Last week, Atlanta Jewish Academy honored Shirley and Perry Brickman for their decades of support and goodwill to the community.
Susan Moray, AJA’s chief advancement officer, explained the choice.
“We have selected Shirley and Perry Brickman as honorees this year. They exemplify all that is good in this world. They are the kind of people that we teach our students to emulate. Shirley and Perry have had a lifelong commitment to Jewish education, Jewish values, philanthropy and community.”
The Brickmans are known for their involvement in Congregation Young Israel of Toco Hills and Congregation Beth Jacob, as well as dozens of top-level roles they have undertaken. Equally important are their modest lifestyle and sense of humor.
In 2012 Perry made international headlines by uncovering anti-Semitism during his dental training at Emory University. Below he details how he expands that dramatic tale into his new book.
Perry said, “We are very excited to have been chosen as honorees.
“When I was president of the [Jewish] Federation [of Greater Atlanta] (1990 to 1992), Noah Levine (associate director) and David Sarnat (executive director) labeled me the ‘education president’ because that was where I concentrated my major efforts. In retirement I have served on the board of AJA and do the best I can to encourage friends to direct their tzedakah to Jewish education.”
Learn what makes these octogenarians a “couple of valor.”
Marcia: Were you surprised to be selected as honorees?
Shirley: We were actually at a basketball game at the new Minsk Gymnasium and were asked to come to the office where they told us. We were so honored. Since childhood we have been involved in Jewish education and have served on several school boards. We love the energy just walking into a school and seeing children fluent in Hebrew and immersed in Zionism.
Marcia: You’ve both been honored twice by Israel Bonds along with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, United Hatzalah, B’nai B’rith, Anti-Defamation League, Alpha Omega (the Jewish dental fraternity). You received the Jewish National Fund Community Service Award, and Perry helped start the Jewish Breakfast Club, which the Atlanta Jewish Times subsequently took over. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Perry: My family. Shirley and I are going on 64 years of marriage. She worked in my office all day every day. We are a close-knit family and thrilled that our children keep in close touch and live with Jewish values.
Marcia: How does one rear children who carry on these values?
Shirley: We set the stage early on as parents with young children. They needed to watch us practice “tzedakah”… start with the “Blue Box,” support the city, needy families, Israel. … Adulthood is too late to start.
Marcia: How do you view dentistry as a profession after over four decades?
Perry: As an oral surgeon in Decatur, I started at a good time. I had wonderful partners: Ed Green, Charles Rosenberg, and Harvey Silverman in Georgia Oral Surgery Associates. We had wonderful patients not bound by insurance dictates. We went way beyond tooth extraction into trauma cases and jaw reconstruction.
Marcia: Certainly, one of your legacies will be “The Buhler Years” exposé, where you uncovered quotas and mistreatment of Jewish students at Emory Dental School from 1948 until 1961.
Perry: I have been all over the country sharing my documentary “From Silence to Recognition.” Basically, Emory took a small quota of Jewish dental students (2 or 3 percent), then flunked out 65 percent. When I brought this to the Emory administration in 2012, they were speechless; and a formal, sincere, and complete apology was forthcoming. They followed the traditional “Yom Kippur forgiveness” formula of acknowledging what was done, why one is sorry and what the behavior will be in the future.
Remember what the mood of the city was at that time. Jewish law graduates could not get jobs in the big firms. They, like dentists, had to start their own practices. Jewish MDs could not get into the big hospitals. It was a WASPish world.
After the Emory apology, I was speaking around the country, and folks would line up to “pull the scab off” and relate their own experiences with anti-Semitism.
Marcia: So what’s next for you?
Perry: I serve on the boards of Jewish schools and organizations, as well as being actively involved with Emory and the University of Tennessee dental schools. I am an audio and video and photography enthusiast and still enjoy producing documentaries. My new nonfiction book, “Extracted,” will be out soon (Amazon, Barnes & Noble) where we go deeply into archives beyond Emory to uncover anti-Semitism in American higher education.
Marcia: Spill the beans. What’s your given name? What’s the “S” preceding Perry?
Perry: My Chattanooga parents named me “Stanley!”