Soulfarm had members and friends of The Kehilla and fans of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival dancing from the balcony to the front of the stage Sunday night, March 20, at KehillaFest, which celebrated six years of the Sandy Springs community led by Rabbi Karmi Ingber and honored the contributions of Matt and Diane Marks.

Rabbi Ingber told two stories to illustrate what The Kehilla is.

First, he told of Yankel, the lone Jew in a town in Ireland. Yankel loved to barbecue on Fridays before Shabbat, aggravating his Catholic neighbors, who abstained from meat on Fridays.

The local priest advised the townspeople to get Yankel to convert to Catholicism. Yankel agreed, and during the conversion ceremony he was told that he was born a Jew and was raised a Jew but now was a Christian.

The next Friday, the smell of barbecue filled the town again, and the angry neighbors headed to Yankel’s house to confront him. As they approached, they heard him tell the cooking meat: “You were born a cow. You were raised a cow. Now you are a fish.”

The point is that you have to know who you are and name yourself appropriately, Rabbi Ingber said. That’s how The Kehilla, which means “community,” got its name: “We named our community ‘community.’ ”

The story drew laughs and brought joy to the crowd, which the rabbi said is the point of the annual celebration of KehillaFest.

The second story was about one Rosh Hashanah when Rabbi Ingber told of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach visiting a prison and hugging prisoners, culminating in a big, tough prisoner demanding a second hug and telling Rabbi Carlebach that if anyone had hugged him like that when he was growing up, he wouldn’t be in prison.

When he told that story to The Kehilla, Rabbi Ingber recalled, there wasn’t a dry eye in the sanctuary, and Matt Marks stood up and said, “Rabbi, give me a hug.” That hug set off 40 minutes of spontaneous hugging while the Rosh Hashanah service waited.

That incident reflected the closeness of The Kehilla and the leadership of Matt Marks, who was the president of the community for its first six years.

Marks, in accepting the congregation’s recognition of him and his wife, shared the most important lesson he has learned from years of Torah study and involvement with The Kehilla: “G-d is always in our lives. He’s not just a spectator.”

Photos by Michael Jacobs