The journey began 30 years ago when Jan Epstein and Carol Nemo, founding co-presidents and lifelong friends, began their mission to create what is now the largest Reform Jewish Day School in the country.
With generations of students and alumni, parents and grandparents, community rabbis, faculty and staff, and caring supporters from throughout the city and the U.S., The Davis Academy celebrates these past 30 years while looking ahead to the lives, families, and communities that it will meaningfully impact in the next 30 years and beyond.
The celebration kicked off the morning of Friday, March 18, at the school’s Lower School Campus Selig Family Gymnasium, which was packed with students, families, and alumni, singing joyfully with talented musical guest artist Jacob Spike Kraus. A highlight of the gathering was a special blessing offered by 15 rabbis and clergy from across Atlanta, alongside Shabbat blessings chanted by presidents of the school’s Board of Trustees going all the way back to the school’s founding.
Guardian Works in West Midtown the evening of, Saturday, March 18, hosted a crowd filling the beautifully decorated indoor/outdoor venue. The night was filled with incredible joy and ruach (spirit), as those of every generation in the school’s history celebrated 30 years of growth and achievement, with splendid dinner offerings and music by America’s premier yacht rock band, Monsters of Yacht.
Thirty-plus years ago,, as the Reform movement was beginning to revisit tradition and explore the need for deeper engagement and Jewish education, Atlanta’s rabbinical leadership across the movements, the Union for Reform Judaism headquartered in New York City, and leaders throughout the greater Atlanta, embraced the vision for an independent school that would ensure academics on par with the many well respected private schools in the area, infused with Jewish values and Reform philosophy.
Epstein and Nemo pushed forward, with the help of many others, to make this dream a reality. Ann and Jay Davis and Dulcy and Jerry Rosenberg endowed the school in honor of their parents. The doors to The Alfred & Adele Davis Academy opened in August of 1992 with 20 students in the basement of a Junior Achievement building on Abernathy Road.
“While so much has evolved over our 30 years, including teaching methods and the expanse of resources, some things haven’t changed at all since our founding – our purpose – our priorities – our values – and the importance of making a positive difference in the world around us,” said Amy Shafron, head of school. “Today, The Davis Academy celebrates 30 years of growth and achievement and three decades of living our core values of community, respect, spirit, wisdom, and righteousness. These are the values that guide our daily lives as students come to understand who they are and how to engage, succeed, and make a difference in the greater world around them. We celebrate the values that are at the heart of the school and that inspire us to be the very best version of ourselves.”
As the night unfolded, and the crowd was enjoying being together, Lisa Freedman, current president of the school’s Board of Trustees, shared, “My husband and I have the bittersweet distinction of being alumni parents, as both of our daughters are now graduates of The Davis Academy. We look back on our time at Davis with much nostalgia and extreme gratitude for the unbeatable foundation our girls were given and upon which they now flourish and succeed in high school and college. We couldn’t be more thankful for their incredible team of teachers who truly loved them, challenged them, and empowered them to work towards their greatest potential. Our family has been blessed with a Davis community of lasting friendships – many of whom we get to meaningfully celebrate with here tonight.”
Lisa Mirsky was also at the event and shared, “Only two years into my teaching career, I took a leap of faith in 2001 and decided to accept a third-grade teaching position at The Davis Academy. Little did I know at the time what a huge impact this decision would have on me. Now, as the school’s director of admissions and, in my 22nd year at Davis, I have had the privilege of welcoming generations of children into this special school kehillah and am constantly reminded how lucky I am, and our children and families are, to be part of this warm and nurturing community.”
The event featured the school’s graduates, including class photos from its 23 graduating classes to date. In referencing the beautiful photo wall, Shafron commented, “We celebrate almost 1,500 graduates now scattered across Atlanta’s high schools, our nation’s colleges, throughout the country and the globe – valedictorians, Fulbright scholars and Ph.D.s; musicians and NCAA Division I athletes; those now working on the Hill or on Wall Street, or as teachers as far away as Israel or right here at home at The Davis Academy; graduates that are leading local youth groups, campus Hillels or even serving on boards around Atlanta’s Jewish community. And what could be better than now, seeing our graduates wanting to bring their own children to The Davis Academy!”
Max Miller, a graduate of the Class of 2003, and now a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, found his own photo. “The Davis Academy was the place that inspired within me a love of Judaism. Now, as the father to a future Davis Lion, I want the same for my daughter. I want her to grow up empowered by sacred, ancient wisdom to live a life of deep meaning.”
Shafron has served the community for 19 years and commented that, “There is truly nothing more gratifying to me as head of school than knowing we have, and are, making an impact on generations of children and families, are serving as a model for other communities, and are known throughout the country for excellence, innovation, and achievement. Interestingly, the Talmud says that 30 is the age when one attains a level of full strength (Pirke Avot 5:21). How appropriate, as we celebrate the future of The Davis Academy – may it continue to go – and grow – L’dor V’dor – from generation to generation and from strength to strength.”
All in all, this was a true celebration of community, one to be cherished and remembered for years to come.
Cristy Milrud, Davis Academy director of marketing and communications, contributed to this report.