The first Mitzvah for the Mikvah gala at the Georgia Aquarium was a celebration of an important, relatively new community asset, the Metro Atlanta Community Mikvah, and it exceeded its goal of raising $275,000 to pay off MACoM’s mortgage.
We congratulate all those involved with the community mikvah, led by board President Caryn Hanrahan and Executive Director Barbara LeNoble. It was a beautiful, moving event.
But as much as the gala Thursday night, March 16, was about supporting MACoM — and with all due respect to honoree Rabbi Joshua Heller, who is indispensable as the mikvah’s self-described chief pool officer and grandfather (all the nachas, none of the responsibility) — it was also about paying tribute to the dean of Atlanta rabbis, Rabbi Alvin Sugarman.
“Alvin is a gentle, patient and humble soul,” Rabbi Heller said of his fellow honoree. “Rabbi Sugarman has become a treasured mentor and friend, and I can think of no one that I am prouder to share an evening with.”
An Atlanta native, Rabbi Sugarman would hold an important place in the history of Jewish Atlanta if his résumé began and ended with the fact that he is one of only five senior rabbis in the 150-year history of The Temple, a position he assumed in 1974.
But he has done so much more, from his work with Emory University and the Marcus Foundation to his work to welcome interfaith couples and his commitment to interfaith dialogue and understanding through such efforts as the Higher Ground group.
We will not, however, go into detail about all the good Rabbi Sugarman has done in more than four decades of rabbinic leadership in Atlanta and beyond. Just as Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple didn’t have time to cover all of Rabbi Sugarman’s accomplishments at the gala, so we don’t have space to list them here.
But we can emphasize the vital role the rabbi played in bringing Atlanta a nondenominational, kosher mikvah as a tool to help knit our community together. That a rabbi raised in the classical Reform tradition not only supported a mikvah, but also championed its place as a community asset shouldn’t be surprising, Rabbi Heller said, because of the man Rabbi Sugarman is.
“Whenever it is that an opportunity presents itself to help another person find meaning or beauty in his or her life, Rabbi Sugarman is not only there, he is the champion of the cause,” Rabbi Berg said.
Thus, at a time when Rabbi Sugarman could have enjoyed retirement or spent time on the passion project of his choosing, he was instead learning about the community mikvah model created by Mayyim Hayyim in Boston and working tirelessly to ensure that MACoM was built and had the support of more than a dozen synagogues and roughly just as many other local Jewish organizations.
Now MACoM indeed stands as the physical legacy of Rabbi Sugarman’s service to Jewish Atlanta.
Rabbi Berg beautifully summed up Rabbi Sugarman’s place in our history: “So many of us have vowed to go where he goes and to live as he lives.”
When we get there, we can and should thank Rabbi Sugarman.