By Logan C. Ritchie | firstname.lastname@example.org
Installing 180 mezuzot in the Virginia-Highland and Morningside neighborhoods, Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman says, is just one way Chabad Intown plans to celebrate its 18th anniversary in Atlanta.
Chabad Intown is not just a religious home base; it is an institution. Rabbi and Dena Schusterman and Rabbi Ari and Leah Sollish have established a Chabad presence in the heart of the city that includes Intown Jewish Preschool, Intown Hebrew School, Camp Gan Israel, and Jewish educational programming on every topic at Intown Jewish Academy. Chabad also has been established on Atlanta college campuses, where it is now run by Rabbi Zalman Lipskier from the Emory University campus.
“Chabad stands for fundamentally providing opportunities to connect with Torah study, mitzvah and observance. We have done that well for the intown community. This year our special focus is the year of love. Torah study, mitzvah and ahava (love) are a euphemism for connecting communities to each other through Chabad,” Rabbi Schusterman said.
During the yearlong celebration, Chabad Intown plans to offer activities including an intown tour of sukkahs, a kickoff dinner in October and a Shabbat candle lighting with 180 women.
For the youngest audience, the creative and nurturing Intown Jewish Preschool in Midtown plans to teach home rituals to children and their families. At Chanukah, Chabad’s giant menorahs are traditionally erected on the corner of North Highland Avenue in Morningside and on the square in downtown Decatur.
Teens can join activities through C-Teen, run by Rabbi Sollish. This group meets twice a month and culminates in a huge teenage retreat in New York.
“Chabad is really a place for people to connect. We keep everything joyous, nondogmatic,” Rabbi Schusterman said. “This is about your connection with Judaism and with G-d, not relating to G-d as a harsh G-d, but embracing and connecting while preserving tradition. It’s meaningful when presented correctly.”
More information about events and programs, including offers of free mezuzot and lulav and etrog sets, is available at www.ATL18Love.org.
The largest 18th-birthday effort is a degree program at Intown Jewish Academy, which offers three learning tracks: reading and understanding Jewish texts; deepening knowledge of mitzvot; and life skills as explained by the Torah. For example, Rabbi Schusterman said, one course covers what the Torah says about finances, relationships and more.
Each year Chabad Intown educates nearly 500 students of all ages: empty nesters, young professionals and young parents. Each person subscribes to his own level of observance.
“Some people observe mikvah or put on tefillin or give tzedakah,” Rabbi Schusterman said. “Each mitzvah has a benefit of creating a Jewish touch point. Chabad is not demanding of a full-blown observant lifestyle. In fact, Chabad’s philosophy is that one mitzvah one time creates a profound and eternal connection.”
Young adults who are not engaged in the Jewish community do not think often about what it is to be Jewish, he said. “People are busy. There are so many distractions in life. When (Chabad leaders) provide a level of meaningful experience, that’s what counts.”
Chabad encourages people to stop and think, “What does it mean to me to be Jewish, and how does it apply to my life?” Rabbi Schusterman said. “One thing we do well across the board is to create a profoundly meaningful product, whether for a class or for children in a holiday event.”
He added: “We are glad you’re here. We are grateful you came, that you’re exploring our product. We love you, and we want to serve you.”