When the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta came to Toco Hills to listen and learn about its residents’ concerns about the future, the participants, who ranged in age from 30s to 80s, brought up topics ranging from the expense of day school tuition to the search for suitable housing for seniors who walk to synagogue.
The session Wednesday, Oct. 18, was one of the first of a series of 13 open listening forums scheduled over four weeks in the discovery phase of Federation’s Front Porch: Unlocking the (Incredible) Potential of Jewish Atlanta initiative.
Over a year, more than 100 community representatives are working to learn the needs and develop strategies for Jewish Atlanta to achieve its potential in the years and decades ahead. Federation also is trying to discover the roles the community needs it to fill.
Congregation Bet Haverim officer and Front Porch participant McKenzie Wren (see her Front Porch column on Page 13) was the Federation volunteer running the meeting at Young Israel of Toco Hills.
She began by asking the attendees, who were sitting in a circle, what they would like to do on a front porch.
One man said he would write songs and play his mandolin. Someone else said he would drink bourbon, while a woman said she would drink iced tea. Someone else would people-watch.
By the time everyone had answered, the group was warmed up for the nontraditional approach to gathering information.
Wren emphasized the importance of “being mindful and sharing deeply” when she asked all 25 people there to say what they need to live more meaningful Jewish lives.
One man expressed a need for the Jewish community to have programming that appeals to young professionals. A middle-aged woman wants forums to talk about the political situation.
The cost of Jewish day school tuition was on the minds of parents of elementary-school-age children.
Programming for empty-nesters was another subject.
When people are young and raising children, it’s easy to meet other parents and create a social network, one woman said, but it’s difficult to meet people later in life. (A Front Porch forum at Jewish Family & Career Services at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, is targeting empty-nester participants.)
A subsequent discussion about the needs of empty-nesters produced objections about the term itself in reference to people 50 and older because “empty” has negative connotations.
The phenomenon, at least a decade old, of older parents moving to Atlanta to be near their adult children and their grandchildren is attracting Jewish seniors who have particular social needs.
But not everyone focused on social needs.
One man wanted to know what could be done to encourage younger people to be more charitable and support Atlanta’s Jewish institutions.
Someone else seeks encouragement for the Orthodox community to be more active in the greater Atlanta Jewish community.
Reducing the likelihood of intermarriage is a concern for several who attended the meeting.
Table discussions were held on the topics that had the most interest, including the importance of a Jewish communal infrastructure. If people found one conversation uninteresting, they could walk over to another topic table and join in. Wren called it “open-space technology.”
The people who showed up could talk about whatever was on their minds because the Front Porch forums lack fixed agendas. The discussions are driven by the interests of the participants, so each gathering should be different. Amy Glass, a Federation staff member, encouraged people to attend more than one.
The meetings continue through Nov. 14. You can find the schedule at jewishatlanta.org/the-front-porch. If you can’t make any of the sessions, the Front Porch team (reachable through the same site) will try to make other arrangements to hear what you have to say.