $180-million project on its three-acre site in Midtown. Last year, it unveiled an architectural rendering of a new multiuser high-rise for themselves, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, the Neranenah music festival, The Breman Museum and housing for seniors and those with disabilities. In the next few months, Robbins anticipates a revised version of the plan.

“I’ve been pushing this thing for four years now,” he says. “I’m starting to realize that anything like this takes time. What I will say is that we have some architectural plans. We’ve raised a significant amount of money for planning. And we have a phenomenal group of lay leaders that are committed to making it happen. So, all the dots are there. We just need to connect them.”

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