/BY AL SHAMS/ //AJT CONTRIBUTOR//

One hundred years ago two local small synagogues combined to form Or Ve Shalom – translating to Light and Peace in Hebrew.

Congregation Ahavath Shalom was founded in 1910 and Or Hachiam in 1912. Or Ve Shalom took its name form these two. The congregation has decided to celebrate this significant anniversary with a yearlong series of spiritual, educational, fund raising and entertainment events.

Membership is primarily from Rhodes and Turkey, but Jews, who can trace their roots to North Africa, Middle East, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, are also members.

The synagogue and its members have a rich history and tradition of serving the Jewish community and the city of Atlanta. Many of us are familiar with the family names Arogetti, Alhadeff, Benator, Capeluto, Franco, Habiff, Maslia, Shemaria and Tourial among many others. Those families are as committed to Jewish values today as in the past.

The “kickoff” event for this year of celebration was an address by Rabbi Marc Angel. He is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel, a well-known historic Spanish/Portuguese synagogue in New York City whose origins date back to 1654.

Born in Seattle’s Sephardic community, his family’s roots are in Turkey and Rhodes and he grew up in a ladino speaking home. He received a B.S., M.S., PhD, Th.D honoris causa and a Rabbinal semicha from Yeshevia University. As if those degrees were not impressive enough, he also earned an M.A. in English Literature.

The rabbi was the congregation’s spiritual leader for many years, up until 2007. He then established the “Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals,” an organization focused on fostering an intellectually vibrant, compassionate and inclusive Orthodox view of Judaism.

He has written more than 30 books and scores of enlightening and stimulating articles; his awards, honors and achievements are too numerous to list.

Rabbi Angel’s address to Or Ve Shalom was entitled “Applauding the Past, Appreciating the Present, and Planning the Future”.

Some of the major points in the Rabbi’s address were as follows:

• We have a unique, rich history and culture; our lives resound with the voices and teachings of our ancestors

• Prior generations – while often not highly educated – were wise, brave, bold people who loved life, lived with risk and were optimistic for their future.

• Our current generation, while highly educated, can learn much from reflecting on the lives of our ancestors.

• Our roots have an impact on our lives today, far more than we realize.

• Judaism is flexible enough to withstand honest and sincere differing points of view. Judaism welcomes a variety of viewpoints and encourages discussion.

• We should not be judgmental toward other Jews and their religious practices, but seek to be understanding and inclusive; less dogmatic views and more humanism.

•  Each Jew, with a sincere point of view, can make a contribution.

•  He described Margaret Mead’s analysis of how immigrant families change as they adapt to a new culture: The challenge is to maintain a balance, adhering to old values while assimilating into the new culture. Over time, some old world practices and values are lost, but there is value in maintaining our links with the past.

•  Judaism is not meant to be a burden but a blessing. Its teachings and values are meant to enrich, guide and empower our lives. Rules are offered to provide society with order and reduce chaos. Our lives are empowered and enhanced, as we are more productive and we benefit society. We are taught how to appreciate the seemingly mundane parts of life and to recognize the miracle of our lives all around us.

•  While a devout and committed Orthodox Jew, Rabbi Angel sees our Creator, not as a stern, dogmatic exacting Father, but a loving, kind, compassionate Father who, on occasion, needs to redirect our path.

•  Each Jew should strive to find a place in the Jewish Community that is right for him. And from that point, you can begin to grow your Jewish values, education, and understanding. People should not feel intimidated by the synagogue process or its practices.

•  If one does not initially find a comfortable place for his views, continue your search, there are many viable alternatives.

•  Judaism was not meant to constrict sincere thinking.
Two life lessons that Rabbi Kassorla of Or Ve Shalom learned while a student of Rabbi Angel were that, each time you teach, teach something new so that your efforts will impart enthusiasm and to recognize and acknowledge the efforts of those who work on behalf of the community.

My own Jewish roots are similar to Rabbi Angel, in that my father was born in Beirut and my mother was born in Damascus. I was raised in a Syrian/Lebanese culture but attended an Ashkenazi synagogue in Pensacola. I did not have lox until I was 19. 
Those wishing to learn more about the above topics are encouraged to visit www.jewishideas.org, or search for Or Ve Shalom Synagogue: Congregation Shearit Israel New York.

Al Shams is a Sandy Springs resident, a former CPA and an investment professional with more than 35 years industry experience.