A venerable, international Jewish organization held its biennial convention in Atlanta from March 15 to 18, but the first such gathering of the Hebrew Order of David outside South Africa came and went without most of Jewish Atlanta noticing amid Passover preparations, student protests and the pleasures of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival.
That’s a shame for at least two reasons: HOD is growing in Atlanta and the United States, and an Atlanta resident, Alan Rubenstein, will be leading that growth the next two years as the first American grand president of HOD International.
HOD was founded in South Africa in 1904, and it took root in North America with Atlanta as its continental base in 1999, thanks to the significant South African population here. You can hear the fraternal organization’s history in the accents of members such as Rubenstein and David Joss, who during the biennial passed the mantle of HOD’s North American presidency to a non-South African, Mario Oves.
Eight of HOD’s 20 lodges are in North America, including four in metro Atlanta, based at Young Israel of Toco Hills, Chabad of Cobb, Congregation Gesher L’Torah and Congregation B’nai Torah, whose Lodge Carmel is the biggest of the four and played host to a luncheon concluding the biennial Sunday, March 18. (Congregation Beth Tefillah shared convention hosting duties.)
About 220 men — it is a fraternal order of brothers and worthy brothers — are members of the Atlanta-area lodges, Joss said. They’re drawn by the rituals, camaraderie and opportunities to do some good within a Jewish context.
“I want to thank all the HOD wives for their support and encouragement and the patience you have shown to HOD by letting your husbands do this thing once a month, sometimes twice a month, maybe three times a month,” Rubenstein said.
HOD’s local efforts are most visible through the annual Atlanta Kosher BBQ Festival, which will return for a sixth year Oct. 21 and which raises money for several charitable causes while bringing together more than 5,000 people for food and fun. Festival Executive Director Jody Pollack was recognized during the biennial luncheon.
HOD moved into Texas in 2014 (Dallas) and 2015 (Houston), which proved fortuitous when Hurricane Harvey struck in September. The Houston lodge, like most of the Jewish community there, was hit hard, but members of the Dallas lodge, named for Shimon Peres, provided rapid support and led HOD fundraising for their brethren.
The next lodge to open is in San Diego, which also will host the 2020 biennial. Rubenstein said he expects at least one other lodge to open in North America during his two-year term. He also has his eyes on expansion to a new, unspecified country to join South Africa, the United States, Canada, England and Israel, whose one lodge is in Atlanta sister city Ra’anana.
Like any legacy organization, HOD struggles to remain relevant in the 21st century, and membership is a constant concern. Even as the order is flourishing in North America, where it can operate as something new and something traditional at the same time, it is declining amid a shrinking Jewish population in South Africa.
But Rubenstein takes office with energy and optimism about HOD’s ability to remain true to its history while meeting the needs of the modern Jewish world.
“We can succeed,” he told the 130 or so brethren and family members at the closing luncheon. “Together, we will succeed.”