You won’t find a bigger booster of Jewish Atlanta than me, and evidently I’m not alone. This month our community is having a moment in the spotlight as Atlanta welcomes five major Jewish conferences to town. As Sally Field might say, “They like us!”
Here’s the lineup of who is coming to Atlanta:
- Jewish Federations of North America held its Professionals Institute from March 6 to 8 in Atlanta, and many members of the Federation staff and community leaders attended workshops and programs there.
- Federation is a local host of the Jewish Funders Network International Conference from March 19 to 21. JFN works with Jewish donors to improve the quality and impact of their giving in the Jewish world.
- The Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinical body of the Reform movement, convenes its national meeting March 19 to 22.
- The Collaboratory, a network for Jewish innovators and change makers, has its national meeting in Atlanta from March 21 to 23.
- The National Council of Jewish Women meets here March 23 to 25.
What’s happening in Jewish Atlanta? Why are we so hot right now?
I don’t think there’s any kind of secret sauce here. Our challenges mirror those of other metropolitan areas: urban sprawl, a surge in individualism and self-interest, high rates of mobility and migration. A building boom inside and outside the Perimeter anticipates steep population growth from 5.5 million to 8 million the next 20 years.
Atlanta has incredible Jewish assets. Show me another city of our size with such a robust network of Jewish day schools. Show me another city with a community mikvah, two Moishe Houses, the second-largest Jewish film festival in the country, Jewish book and music festivals, one of the strongest Limmuds in North America, a local network of incredible Jewish overnight camps, a world-class JCC, an expanding Jewish Family & Career Services campus, and 40 congregations and havurot across the denominational spectrum.
Along with these stable Jewish institutions, Atlanta also has a big appetite for innovation. We’ve been fertile soil for many Jewish startups and innovators, including OneTable, Honeymoon Israel, Jewish Kids Groups, InterfaithFamily and PJ Library.
Next month we welcome Hope Chernak to Atlanta as the director of the Atlanta Jewish Teen Initiative. This is an innovative collaboration among the Marcus JCC, the Atlanta Rabbinical Association and Federation that offers teens multiple pathways to ignite their personal interests and passions, all through a Jewish lens. Atlanta is one of just 10 cities in North America to receive support for teen-targeted outreach through a $2.1 million grant over the next five years from the Jim Joseph Foundation as part of the Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Funder Collective.
I believe Atlanta is a perfect laboratory for how to build a 21st century Jewish community, and this month I’ll be talking about it with Jodi Mansbach, Federation’s new chief impact officer; Will Schneider, the director of advancement at the Harold Grinspoon Foundation; and Shayna Pollock, senior planner at the Atlanta Regional Commission. We’re leading a session at Jewish Funders Network titled “Meet Them Where They Are: Strategies for Engaging 21st Century Jewish Life.”
Using Atlanta as a case study, we take the position that Jews in 21st century American cities are as much a part of the major trends and modes of contemporary living as anyone else. We’ve seen that Jewish people change and move more quickly than buildings or institutions can chase them.
I’ve called Atlanta “the Pew Study on steroids” because our high rates of mobility challenge traditional modes of community building and make it difficult to foster engagement.
The 2013 Pew Study was a survey of Jewish Americans suggesting that Jewish identity is radically changing. It documented that the percentage of adults who say they are Jewish has declined by about half since the late 1950s and that 22 percent of Jews describe themselves as having no religion.
The study results sent shockwaves through the Jewish world; however, the study also revealed many positives. For example, the U.S. Jewish population was actually on the rise, and 28 percent of intermarried couples said they were raising their children as Jews.
Rates of Passover seder attendance, fasting on Yom Kippur, candle lighting and keeping kosher were also on the rise. Three-quarters of U.S. Jews reported having “a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people.”
You’ll be hearing more from me about these trends and how we can leverage Atlanta’s unique Jewish assets. You’ll be seeing us prototyping new ideas and thinking about new ways to open doors of engagement.
As always, I’m eager to know what you think about how we can build a 21st century Jewish Atlanta. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Robbins is the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.