By Cady Schulman | firstname.lastname@example.org
For Eliot Arnovitz, helping out in the community is in his blood. It’s something he learned from his parents and has carried with him through his life.
“He feels a real passion and compassion for those people who are less fortunate,” said Steve Selig, a lifelong friend of Arnovitz’s. “I think it’s just a natural way of life for him.”
Because of his involvement and leadership in the local Jewish community, Arnovitz is receiving this year’s Selig Distinguished Service Award from the Atlanta Chapter of the American Jewish Committee. The prize, given annually to someone who has been active in the community, is named in memory of Selig’s parents, Caroline Massell Selig and Simon S. Selig Jr.
Arnovitz is more deserving than anyone, Selig said.
“He helps everyone, sometimes quietly without fanfare, which is the way he likes it,” Selig said. “He’s very modest. He does not seek recognition. But he’s the kind of person you can always call on to be there for you.”
For Arnovitz, being involved in the Jewish community has not only helped others, but has also helped him in learning more about the Jewish faith and the history of Jewish people.
“Those of us who grew up as baby boomers, our parents didn’t talk about [what happened in World War II] as Jews, what happened to our people in terms of Europe and the Holocaust,” Arnovitz said. The AJC “educated me to those issues — not only what happened, but the aftermath and how we deal with it and ensure that those atrocities never occur to our people.”
Arnovitz traveled to Germany in 1996 to learn more about issues that Jewish people faced and are facing.
“It says something about him, about someone who’s willing to travel to another country to understand the issues there and the ties to the Jewish community,” said Dov Wilker, the AJC’s regional director.
Arnovitz has spent years involved with the Jewish community, serving in many capacities, such as a member of AJC’s board and as vice president on two separate occasions, president and interim CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, and president of Greenfield Hebrew Academy.
“Eliot is a pillar of the Atlanta community,” Wilker said. He has “engaged and inspired people to serve as well. That’s something I think is very evident with Eliot. He has engaged his friends and the leadership of the community in a way that very few others can.”
Arnovitz has been thinking about what issues need to be addressed locally in the future. Those issues come down to each individual, he said. Some people think the focus should be on adult education, while others think Jewish children should be at the forefront. The discussion comes into play when leaders try to figure out how to sort each priority and work as one community rather than as each individual doing his or her own thing, he said.
“It seems the community is very fragmented in terms of where it wants to place its emphasis,” Arnovitz said. “Are you somebody’s child? Then your need is for the aging. Are you somebody’s parent? Then your need is for the child. It depends on where you sit on any single day. We’re complex beings. On any time of the day, we have different needs that need to be satisfied.”
After decades of working in the Jewish community, Arnovitz plans to stay involved.
“I’d like to have a seat at the table to at least hear the debates,” he said. “I think there are a lot of bright kids. The next generation is very capable. They do business different than our generation, and we did business different than our parents. I’d like to still stay at the table. I think I still have some words of wisdom to impart.”
But Arnovitz said he won’t be doing the heavy lifting.
“I think that is done by the next generation,” he said. “If we can add to the pie or give some benefit of our experience and save some mistakes from being made, that would be a good legacy.”
What: AJC Selig Award Dinner
Who: Honoree Eliot Arnovitz
Where: Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, 3434 Peachtree Road
When: 6 p.m. Monday, May 4
Tickets: $180; www.ajcatlanta.org