Think of a time capsule containing only the reported experiences of Atlanta Jewish women and girls during the life-changing coronavirus in 2020.
That’s essentially what the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta imagined when it launched its 2020 Vision project to collect essays from the Atlanta Jewish female community, capturing those experiences – good and bad, but definitely challenging. The plan is to publish the resulting anthology next summer to reflect “the year that was.”
“I think back to my journalism days,” said Dina Fuchs Beresin, JWFA program manager, recalling a previous career that included working as a producer for both CNN and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as writing for Atlanta Magazine and the Atlanta Jewish Times. “It’s just story telling. Everyone has a story.”
The project to collect these human-interest stories is being led by members of JWFA’s pilot class of ACT (Agents of Change Training). Now in its second year with a new cohort, ACT was designed to give Atlanta’s Jewish women the tools to use their voices to effect change, to get involved in causes about which they are passionate, and to make a difference.
Initially, ACT included interactive seminars led by leaders, activists and influencers. “As the pandemic became more a part of life, we switched to webinars,” Beresin said. “As women, we’re always fearful of being judged, but we are building community through telling our stories, and we’re connecting through sharing. This project captures what we’re all hungering for – community.”
Initially, the idea was to include the authors’ names, “but we changed gears to make it anonymous so that the fear of judgment goes away and the narrative stands out,” she said. She pointed out that the pandemic, in some cases, has upended marriages or employment – stories the authors may not be ready to share. “At every stage of life, women have a story to share,” Beresin said.
Although the plan is to publish the stories in book form, it is still unclear how many of the submissions will be chosen, how many books will be printed and how they will be distributed. “It could even lead to a series of webinars,” Beresin said.
“JWFA is known for its grant-making, but we are more than that. This project will make that evident. We want to reach out to the broader community, to the Russian community, to the Israeli community, to the LGBTQ community,” she added. “We want to bring voices to the forefront, not just the typical voices we’re used to hearing.”
Rabba Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez, an original member of ACT and now a JWFA trustee, said, “This project was a natural extension of what we explored through the Agents of Change Training. From a Jewish standpoint, there have been moments of intense challenge in 2020 that may have shaken our faith, and other experiences where Judaism may have anchored us and provided respite and solace. This project is about sharing and elevating women’s voices while remembering that we are always connected to one another in a deeper way than we think. There is little in the world stronger than Jewish women, united together.”
The project is open to all self-identifying Jewish women and girls in the metro Atlanta area. Essays, ranging in length from 500 to 1,500 words, can be submitted online through Jan. 31. Details and submission guidelines are available at https://jwfatlanta.org/2020vision/.