Above: Rabbi Levi Mentz and his wife, Chaya
A celebration of Shavuot on Sunday, June 12, at the home of Rabbi Levi Mentz and his wife, Chaya, served to launch Chabad of Forsyth while a permanent location is found. Rabbi Mentz, whose father-in-law is Chabad of Georgia head Rabbi Yossi New, moved here from Los Angeles in 2014 and has run the JCrafts workshop program for children.
AJT: Tell us about the new Chabad.
Rabbi Mentz: We’ve opened up a center in the County of Forsyth to service the enormous northeast Georgia region, which goes from Lake Lanier all the way up to Dahlonega. Of course, we’ve always had a small Jewish community, but being close to Atlanta, that’s changing. Our vision is to create a dynamic Jewish community for families that are living in these counties and area; they should have all the services they need, whether it is education for children, education for adults, for Jewish lifecycles, and Jewish celebrations throughout the year. It’s not like “Oh, now I have to drive miles and miles away to get what services I need as a Jew or drive miles and miles to join another community.”
We finally have a place of our own. It’s very exciting, and all I can tell you is that it’s been very much grass-roots, with some amazing people and amazing families that live in this region who had gotten together and said, ‘We want to have something amazing. We want to do something special for ourselves, for our families.’ That’s where I came into the picture, really just bringing it all together and making this happen. Funnily enough, we’re talking today, but on Sunday we celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, and it was amazing because it was the first formal Jewish community event that had ever taken place, and we had just under a hundred people that came together. It’s just amazing. It is pretty special because if you want to look at it from a historical perspective, the first time we as a people ever came together in a community for a service was at Mount Sinai when we got the Torah. We all stood there as a community, and we experienced the first Jewish service. I guess 3,328 years later for the new Jewish community in northeast Georgia we did the same; we all got together for the first time to receive the Ten Commandments again. Pretty epic, if you want to talk about epic, right? It was really, really beautiful.
AJT: Do you have any concerns about creating competition for Chabad of North Fulton?
Rabbi Mentz: Absolutely not. … The Jewish community is the whole reason we’re there, and we formed another branch there because the Jewish community had been asking for it for a long time. It’s almost like asking a question, like when North Fulton was set up, the first question that came up was “Is this bringing competition to the Chabad of Sandy Springs?” It’s a weird question. Chabad opens up new centers. It’s a different region and a different place, you know what I mean? Chabad doesn’t open new places to hurt itself; Chabad opens places to help the Jewish community.
AJT: OK. Let’s get back to your Chabad. How do you see its future?
Rabbi Mentz: The long-term vision is that we’re going to create an example of a vibrant, amazing Jewish community. If you’re a Jew anywhere in the world and you want to talk about a Jewish community that’s awesome and unbelievable, you’re going to say, “Go to Forsyth County; go to northeast Georgia.” That is something that is amazing. Having all the services, from young to old, from A to Z, there will be nothing lacking. That’s the long-term vision: synagogue, community center, the works.
Now in the short term, our first goal is launching JUDA, our children’s educational branch; it’s got to be one of the most innovative concepts that’s ever been announced. JUDA will be a place for children to sign up for computer school. The kids will be begging their moms, “Let’s go, let’s go.” It’s a completely new system that we are very excited to unveil. The first day of JUDA is Aug. 21, and I would encourage everyone who has Jewish children to sign up.
AJT: Do you know what the Jewish population in Forsyth County is?
Rabbi Mentz: Yes. There are currently 1,700 Jewish families, estimated.
AJT: What else do we need to know?
Rabbi Mentz: The foundation of our Jewish community is built on love and acceptance. I reached out to every single Jew living in the northeast Georgia region; they are already part of the community by virtue of who they are. I encourage them deeply to get involved and join this amazing, grass-roots community. This is being done by real people, just like them, and this is the time to get involved and be part of something really magical. I would encourage them to reach out to us in three ways. The first way would be to go to JewishForsyth.org. I would encourage them to go to our Facebook page. They can also reach us at MyJuda.org.
AJT: But how have you been reaching them? And how do you know there are 1,700 families?
Rabbi Mentz: Well, we have our ways, through different resources. The way we’ve reached out is, we have over a hundred-and-something contacts already. That has happened through call-ins to central Chabad with people saying, “We want a center,” and people saying they want more Jewish life and that it’s too far to drive to other places. You know, “We want to have something of our own.” Basically, that’s how Chabad does it everywhere. There’s been serious interest for a while now — people saying they want something close to home. In Forsyth County there has never been a formal Jewish presence.