By Suzi Brozman | sbrozman@atljewishtimes.com

Perry and Shirley Brickman start 2015 together, as they have begun every year for six decades.

Perry and Shirley Brickman start 2015 together, as they have begun every year for six decades.

Spend any time attending Jewish community events in Atlanta and you’re bound to see Perry Brickman over and over again.

In the past few months, you could have seen him at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s Power of One event for Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Or watched him videotaping Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks at Young Israel of Toco Hills. Or discussed Jewish youth with him at the BBYO International Convention. Or learned with him from speakers at Emory University, where he has endowed the Brickman-Levin Fellowship to support doctoral students in Jewish studies. Or mourned with him at the community Yom HaShoah observance at Greenwood Cemetery.

Wherever Jewish Atlanta is gathering, there’s a good chance Perry Brickman will be there.

On May 12, the gathering will be for him as the oral surgeon receives Federation’s Lifetime of Achievement Award during the FED Talks event.

Many know Brickman because of the diligent investigative work he did in exposing years of anti-Semitic behavior at Emory University’s dental school, but that is just a small part of his achievements.

The Chattanooga native graduated from Emory and entered the dental school. While an undergrad, he began dating Shirley Berkowitz, who eventually became his wife and enthusiastic partner in the community volunteer work that has exemplified their life together.

“The community gave to us, and it was our turn to return it,” Shirley said. “The JCC, the Federation and organizations — it was our responsibility to return it to the community for our children and others who come after us. It was never a question of whether, but how.”

Perry said that when he returned to Atlanta in 1961 with a young family to start a dental practice, one of his first efforts was to get involved with Alpha Omega, the Jewish dental fraternity, to connect with the community. “I also joined a physicians and dentists club and the synagogue Shirley’s parents belonged to and which I’d attended while in college. I shortly came in contact with Dr. Marvin Goldstein, who was active in all three. He took me under his wing. He was a wonderful mentor and friend.”

Goldstein encouraged the Brickmans to get more involved. Perry became active in Federation and other groups, and Shirley joined her own organizations. “I could list so many role models and mentors from whom I learned so much,” Perry said, “but at the risk of leaving anyone out, I will just mention Marvin, who was like an older brother.”

Atlanta in those days was an easy town to get involved in, Perry said. It was collaborative, with Federation at the center of all the Jewish organizations. Federation’s community calendar monitored events so that organizations didn’t have conflicting dates, whereas today 15 or more things could happen on any given date in the Jewish community.

Perry should know how the organizations interacted. Here’s a partial list of what brought him to the Federation award:

  • He practiced oral surgery in the Atlanta area from 1961 to 2004 and was a founding member and past president of the Georgia Society of Oral Surgeons.
  • Gov. Zell Miller appointed him to the Georgia Board of Dental Examiners, where he served seven years.
  • He received the Georgia Dental Association’s Honorable Fellow Award and was awarded the Presidential Citation at the centennial meeting of the Alpha Omega International Fraternity on Dec. 26, 2012.
  • He received the Emory University Maker of History Award on Oct. 10, 2012.
  • He received the first Centennial Champion Award at the Anti-Defamation League’s 100th anniversary celebration in February 2013 in Palm Beach, Fla.
  • He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Georgia Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons in August 2014.
  • On Dec. 11, 2014, he received Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity’s Centennial Leadership Award.
  • He served as Federation president from 1990 to 1992 and is a board member of Atlanta Jewish Academy, the Marcus Jewish Community Center, Atlanta Israel Bonds, Northwest Hospital Corp., the Georgia Israel Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE), the Southeastern Region of ADL, and the Southern Jewish Historical Society.
  • The Brickmans have received the citywide Israel Bonds Award and B’nai B’rith Gate City Lodge Community Service Award and were honored by Yeshiva Atlanta High School and Torah Day School of Atlanta.

Married for 59 years, Perry and Shirley are the parents of Lori Brickman, Teresa Finer and Jeff Brickman and the grandparents of Jason, Jessica, Elena, Talia, Joseph and Anna.

“Dr. Perry and Shirley Brickman are mainstays of the Atlanta Jewish community who have, for decades, worked tirelessly for the benefit of the Atlanta community, both the Jewish and general community,” Rabbi Michael Broyde said. “In my 14 years as the rabbi of the Young Israel in Atlanta and now as a professor at Emory, I never saw a couple who were more dedicated to helping others and building community. There was never a matter, large or small, that they were not prepared to help work on. We as a community are truly fortunate that they have graced us with their presence and commitment all these many years. They should only be rewarded with many more years as part of the Atlanta Jewish community.”

In 1967, Perry was invited to participate in a mission to Israel right after the Six-Day War. That was the first time since 1948 that Jews could go to the Western Wall.

He went to Poland in 1983 and met with Jews behind the Iron Curtain. In 1987 he went on a mission with half a dozen others to the Soviet Union, where he met with refuseniks. He since has been to Israel 25 times on missions and vacations, but “it’s 80 percent Federation-involved.”

When Shirley founded Shalom Atlanta, helping newcomers integrate into Jewish Atlanta, Perry was right there to help. “Everything,” he said, “centered around Federation.”

When Alpha Omega set up a dental clinic at the William Breman Jewish Home, Perry made sure he was there. “It was so important. Residents didn’t even have to leave the home to get treatment.”

Perry has been involved with the Ben Massell Dental Clinic for half a century. “When we moved back to Atlanta, I had passed the Florida dental exams. I hadn’t taken Georgia’s tests because I wasn’t sure I’d practice here, but when we decided to stay, I had to take the exams. But I needed a live patient for that. I was told to go down to the Massell Clinic, where Marvin and his brother, Irving, were active. I got my patient down there, and I’ve been a volunteer ever since. Today it’s a state-of-the-art facility on 14th Street.”

Perry is proud of what Federation has accomplished over the years, but two projects stand out. “We were able to incubate two incredible things,” he said. “Marty Kogon brought us Tom Glaser, who wanted to start an Israel Chamber of Commerce here. We gave him seed money. He grew it to be the finest Israel Chamber of Commerce in the country.

“And Dr. Robert Friedmann, at Georgia State University, initiated a law enforcement exchange between Georgia and Israel. GILEE takes law enforcement groups to Israel and brings Israeli ones here. They helped with Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Games and later with the problem of terrorist threats. Today many small Georgia towns have sheriff’s desks adorned with Israeli flags to honor what their professionals have learned from GILEE programs. In fact, the head of the GBI was one of our earliest grads. These were two of the best investments we made.”

Along the way, Perry got to know David Sarnat, who was for many years the executive director of Federation. “Perry marches to his own drummer,” Sarnat said. “He’s very tenacious, thoughtful, and he does what he thinks is right. Like the dental school, once he gets onto an issue, he never lets go. And he’s usually on the right side of all issues. He concentrates, he listens, he’s open, and he absorbs everything, and then he decides.”

Other highlights of his volunteer career include his involvement in Israel Expo 85, which turned the old JCC campus in Midtown into Israel, complete with food, gifts, entertainment and much more. “I think it was the first time we had Jews from every part of the community involved and attending.”

Another of his favorites is Torah From Dixie, which offered Torah on the Internet long before most educators even knew that was an option. The project included the publishing of a book, which Perry said is a must-read. The site was sponsored by a group of dedicated young men from Yeshiva Atlanta, including editor Binyamin Cohen and co-editor Michael Alterman, as well as Yoel Spotts and Phil Cuba. Perry retains his commitment to YA, now part of Atlanta Jewish Academy, and is scheduled to speak at the school in early June.

He credits much of his volunteer success to his wife of 59 years, who returns the compliment with great enthusiasm. “He’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I met him when I was 15, and he’s still the same generous, kind, bright, lovable man he was then. You do things together because it makes a happy home life.”

His dental partners, Harvey Silverman and Charles Rosenberg, were always available to cover for Perry when Federation responsibilities called him away from his practice.

“He is the most motivated and principled man that I know,” Silverman said. “Perry was president of the Federation. Charles and I didn’t mind covering because of the importance of his position in the community. He’d go to the ends of the earth to combat misjustice.” Rosenberg added: “Perry wasn’t just a partner. He was a mentor and a friend. He taught me that you give of your time and money for the community. He was involved in a lot, we covered for him, but the opposite was true too. He covered for us. It was a mutual admiration society.”

The Brickmans are Shabbat-observant and active in the congregational and educational lives of the Toco Hills community.

“Perry and Shirley Brickman offer so much to the Atlanta community. They are, separately and as a couple, leaders and beloved role models in both our synagogue and the broader Atlanta Jewish community,” said Rabbi Adam Starr, the spiritual leader of Young Israel of Toco Hills. “Through decades of selfless commitment to the Federation and a wide swath of Jewish organizations here and abroad, they have contributed greatly to making Atlanta the strong, thriving Jewish community we have today. I am personally deeply grateful to the Brickmans for being so instrumental in helping Young Israel of Toco Hills reach a new stage in our development with the building of our new sacred space. We all owe this unique, fun-loving couple a debt of gratitude.”

Congregation Beth Jacob’s Rabbi Ilan Feldman said: “The thing I have always noted about Perry is his humility. Rarely is a man of his accomplishments so open to growth in Judaism and to expanding its practice to all areas of his life. He is a leader of men, and most powerfully he leads by example.”

What: FED Talks

Who: Honoree Perry Brickman and speakers Joel Pressman, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation; Jan Singer, CEO of Spanx; and Dr. Joshua Green, chairman-designate of the Federation National Young Leadership Cabinet

Where: Buckhead Theater, 3110 Roswell Road, Buckhead

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 12

Tickets: $36, open to Federation campaign donors; www.jewishatlanta.org/fedtalks, kwatkins@jgfa.org or 404-870-1614