Back in the late 1970s and through the 1980s, Jewish Atlanta saw a new generation of communal professionals emerge. Now another set of leaders in their 30s and early 40s is stepping up to guide the community into the future.
In recent weeks we’ve shared the news of a new head of school for Atlanta Jewish Academy, a new CEO for the Marcus Jewish Community Center, and new senior rabbis at Congregations Shearith Israel and Etz Chaim. All of them are under age 45; the youngest is 33.
We’re reminded of something Eliot Arnovitz said last year before the American Jewish Committee honored him with its Selig Distinguished Service Award: He lamented the lack of younger leaders forcing his generation off the stage.
He was talking about lay leaders, but the thinking applies as well to communal professionals. One of the persistent concerns in the Jewish community is engagement with young adults; it stands to reason that it’s easier for other young adults to make and maintain the necessary connections.
It’s not that the older generation — including most of us producing the Atlanta Jewish Times — falls short in energy or enthusiasm, fails to come up with new ideas, or is befuddled by such newfangled gizmos as the iPhone 6s or Snapchat. But after 10, 20, 30 or 40 years of doing the same job, it’s far too easy to become set in your ways and far too hard to relate to the concerns and interests of people who could be your children or grandchildren.
As much as we like to put our communal leaders, especially our rabbis, on pedestals, they’re only human, and few mere mortals can approach that 20th Rosh Hashanah sermon, that 25th annual honor dinner or the 30th annual fundraising campaign with the same vim, vigor and bright-eyed hope for the future.
The four new leaders announced in recent weeks — Rabbi Ari Kaiman, Rabbi Daniel Dorsch, Rabbi Ari Leubitz and Jared Powers — are coming here from different places with backgrounds ranging from Orthodox to Reform. What they share, in addition to work with Jewish youths, is an infectious optimism.
That is something too often missing in Jewish communities. We fret over demographic trends pointing to assimilation if not annihilation and polls indicating a disconnect with or even rejection of Israel. We worry about flat fundraising and outdated facilities. We fear a rise in anti-Semitism.
This new generation, however, arrives with confidence — in themselves, in their institutions and in the Jewish future. To talk with these emerging leaders, along with other post-baby boomers who have risen to lead crucial agencies in recent years, such as Dov Wilker at the American Jewish Committee and Rick Aranson at Jewish Family & Career Services, is to believe that Jewish Atlanta is in good hands to carry us into the middle of the 21st century.
There is, of course, at least one major Jewish institution without a leader: the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. We hope that the search committee under Gerry Benjamin’s leadership heeds the lessons all around our community.
This is not the time for a wise old hand to steer the Federation ship; it’s time to find the bold, creative, vibrant leader who can re-energize Federation with a communal vision that will leverage the raw numbers of our growing community into a powerful force in American Jewry’s exciting future.