Before the members of Congregation Beth Jacob visited the DeKalb County police headquarters to show their support, Sarah Faygie Berkowitz was on the phone with representatives, neighboring synagogues and members, who came forth to donate pizza, refreshments and soft drinks for the officers.
Facilitating such community events is just one part of the job she loves at Beth Jacob.
In 1997, just two years after her marriage, she moved to Atlanta with her husband, Rabbi Shlomo Berkowitz, and an infant son. Right away, she was embraced by the Toco Hills community.
“The women kept calling me rebbetzin and insisted I could make a difference,” she said. So she did. She gave classes, tutored and hosted guests on Shabbat and holidays. “It felt great at that young age to be needed by such a thriving, growing community.”
The Berkowitzes moved to Atlanta twice. The first time, they spent six years here. In 2003, they returned with their three young children to Detroit, where Sarah Faygie grew up, to be near family while Rabbi Berkowitz finished his prerequisites for medical school. They moved back to Atlanta in 2007 when he was accepted into Emory’s master of medical science program in anesthesiology.
“When I came back to Atlanta and walked into Beth Jacob … it was such a special connection,” Berkowitz said.
Now she’s really connected to Beth Jacob. In April 2015 she became the communications and program manager at Beth Jacob. “I wasn’t actually looking for a job at the time, but I saw the job description and thought, ‘I could do that — and what an honor it would be to work for the shul.’ ”
She said the rich history at Beth Jacob is palpable, and she is amazed that so many of the Orthodox congregation’s members have been there for decades and that their children and grandchildren are now members taking leadership roles.
With a bachelor’s in communications and over a decade of experience in professional writing, Berkowitz got the job. “They had some faith in me,” she said. In the beginning, she did “a lot of learning.”
Now she’s at the point where she’s training others, volunteers and interns, to help with the needs of a growing and expanding shul (in ways beyond the renovations).
Before working for Beth Jacob, Berkowitz wrote for the Mother Nature Network, and her articles were republished on CNN.com. For nine years she served as editor of the Atlanta edition of Natural Awakenings Magazine, and she freelanced for other businesses and organizations, creating web content and promotional articles.
As a talented cook, she has given food demonstrations for local organizations, and for a while she worked as a personal chef.
Cooking is a “huge hobby of mine,” said Berkowitz, who has a monthly food column in Mishpacha Magazine. With two vegans and a vegetarian in her family, she’s a versatile cook leaning toward healthy choices.
With other veterans of the Mother Nature Network, she now writes for FromtheGrapevine.com, which promotes positive messages about Israel. The site has published more than 200 of her recipes.
Berkowitz uses her marketing and writing skills to handle all of Beth Jacob’s communications: the website, email, Shabbat fliers, program catalogs and bulletins. She connects with local businesses and organizations to promote the synagogue’s major events, such as the Purim parade and festival and the Shabbos Project block party.
“Partnering with these businesses and groups is a mutually beneficial way to serve the community,” she said.
Rabbi Ilan Feldman, the spiritual leader of Beth Jacob, said: “No matter how active and dynamic a synagogue is, if its programs are not communicated effectively and attractively, the synagogue’s impact is limited. Mrs. Berkowitz is exceptionally effective in making that critical connection.”
She said her favorite part of the job is “interacting with visitors — members or guests — who come into Beth Jacob, whether it’s the young moms and dads with preschoolers or retirees who come around to volunteer or take care of shul business.”
And she loves to bake and bring in new recipes for her co-workers to critique. Whether connecting to others through food, writing or visits to the synagogue office, Berkowitz has made an impact at Beth Jacob and beyond.