There’s a young new rabbi in town at Atlanta’s oldest Orthodox synagogue. Rabbi Mayer Freedman, his wife, Shani, and their four children arrived during the summer at the behest of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel to make inroads at Congregation Anshi S’fard in the Morningside/Virginia-Highland area.
The purpose, Rabbi Freedman said, is “to create Jewish programming and increase the Jewish presence” in the Va-Hi area.
That’s apparently not an easy task. Anshi has experienced a lot of transition in spiritual leadership since the death of the highly regarded Rabbi Nathan Katz in 1998 after almost half a century of service to the congregation and the intown community. The congregants still make frequent fond references to Rabbi Katz.
The Freedmans bring fresh ideas to the established post, such as Anshi S’fard’s new monthly Torah trivia game, “Good Shabbos, Atlanta!” The game show officially launched Dec. 5 and returns Saturday morning, Jan. 9, at 10:45 at the synagogue at 1324 N. Highland Ave.
Originally from Baltimore, where Rabbi Freedman studied at Ner Israel Rabbinical College, the Freedmans lived in Jerusalem while he attended a program at the Jerusalem Kollel for training Orthodox rabbis and communal leaders in outreach to the entire Jewish community.
After his ordination and completion of the three-year program, Rabbi Freedman was placed in a synagogue in Phoenix, and the family traded one desert environment for another.
As an associate rabbi in Arizona, Rabbi Freedman also taught at a day school and conducted outreach, in addition to directing the Greater Phoenix Vaad HaKashruth, a kosher supervisory agency.
When the opportunity arose to be the rabbi at Anshi S’fard, the Freedmans brought their talents and their family to Georgia.
Rabbi Freedman said his personal goal is “to engage Jews wherever they are. Services? Great. Come to a social event? Great. Lunch? Great. Wherever Jews are in their journey, we’re trying to connect with them on that level.
“It’s not all or nothing. You don’t have to come to everything to be involved. Join us for whatever helps you feel connected.”
His new congregation has a mehitzah, “but the synagogue is open,” Rabbi Freedman said. “Anshi is an Orthodox synagogue, but the goal is to make sure that all Jews are welcome and should feel comfortable.”
Shani, a registered dietitian and teacher in Arizona, made the transition here by continuing to teach the same course for Maricopa Community Colleges online. In addition to raising four children, she and a partner have a twice-weekly play group while she seeks a clinical dietitian opportunity in Atlanta.
While the climate here is colder than in Phoenix, the family is finding the community to be warm. Arriving intown just a few weeks after Rabbi Melvin and Lenore Sirner, the Freedmans happen to live in the same complex as Congregation Shearith Israel’s rabbi and his wife.
Because Shabbat services begin at the same time at the neighboring congregations, the two rabbis often end up walking together on Saturday mornings to their respective synagogues. A little bit later, their wives often end up walking on the same schedule as well.
Asked how things are going, Rabbi Freedman said: “Very well. There’s a lot of Jewish stuff going on here. I see a very active and involved Jewish community that’s looking for ways to connect to their Judaism. I appreciate and am very encouraged by that.”