After six years as the executive director of Young Israel of Toco Hills, Eliana Leader has been hired as the Director of the Retreat Center at Ramah Darom in Clayton.
She is married to Atlanta native Yoni Kaplan and has a daughter, Aria. She answered the AJT’s Four Questions.
Leader: I am very excited for the opportunity to play a major leadership role with an organization that is looking to invest in the future of the whole Jewish community. Ramah Darom’s vision is to provide exceptional experiences in Jewish living and learning for individuals of all ages and for families and communities near and far. It is a dream job for me to be guiding Ramah Darom’s efforts to craft such meaningful experiences through its year-round retreat center. We are living in a time in which the needs and desires of the Jewish community are changing significantly, both locally and nationally, and the importance of this work could not be more paramount. All of the studies on Jewish engagement agree there is a growing interest in connecting to Judaism and community in deep and meaningful ways through opportunities outside of the traditional structure of Jewish participation. How we define “affiliation” is changing radically. Those organizations that provide engaging and fully immersive Jewish experiences, such as those offered at Ramah Darom and at other Jewish retreat centers around the country, are primed to play a major role in building Jewish identity and sustaining communal participation in the future.
AJT: Why did you decide to make the switch from YITH to Ramah?
Leader: It was difficult for me to leave my work at YITH, as I was serving an extraordinary community, but when the opportunity arose for me to take a leadership role in building Ramah Darom into a regional and national center for engaging Jews in meaningful Jewish experiences, I couldn’t pass it by. I was blessed to have the privilege of working with Rabbi Starr and the YITH leadership for almost seven years as it transformed from a small, starter-type shul in a house into a vibrant congregation with a state-of-the-art facility. Rabbi Starr has been, and remains, a great mentor to me. He empowered me to develop as a Jewish communal leader and inspired me to want to play a greater role in creating opportunities for others to participate in the richness of Jewish life and community. When I started volunteering with Limmud Atlanta + Southeast and attended my first LimmudFest, which is held every Labor Day weekend at Ramah Darom, I fell in love with Ramah Darom’s beautiful campus and its mission. Ramah Darom is a premier center for Jewish life, and we are blessed to have it so close. It is a dream opportunity for me.
AJT: How do you hope to grow the Ramah retreat center and programs?
Leader: I am inheriting an extraordinary facility with an outstanding reputation for hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests), a strong and successful set of year-round programs, and a loyal family of Ramahniks. My focus will be on expanding the breadth and depth of immersive experiential programs that are offered at Ramah Darom.
AJT: What are your long-term goals for the center?
Leader: My overarching and long-terms goals are twofold: first, to ensure that every person, family or group that visits the retreat center at Ramah Darom, whether to rent the facility or to participate in one of our programs, enjoys an exceptional experience, and, second, to develop programs, either in house or in partnership with other Jewish organizations, that will fuel a love for Judaism and engage participants in an enriching Jewish experience. When guests leave our facility, I want them to feel part of a greater Ramah Darom family, whether they’re here once or five times a year. Having personally experienced this at LimmudFest and at Passover at Ramah Darom, two of the programs offered annually, I know what it feels like, and I want to share those types of experiences with Jews from all walks of life.