The success of the Collective, a new event celebrating community as well as the winners of the annual awards of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, wasn’t that it brought together five of the most important leaders in Jewish Atlanta on one stage Wednesday night, Aug. 30, at Congregation B’nai Torah.
Nor did the success arise from anything said by Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple, the president of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association; Eric Robbins, the CEO and president of Federation; Rick Aranson, the CEO of Jewish Family & Career Services; Jared Powers, the CEO of the Marcus Jewish Community Center; or Harley Tabak, the CEO and president of Jewish Home Life Communities. Although they shared some valuable insights into our community and its future (more on that below).
Instead, the success was in the crowd of more than 400 people who schmoozed over desserts and an open bar — at $10 a ticket in advance, surely the best deal in town — then gathered to cheer on the award winners, listen to the leaders and laugh at improv troupe Dad’s Garage.
You’re a better reporter than I am if you found any significant demographic or geographic segment of Jewish Atlanta missing from that crowd — with the possible exception of those who live and work on the South Side and faced a challenge to get to Sandy Springs outside the Perimeter by 7 on a weeknight.
It’s all too rare when Jewish Atlanta gathers as a community for anything other than a disaster. Most larger events involve only segments, associated by age, geography, stream of Judaism or feelings toward Israel, or are huge festivals where, paradoxically, it’s easy to hide within your own clique even while surrounded by thousands.
The Collective had a different feel — big enough to account for everyone but small enough that you couldn’t avoid interacting. And we need more social interaction across our community.
The event itself was worthy of the crowd. None of the five leaders said anything new or different, but I’m sure many of those 400 people had never been in a position to hear what they had to say about our collective future before.
Aranson, for example, emphasized the importance of partnerships inside and outside the Jewish community, and Tabak talked about securing services for our growing population of senior citizens.
Robbins called for embracing change and recognizing that the things we have done in the past won’t get us where we want to be in the future. Powers spoke of the challenge of geography and the impossibility of replicating the huge, impressive but expensive Zaban Park everywhere Jews live.
Rabbi Berg warned of the need to always ask ourselves whether we are doing good for the Jewish people and for humankind.
The one uncomfortable element in the program was that all five leaders are white men — something that is not their fault and doesn’t mean they aren’t the best people for their jobs but does create a bit of discomfort and limits perspectives.
As a Dad’s Garage member noted, however, the female leaders weren’t far away: Five of the six award winners are young women, and all of them — Eliana Leader, Viktoria Abelson, Stephanie Wyatt, Eileen Snow Price and Robin Chanin — have proved themselves to be innovators helping craft a better Jewish future.
Along with the sixth winner, Ben Levy, they are contributing to what Robbins called “one heck of a Jewish city.”