One of the fundamental beliefs under which the Atlanta Jewish Times operates is the value of community. We strive to be a unifying force in Jewish Atlanta by providing a neutral ground to share news and information and debate important issues, regardless of where people live or how they practice Judaism.
It is in that spirit of unity and neutrality that we chose to publish an article about a split in the Chabad ranks in Georgia. We take no pleasure in reporting on questions about the leadership and organization of Chabad of Georgia, but we also feel that we are failing our community — our owners and our customers — when we keep important information secret.
In this case, we received questions and heard rumors for weeks about a rift between Chabad of Georgia head Rabbi Yossi New and the leader of the successful Chabad Intown, Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman. We had to assume our readers were also hearing the rumors, so we wanted to set them straight.
You can read the details in the article, but the bottom line is that after nearly two decades of working together in Georgia, Rabbi New kicked Rabbi Schusterman out of the Chabad organization. So if you attend a menorah lighting with Chabad Intown this Chanukah, if you join the YJP Midtown group for a party, if you take a class with Rabbi Ari Sollish, you are not participating in something recognized by the Chabad organization in Georgia or nationally — even if the program or service is identical to one you enjoyed a year ago.
Yet Rabbi Schusterman may continue to use the Chabad name as a follower and proponent of the Chabad movement and its principles even from outside the Chabad organization.
To add to the Midtown muddle, Rabbi New could launch a competing Chabad center in the city, creating confusion among the members and potential members of Atlanta’s Chabad community.
None of that is good for the Jewish community as a whole — not the confusion, not the competition, and not the division between two of our longtime, respected spiritual leaders, whose situation can’t help but force their fellow Chabad rabbis and their financial supporters to choose sides.
That’s where the community interest kicks in: We need unity. Not complete agreement on all things at all times, but an ability to put aside differences to work together toward shared goals such as Jewish continuity.
We often lament the lack of cohesion in Jewish Atlanta. Too often, synagogues and other organizations operate without knowing or caring what others are doing and thus waste energy on redundant programming and services while missing opportunities to weave together a greater community.
Chabad thrives because it is so good at engaging and welcoming Jews who otherwise might fall away from their faith, but it also is valuable to the Jewish community as a whole because of its ability to convene events that are not all about Chabad. Examples include the mid-October anti-terrorism prayer vigil for Israel and the upcoming Jewish Heritage Night with the Atlanta Hawks.
But how long and how well can Chabad serve as a unifying force in Jewish Atlanta when it doesn’t have internal unity?
We don’t pretend to be a neutral observer. We have an interest in a strong, growing Jewish Atlanta, and we believe that a strong, growing Chabad movement plays a vital role. We hope that shining a light on Chabad’s problems will also light the way toward a resolution so that the organization can continue to fulfill that role.