By Logan C. Ritchie
In mid-December, a young couple from Russia walked into a synagogue and asked the rabbi to marry them. With no family in Atlanta, the bride and groom expected a small, simple ceremony.
Six days later, the couple stood under a chuppah in a backyard garden. Seventy guests, all strangers to the couple before that day, donated a white dress and veil, cooked food and celebrated the nuptials.
That is the power of the Sandy Springs synagogue called The Kehilla.
During the past five years, Rabbi Karmi David Ingber has engaged hundreds of Jews across Atlanta. Rabbi Ingber and his wife, Elisheva, lived in Israel, Montreal and Birmingham before being recruited to build this community in Sandy Springs. He is lively, inventive and passionate.
His enthusiasm for learning and for the rituals of Judaism infuses experiences that draw young adults, couples, newlyweds and seniors to The Kehilla.
Kehilla means community. This spirited group hosts concerts, classes, social events and Shabbat dinners. Lively Shabbat services are juxtaposed against the unlikely meeting space, a former office building at 5075 Roswell Road. From a Torah discussion at a pub to a crash course on reading Hebrew, The Kehilla offers many entry points.
The creativity of events attracts first-timers, but the warmth keeps them coming back.
Rachel Linkwald, with her husband and young daughter, moved to Sandy Springs to be closer to The Kehilla. “There are certain experiences that pop out as transformative, but it’s the whole that makes us want to be in The Kehilla forever. This is an intentional community, and those are so rare,” she said. “We were looking to be friends with people outside the synagogue setting.”
Her first night at The Kehilla was an awkward Friday Shabbat service. Linkwald felt uncomfortable in the tiny group, Rabbi Ingber was new to Atlanta, and the service was held at a senior living facility. Then it all changed.
“The rebbetzin invited us to Shabbat dinner that night. I actually stumbled backward because it was such a foreign idea,” Linkwald said. “I told my husband, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’ Their home was warm and friendly. And we spent 12 hours together that weekend.”
Founding member Lynette Joel said: “The Kehilla is what we wanted our whole lives. We are a community that lacks discrimination. Whether it is socio-economic, age or origin, everyone is treated in the same way. No one feels left out.”
Ginny Adams said she is a softer person because she has incorporated Judaism into her everyday life.
“The Kehilla is a safe place to expose yourself. The community has given me space and time to experiment,” she said. “I started with giving technology a break on Shabbat. It had nothing to do with laws of Judaism; it was just a realization that I need a break in life. Now I’m shomer Shabbat.”
Adams is a testament to the varied congregation. “Ninety-five percent of people here were not raised Orthodox,” she said. “They are on a journey to experimenting and learning the origin of Shabbat, how to keep a proper kosher kitchen and how to engage God in everyday life. It is not about wearing a wig and sitting on the women’s side. It’s about friendship and community. It’s a place that’s nurturing.”
Rabbi Ingber is turning the synagogue concept on its head. He has no expectation that those who attend events will become members. “Young people are not often interested in the synagogue component. Some are even members at other synagogues. The Kehilla helps people experience Judaism in a way that speaks to the individual,” he said. “At The Kehilla we take Jewish ideas and make them user-friendly. Young adults want to hear about Jewish things, just not in the same old way.”
Linkwald refers to it as custom-building her Jewish experience. “This synagogue has the heart we were looking for. We are tiny, and we don’t have the gorgeous building and place to hold a huge wedding. But everyone knows me really well, and we are getting a spiritual infusion.”
Kehilla Fest With Moshav
To celebrate five years of leading a thriving Jewish community, Rabbi Karmi David Ingber and The Kehilla will host Kehilla Fest, featuring Israeli-American rock band Moshav, on Sunday, Feb. 8.
In an appearance co-sponsored by the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival, Moshav promises to entertain 500 people with progressive rock. “Moshav is more Red Hot Chili Peppers than Imagine Dragons,” AJMF Director Russell Gottschalk said. “It’s a gotta-rock, sometimes-acoustic, West Coast sound.”
Gottschalk’s favorite Moshav tune is “Only One.” He said: “You could be talking about a lover or a boyfriend or girlfriend, but this song is about God. Moshav’s music is approachable for those who have not been exposed to a lot of Jewish music.”
Moshav recently recorded “World on Fire” with Jewish reggae artist Matishayhu.
Rabbi Ingber will perform with the band. An accomplished musician, Rabbi Ingber joined the Diaspora Yeshiva Band in Israel and later formed his own group, Remez, with former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle.
“The Kehilla is a musical community,” Rabbi Ingber said. “Part of the joy of Judaism is in the happiness of music.”
Kehilla Fest is being held at Atlanta Jewish Academy, 5200 Northland Ave., Sandy Springs. The show starts at 7 p.m.; doors open at 6:30. Tickets are $36 and are available at thekehilla.org/kehillafest.