Above: Mort and Edie Barr’s ties to Atlanta include daughter Rebekah Barr and grandsons Ari Feingold (left) and Gedalya Feingold.
By Mort and Edie Barr
Mort and Edie Barr, who made aliyah from Atlanta, continue the story they began in the AJT in June.
We accomplished all our bureaucratic goals in Israel within three months of making aliyah in March: We received our identity papers (teudat zehut), aliyah document (teudat oleh), Israeli driver’s licenses, health insurance, senior ID cards, senior bus passes and homeowner’s insurance; transferred all utility bills into our name; opened an Israeli checking and savings account; received a Visa Card; and purchased a car.
The first stage was done.
Next we had to return to Atlanta to pack and supervise our shipment and dispose of the belongings that we decided to leave behind. The movers came in late July to pack the 450 cubic feet of personal possessions we chose to ship to our home in Ramat Beit Shemesh, meaning we would be able to enter the Jewish new year with our furnished Israeli home complete.
As olim (new immigrants), we would have our favorite pictures staring at us from the walls, our favorite books perched on our shelves and our Atlanta clothes in our closets alongside our Israeli clothes.
At long last, we are fully in our birthright, our homeland, the land of our forefathers, the land the good Lord promised to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob and to their descendants as a heritage, the land our ancestors came from.
We have moved many times. During our married life, we have moved from our origins in New York to Waltham, Mass., to Lowell, Mass., to South Walpole, Mass., to East Brunswick, N.J., to Be’er Sheva, Israel, for two years, then to Rockaway Township, N.J., back to East Brunswick, and lastly to Atlanta, where we spent 10 productive years.
The one household plant we should have nurtured in our homes but never did was the wandering Jew.
The wandering Jew is a unique plant that, when given minimal sustenance, will nevertheless spread and grow. If you dig up its roots and replant it, it will regenerate itself and start anew.
Wandering is what Jewish history has been all about. Our patriarchs and matriarchs were nomads. The Jewish nation itself developed in Egypt and through our wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. We are the only nation ever to establish its identity while wandering outside its homeland.
For the past 2,000 years we have been wandering the world.
Of all the places in which we have lived, no place has nourished us more than our Atlanta community, and in no place have we felt more deeply rooted than in Atlanta. We do not believe we would ever have planned to leave if it were not for the magnet of aliyah and our dream of active fulfillment of biblical prophecy in our promised land.
As Joni Mitchell wrote in her 1970 hit “Big Yellow Taxi”:
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot.
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.
While we now live in a special place, the Jewish homeland, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Jerusalem, we will never forget the special qualities of the Atlanta Jewish community, the broader community, the people, our friends.
Each place we lived manifested beauty and unique qualities, but Atlanta has no match. To say that we will miss Atlanta is an enormous understatement. What makes Atlanta so special?
The foundation of Atlanta’s exceptionalism is it’s cultural, ethnic, religious and racial diversity, which we have seen nowhere else. It’s something we will miss dearly.
The mutual respect and acceptance of diversity are striking and a model for other cities. Atlanta creates endless opportunities for actualization of the Jewish value of being a light unto the nations through a life based on Torah values and halachic principles.
We believe that Jews were not meant to live in isolation and manifest the “circle the wagon” mentality of 18th and 19th century Eastern Europe, when Jews in the shtetl were at risk of pogroms.
On a global scale, we see Israel manifesting its beacon of light by sending its medical rapid-deployment teams and technologies to the ends of the world to aid earthquake victims and exporting its irrigation and desalination technologies to drought-stricken areas in Africa and California. It is the “Start-Up Nation” that has improved the world by creating medical, computer, automotive and security technologies.
Those who live in the Diaspora have an opportunity to interact with other cultures, ethnicities, races and religions to make the world a better place — to live together in peace and harmony.
On a personal level, nowhere is this opportunity to add value more accessible than in Atlanta because of its tolerance for diversity.
But as much as we Jews have something to offer others, others have much to offer and teach us. Just as the Jews wandering through Sinai learned from Jethro, the Midianite priest, we have gained by living among other nations throughout our history.
Several short vignettes describing our personal experiences are testimonies to this opportunity:
- As CEO of the Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta, Mort found himself hosting in his office a Baptist pastor from southwest Atlanta who sought help in establishing a related organization for his church.
- When helping a Jamaican student at Clark Atlanta University’s graduate education leadership program, Mort spent countless hours interacting with the student, faculty and staff, discovering more that unites than divides. It became clear that it is extraordinary and of enormous value to step outside one’s boundaries to help someone dramatically different from oneself and help that person to help others. It is a Kiddush Hashem.
- When exiting the escalator at the Merchandise Mart for the annual gift show, we were greeted by a total stranger with the words “G-d bless you” only because we appeared as religious Jews. This experience was repeated multiple times over 10 years as we exited physicians’ offices or shopping malls.
- In Mort’s first few months as executive director at Congregation Beth Jacob, the kitchen grease trap clogged, and the backup was, to be polite, rather ghastly. Armed with the synagogue checkbook to pay when the job was done, Mort waited for the plumber outside the synagogue side entrance at 8:30 p.m. After about an hour, as the plumber emerged from the stink hole in the middle of the parking lot, his reply to the question “How much do I owe you?” was astonishing: “I do not charge houses of worship.” This reverence for religion, any religion, is an attribute of the South and in particular Atlanta and is remarkable and positive.
- Then there was the lawn-mowing contractor who refused payment for services over a three-month period during one of our extended visits to Ramat Beit Shemesh when he learned where we were going.
- Where else in the United States is there perfect traffic order during a power failure that causes all the traffic lights to fail?
We will especially miss all the wonderful friends who have enriched our lives so much. People who will be our lifelong friends. We encountered many special souls who each helped us grow in our Yiddishkeit and helped us through many personal challenges.
Our years in Atlanta were truly meant to be. They prepared us well for our next phase of life.
We look forward to sharing our continuing adventure with y’all and plan to maintain a connection to the people who hold a special place in our hearts. May we all be privileged to grow from strength to strength.
Mort retired as director of technology at Colgate Palmolive and was the executive director of Congregation Beth Jacob. He is the founder and former CEO of the Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta. Edie retired from a career as activities director in assisted living and volunteered at NORC, Berman Commons, and at the Carlton, formerly Eden Brook. She was president of the Mount Scopus Group of Hadassah Greater Atlanta and served on the Hadassah Greater Atlanta board.