SHULS, KOSHER EATERIES, AND YESHIVAS, OH MY
BY CHANA SHAPIRO
SPECIAL FOR THE AJT
When we decided to move to Atlanta from New York in 1976, we tried to prepare ourselves for the world of Tara and grits. For the record, I had never tasted okra or heard the word “kudzu,” but I was not averse to experiencing new forms of vegetation. Most importantly, we wanted to find a Jewish neighborhood in Atlanta similar to our diverse, vibrant section of Brooklyn. We asked knowledgeable people to recommend an area where a variety of synagogues, schools, and kosher restaurants were located. There were a good number of Jews in Atlanta, a Jewish Community Center, a Jewish Federation, kosher meat, and several synagogues, but nothing like what we were used to. Not even close.
Who knew that by 2014 there would be several “Jewish neighborhoods” to choose from, offering schools, synagogues, and restaurants? And who knew that on a one-mile stretch of a single street, LaVista Road, there would be an abundance of all of them?
Driving down south with our daughters bouncing in the back seat (no seat belt laws in 1976), our first stop in Atlanta was a Winn Dixie (how southern could they get?) supermarket, where we were met with gentility. We were stunned that people waited patiently, spoke softly, and were polite. The clerks said “thank you” and smiled. When we had a hard time pulling out of our cramped parking space, no one blared their horn and no one yelled at us. We felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: we weren’t in Brooklyn anymore….in a good way.
We threw ourselves into our new lives, meeting and befriending many great people, finding the kosher butcher and bakery, enrolling our older daughter in pre-school, and soon making Atlanta our home.
We moved into the Toco Hills neighborhood in 1985. As Sabbath observers, we desired to live within walking distance of the sole freestanding, full-service Orthodox shul at that time, Beth Jacob. So, we bought a home one mile away and walked the LaVista walk. Arthur’s Kosher Meats was a few blocks away and the Hebrew Academy was on North Druid Hills. Ironically, the streets were named Merry, Christmas, Bramble, Holly, and Pinetree. But, what’s in a name? Jews from all over the world moved into the neighborhood (keep reading), and they built new synagogues, schools, and restaurants. The Jewish population of the area continued to grow and became more diverse.
Within the last twenty-nine years the single one-mile stretch of LaVista Road has been transformed.
LaVista Road has exploded with Jewish institutions, reflecting the growing diversity of the people of Toco Hills. Ner HaMizrach was founded by Iranian and Sephardic Jews; eventually another Iranian synagogue, Netzach Yisrael, opened a few blocks away and now meets at Torah Day School. Young Israel, a Modern Orthodox shul, opened its doors and is presently completing construction of beautiful new quarters. The Atlanta Scholars’ Kollel maintains a very active learning center adjoining Beth Jacob, and the Atlanta Kashrut Commission has offices on the Beth Jacob site. Next door, Temima, the Richard and Jean Katz High School for Girls, is opening its doors this year.
Torah Day School serves a student body of several hundred; it was a temporary Shabbat home for Bukhari Jews, and the MJCCA runs a youth league there. Congregation Beit Chaverim, a Reconstructionist synagogue, is establishing a permanent home in the former Young Israel. Beth Jacob, the shul that optimistically and presciently planted a Jewish presence on LaVista Road, is launching a major renovation. There are even two mikvahs on LaVista Road, one for men and one for women.
At the Briarcliff end of the LaVista stretch are Judaica Corner, Broadway Cafe, The Kosher Gourmet, and Pita Palace. At the Druid Hills end of the stretch are two kosher-foodladen supermarkets, Publix and Kroger, with Chai Peking Chinese in residence. The Spicy Peach recently opened a few doors down. One can take-out a sandwich or a complete meal from any of these eateries.
Our Christian neighbors, including a few churches (which open their parking lots to us) graciously accept the adjustment of the traffic lights at the intersection of Biltmore and LaVista on Shabbat to assist the safe crossing of so many people. Waiting for the light to change, one hears conversations in French, Hebrew, Farsi, Russian and Yiddish.
Our old friends from Brooklyn who have visited us several times over the past twenty-nine years are amazed at the development of LaVista Road. But what they find most unbelievable is the communal desire to know one another and our resolve to get along, regardless of our differences, partially because we’re all linked by a common street.
Where else but along that one-mile stretch of LaVista could there be the annual, inclusive Purim Parade? Move over, Brooklyn.
Editor’s note: Chana Shapiro notes that there are several “Jewish neighborhoods” growing in Atlanta. With that in mind, she will be delighted to be your guest at the kosher restaurant nearest you.