In the summer of 1910 Lillian and Jacob Buchman were the first two Atlanta Jews to visit Eretz Yisrael. They spent the month of August mostly in Jerusalem, but they did leave the city a few times.
I first learned of their visit 35 years ago when I was working in the public relations department in the new building of Shaare Zedek Hospital. I was part of the team that moved the hospital’s records — written and pictorial — to the new building, now in its 36th year of use.
In a guestbook of the hospital I found an inscription of the Buchmans from August 1910. I knew of Jacob Buchman because he was the president of Congregation Shearith Israel in 1910-11. He interviewed my grandfather in November 1910 and, along with other congregational leaders, brought Rabbi Tobias Geffen to Atlanta.
Rabbi Geffen preserved the contract signed on the day in November 1910 when the cornerstone of the educational alliance on Capitol Avenue was set. Jacob Buchman was a fine Hebraist, and he wrote my grandfather’s first contract in Hebrew. It was a three-year contract at a minimal salary and was signed by, among others, Buchman and lawyer David Hadas.
Lillian Buchman, from what I heard from my grandmother Sara Hene Geffen, was an active leader in the Jewish women’s community of Atlanta. She was active with Ida Goldstein and L.J. Levitas in the Daughters of Zion, revived in 1911 with women as well as teenage girls.
However, it soon became evident after Henrietta Szold founded Hadassah in 1912 that a chapter of the organization south of Baltimore was needed. From what my mother’s mother, Bubbe Birshtein in Norfolk, Va., told me, Norfolk had a Hadassah group in 1914 or 1915, then Atlanta followed.
In the many conversations held in our home on North Highland Avenue in 1950s between Rae Frank, the Southern regional president of Hadassah, and my mother, Anna Geffen, the editor of the Hadassah regional magazine, Dixiegram, there was always the feeling that Lillian Buchman was the guiding light for the founding of Atlanta Hadassah.
By comparing my grandfather’s handwritten 1918 listing of the members of the Shearith Israel Sisterhood, one can see that Lillian Buchman was the only Shearith Israel member of Hadassah; the rest of the women listed as founders were from Ahavath Achim and the first Conservative synagogue in Atlanta, Beth Israel. Rabbi Hyman Solomon, the Beth Israel rabbi in 1916, was the speaker at the founding because he was the leading Zionist in Atlanta at the time.
In the same period, probably in 1917, a chapter of Mizrahi Women was founded at Shearith Israel. The men’s Mizrahi organization was led by the Rev. Sholom Clein, the shamas-sexton of Ahavath Achim for many years, and lawyer David Hadas. My grandfather is listed in an advisory capacity.
— Rabbi David Geffen, Jerusalem