The five-year, $4.2 million Atlanta Jewish Teen Initiative has hired its founding director, Hope Chernak.
“We’ve found an ideal person to launch AJTI,” Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta President and CEO Eric Robbins said.
The initiative is a partnership among Federation, the Marcus Jewish Community Center and the Atlanta Rabbinical Association. It is funded through a $2.1 million, five-year grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation, plus a matching amount being raised locally.
The goal of the collaboration is to substantially boost Jewish engagement among high-schoolers in metro Atlanta by offering them multiple pathways to ignite their personal interests and passions through a Jewish lens.
The pathways — possibilities include a spring break performing arts program at the Alliance Theatre and a summer social justice seminar with Jewish lawyers and activists — are being developed for launch during the next school year. Chernak can take charge of that process after she starts April 19.
“Hope is a powerhouse in Jewish formal and informal education who came up through the ranks of Jewish camping, youth groups, Israel travel and leadership development,” said Amanda Abrams, the chief program and innovation officer at the Marcus JCC.
Robbins noted that Chernak, who grew up in Orlando, spent eight summers at Camp Coleman, whose director, Bobby Harris, inspired her to become a Jewish educator. “Her first full-time job was at The Temple under Rabbi Alvin Sugarman, so this is a homecoming.”
The past 10 years Chernak led youth, informal education and Israel programs at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York. She previously directed the North American Federation of Temple Youth and was the Union for Reform Judaism’s director of youth regions.
She received the Grinspoon North American Award for Excellence in Jewish Education in 2016.
Chernak said she’s honored to be the founding director of the initiative, which will provide meaningful experiences relevant to Atlanta teens to bring a sense of belonging and inspire them to find paths to engagement as Jewish young adults.
“The Atlanta community has put tremendous thought, planning and support into this bold and immersive teen program,” she said. “I look forward to partnering with youth professionals, educators and clergy members to advance teen engagement in a thriving Jewish community I already love.”
Atlanta is one of 10 cities in North America to receive a Jim Joseph grant for teen outreach.