By Michael Jacobsmjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

Eliot Arnovitz for Atlanta Jewish Times

Eliot Arnovitz spreads gratitude for the award and the gala event, including a thank-you to the NBA for not scheduling a Hawks playoff game Monday night.

Jewish Atlanta paid tribute to a community superhero Monday night, May 4.

Eliot Arnovitz “is a hero of ours,” lifelong friend Steve Selig said in presenting the American Jewish Committee’s Selig Distinguished Service Award to Arnovitz at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead. “Sometimes, in fact, I think he possesses superhero qualities.”

Those qualities, Selig said, include:

  • Like Superman, a heart of gold and the heart of champion, with powers and abilities limited only by his own mind. “By the way, both Superman and Eliot could fly.”
  • Like Batman, a singular dedication to preventing and avenging crimes. Selig said Arnovitz once jumped into a fight with a mugger in Spain to stop the theft of a purse from a fellow member of a Federation mission. Arnovitz later said Selig was just as quick to save him by pulling him away.
  • Like Captain America, the fighting spirit of the ultimate fighter and patriot, now being applied to his own health battle. “He also fought for every worthy cause in our community.”
  • Like Spider-Man, a determination to protect those less fortunate and a sense of responsibility that forces him to step up when called on, most recently when the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta needed an interim leader after Steve Rakitt left and before Michael Horowitz arrived.
  • Like Silver Surfer — well, Selig didn’t see much in common beyond a costume Arnovitz wore at Selig’s silver-wedding-anniversary party.
  • Like the Incredible Hulk, the ability to hold up the community on his strong shoulders, plus perhaps the need to lose a few pounds.
  • Like Captain Marvel, the wisdom of Solomon, displayed in phrases such as “No good deed goes unpunished,” “A broken clock is right twice a day,” “You can’t hurt yourself jumping out of a basement window” and “How can I be lost if I don’t know where I’m going?”

Perhaps Arnovitz’s greatest power is his ability to bring out the best in those around him, in part by making them believe in the importance of what they are doing, Selig said. “Eliot has inspired us to do more than we thought we would be able to do.”

Either that or his ability to land his Wonder Woman of a wife, Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky. “Frankly, it’s a wonder that Eliot was able to marry such a terrific woman as Phyllis. Together, what a team they make,” Selig said, adding, “Isn’t it every Jewish mother’s prayer that their child marry a Jewish doctor? The wonder of it is that Eliot actually did it.”

Arnovitz’s son, Kevin, back in Atlanta the past three months after a quarter-century away, said the wonder is how widely and positively his father has affected Atlanta. “One of the true pleasures is learning how respected and adored my father is.”

Arnovitz’s leadership roles in Atlanta and nationally have included Ahavath Achim Synagogue, the Marcus Jewish Community Center, Federation, Atlanta’s Center for Jewish Education and Experience, the Joint Distribution Committee, Israel Bonds, and the Anti-Defamation League. But he credited his 44 years of AJC membership with helping turn an Atlanta boy who grew up happy but ignorant of his place in the world into someone ready and willing to be an advocate and activist for Jewish people everywhere.

The AJC, Arnovitz said, is a center of lifelong learning, and the knowledge he gained helped him make sense of and gain perspective on the events of his youth, such as his father’s frequent departures after getting evening phone calls at home. Those calls came from AA Rabbi Harry Epstein, who was Arnovitz’s next-door neighbor in Morningside, and they asked Arnovitz’s father to pick up Jewish refugees at the bus station and set them up in the hotel he owned on Ponce de Leon Avenue until the community could settle them.

Emphasizing the AJC’s community role, Israeli Consul General Opher Aviran, who received the AJC Advocacy Award, said the organization’s initials could easily stand for advocacy, justice and commitment.

Awards also went to Matt Weiss, the outgoing co-chair of ACCESS, who got the ACCESS Award, and AJC board member Jonny Blank, who received the President’s Award for his role in launching the AJC University speaker series.

But the night belonged to Arnovitz. “Eliot,” Selig said, “I wish you the strength, courage and wisdom to continue to fight the good fight.”