Reaching Jewish Middle Schoolers, Teens in North Fulton

Reaching Jewish Middle Schoolers, Teens in North Fulton

A new pilot club for Jewish middle schoolers in North Fulton County is one of four programs for teens and young families in the Alpharetta-Johns Creek area.

This is the second year of Creating Connected Communities’ Leadership Development Program North Fulton at Congregation at Gesher L’ Torah.
This is the second year of Creating Connected Communities’ Leadership Development Program North Fulton at Congregation at Gesher L’ Torah.

A new pilot club for Jewish middle schoolers in North Fulton County is one of four programs for teens and young families in the Alpharetta-Johns Creek area that received a new grant for “Making Jewish Places.”

In September the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta gave four, one-year grants, each ranging from $15,000 to $20,000, to help foster a sense of Jewish identity and communal growth in that area.

The new Jewish Middle Schoolers’ clubs known as JMS, like the other grant recipients, fill a need in the area that was not being met. “We realized this was one age group that was not serviced much with Jewish programming inside and outside of school,” said Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz of Chabad of North Fulton. “There was a lot for teens and high schoolers and toddlers, but not for middle schoolers.”
The club, which began in August 2018, expanded in its two years to seven area middle schools, with plans to grow further.

The other Making Jewish Places large-scale macro grant recipients were: In the City Camp for a three-week K-6 camp at The Standard Club; the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival North this summer; the Israeli American Council’s Eitanim teen “Shark Tank” entrepreneur initiative; and Creating Connected Communities’ teen Leadership Development Program.

The North Fulton Team works hard on pitches for Demo Day.

The need for grants came from the 2016 #IamJewishATL Community Study, the first consumer behavior study of Jewish Atlanta, and “listening” forums through the Federation’s Front Porch initiative. The study found that people outside the perimeter had limited ability to participate in activities largely organized about an hour away in the central Jewish community inside the perimeter.

“Part of metro Atlanta [North Fulton] felt underserved and wanted more engagement opportunities,” said Carla Birnbaum, the Federation’s new community impact associate for Alpharetta/Johns Creek.

The goal of Making Jewish Places is to make Judaism “more relevant and vibrant in the 21st century Jewish community,” said Birnbaum, who lives in North Fulton. While there may have been other community programming in North Fulton or opportunities to be bussed to programs inside the perimeter, the grants show a stronger financial investment in the North Fulton Jewish community, she said.

“The Federation recognizes that authentic communal growth and strengthening can only happen when community members are involved in the development, planning and execution of programs for themselves,” said Danniell Nadiv, Federation senior director of Jewish Journeys, Places and Welcoming. “Through the grant process, the Federation wants community members to help shape their ideal community and elevate opportunities in Alpharetta-Johns Creek.”

Taylor Road Middle School students create charity boxes to learn about the power of giving.

With the new programming closer to home, Birnbaum and others don’t have to feel disconnected from that Jewish community. “Now it doesn’t seem so far anymore.”

Take the AJFF. “To go to a film in the intown Jewish community, it can take 45 minutes to an hour to get there. It makes it geographically almost impossible to do during the week. It’s really exciting that the Film Festival is going to bring a diverse lineup of films up here.”

The Federation will be awarding its first of three rounds of smaller grants ranging from $500 to $2,500 on Feb. 25 for other community initiatives. Unlike the larger grants, which are for organized nonprofits, these micro grants are meant for grass-roots organizations such as homeowners associations, mahjong clubs and individuals, Birnbaum said. Proposals are being accepted on a rolling basis.
So far, grant applicants include: an all-camp Shabbat Jan. 31; a North Fulton Young Professionals event, a Hebrew-English PJ Library challah bake for young families, and an eSports teen gaming Purim event.

As far as the JMS clubs, they’re in their second year and learning from the first one. Rabbi Gedalya Hertz of Chabad of North Fulton directs JMS, but it is independent of any organization or synagogue and is student-led, he said.

Students at East Cobb Middle School participate in a Shabbat art project.

“We provide a safe place where they can feel proud of what they are as Jews, which leads to a strong foundation to be involved in their teens and later on as an adult,” said Hertz, who is assistant rabbi and youth director of Chabad of North Fulton. The JMS club is to middle school what the Jewish Student Union is for high schoolers, and the hope is that JMS feeds into the JSU program, the Chabad rabbis say.

Minkowicz said the leaders of JMS are in touch with Chaim Neiditch, director of JSU, to discuss ideas. Having the JMS club should make recruitment by JSU easier and continue what the students learn in JMS in high school, he said.

“Middle schoolers may not be as vulnerable as high schoolers, but they are still struggling,” Rabbi Minkowicz said. “This is a great way to strengthen Judaism in a nonthreatening way, … strengthen Jewish identity and pride.”

Sixth-grader Bram Fages is a good example. “It gives us a chance to become closer with fellow Jewish students and get to know more people. This is an awesome opportunity to feel like you’re not the only Jewish person. It helps connect everyone together.”

Bram, 12, attends Sunday School at Congregation Gesher L’Torah and URJ Camp Coleman, but this is his first school-related Jewish activity. He said he enjoys the snacks and learning how other Jewish students celebrate holidays with their families.

His mother, Susie, said JMS brings Jewish students together in a diverse population. “It creates their own sense of community in school.”

For more information about the Federation Making Jewish Places grants, visit

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