Now in his fourth month at Congregation Or VeShalom, Executive Director Adam Kofinas finds himself engrossed in Atlanta’s Jewish community.
“I’m very impressed,” said Kofinas, who succeeded Lynne Balaban after she retired. “There are four-plus generations in this synagogue. I think that’s pretty unique, especially since the Atlanta Jewish community is relatively young. The one thing that really surprised me about Atlanta is how many transplants there are.”
Coming from New York, Kofinas worked at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism for over nine years.
“I was working with their events, programming and running their offices,” Kofinas said. “I was really hoping to work more directly with people; sometimes when you’re in an office all day, it’s hard to see the fruits of your labor.”
Kofinas credits his time with the national Conservative organization for preparing him for his new position at Atlanta’s oldest Sephardi congregation. “It taught me to work with all different kinds of people and about the importance of community,” he said. “I want it to be like the bar in ‘Cheers,’ where everybody knows your name.”
Kofinas grew up with ties to the Sephardi and the Conservative Ashkenazi worlds. His father came from the Greek Romaniote Jewish community, while his mother descended from Eastern European Jews. He attended Conservative and Sephardic synagogues and went to one of the Conservative movement’s Solomon Schechter day schools.
One of Kofinas’ focuses for the upcoming year is examining elements of synagogue life that haven’t changed in decades.
“How do we define involvement?” Kofinas said. “For the previous generation, it meant showing up for services Saturday mornings, but that may not be what it means to this generation. We need to engage them in different ways.”
As a result, Kofinas wants to spend the year examining the struggles of the younger members of the Brookhaven congregation. He believes that by discovering and meeting the needs of youths and young adults, Or VeShalom will be a more welcoming place and appeal to a new generation.
“I want them to feel comfortable letting me know what they want to see,” Kofinas said. “I want to create a dialogue and have it be a back and forth. It’s up to them to determine what we want to see in our synagogue in two years, in five years, in 10 years.”
He added: “We need those people involved. We should be tailoring our offerings to the group we’re trying to reach.”
While Kofinas said he and his family were welcomed in the spring, and the environment surrounding the congregation is inviting, one of his goals is to become even more welcoming. “It’s all about what we can learn from others and adapt them to fit our community. We can always be improving.”
The final major goal for Kofinas is to expand the reach of Or VeShalom’s marketing and events beyond the immediate community. “Everyone here knows about our (Chanukah) bazaar, but my job is to figure out how we can make that an even more well-known and widely marketed event.”
Despite the massive change involved in moving from New York to Georgia, Kofinas said he feels at home in his new community.
“Everybody here has been incredible,” he said. “They all want to show me their favorite spots; I’ve probably been given advice to try more things here than I could in the next decade. It’s been three months, but it feels like it’s been three years.”