Chabad of Cobb celebrates 15 years with Rabbi Silverman

By Cady Schulman

cschulman@atljewishtimes.com

Chabad Service Award winner Liz Helgesen with husband Bob at the Chabad of Cobb gala. – Photos by Jon Marks Photography

When Rabbi Ephraim Silverman came to Chabad of Cobb in 2000, his goal was to be open to the community and engage more with Jewish students. Fifteen years later, his goal is the same: to increase Chabad’s involvement in high schools and colleges as well as in the community.

Chabad of Cobb celebrated 15 years of Rabbi Silverman and his wife, Chanie, in East Cobb with a gala Feb. 7 at which Lenny and Nina Beck, Barry Frankel, and Liz Helgesen were honored with awards.

“When I think about 15 years, I think about the impact we’ve hopefully been able to have [like] the programming we do in the local high schools,” Rabbi Silverman said. “I think about the communitywide holiday planning we provide. I think about the Jewish center we’ve opened up at Kennesaw State. I think about the programming at Life” University.

Chabad formed Jewish clubs in the East Cobb high schools 10 years ago, and now hundreds of students meet at each school every other week to socialize over pizza or bagels and take part in a program that typically involves guest speakers. The clubs are a way to engage students during the teen years.

“I think for them to be able to identify at the school that they’re Jewish and are part of a Jewish club has a tremendous impact on their identity and who they are,” Rabbi Silverman said. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes “has a very strong presence, and we need one too.”

The students also go to nursing homes to visit with Jewish residents, especially during the holidays.

“We try to take some responsibility to make sure they’re taken care of,” Rabbi Silverman said. “On Rosh Hashanah we have a mitzvah hike where people walk to six to seven local nursing homes and blow the shofar. We do that for the different holidays.”

Chabad also has a big focus on adult education, Rabbi Silverman said, meeting at such locations as libraries and coffee shops for discussions and guest speakers. A women’s class has 30 to 40 regular attendees on Wednesday mornings, and the Kabbalah Cafe on Sunday mornings is popular.

“All of these are areas that we are hoping to expand and grow and beginning to service more of the other areas in Cobb County as well,” Rabbi Silverman said.

Sherry Kornheiser started attending Chabad three months after the Silvermans arrived.

“There’s been tremendous growth in adult education, children’s program and teen programming,” she said. “We have extensive programs for the little kids. The camp has grown tremendously. Membership has grown tremendously. They’re incredibly sincere [in] their passion for the community and their love for Judaism. The feedback is incredible on the two of them.”

The congregation started out meeting in a small building, then replaced the existing house on the property on Lower Roswell Road across from the post office with a much larger synagogue that is kept in pristine condition.

“We take tremendous pride in our building,” Kornheiser said. “It’s a beautiful reflection of what the rabbi and Chanie have done so far.”

Membership has grown from 25 families in 2000 to 200. But because the synagogue has an open-door policy and doesn’t require membership, Rabbi Silverman said the number of people who attend services is likely double.

“It’s open seating, and anyone can come in off the street for High Holidays,” the rabbi said. “If you want to come in without any strings attached, we’re here with arms open.”

Plans include more involvement in the high schools to reach students at an impressionable age.

“When the kids are in high school, they’re at an age where they’re opening up their minds to the world around them, beginning to open up their minds to things,” the rabbi said. “There’s a time post-bar and -bat mitzvah where they’re not engaged. That’s a void that we’d like to fill.”

The goal is to create knowledgeable, proud Jewish leaders, Rabbi Silverman said.

“It’s very hard to be proud of something that you’re ignorant of,” the rabbi said. “A lot of organizations provide social activities. We want to find ways to engage them intellectually that gives them a deeper appreciation so their opinion of Judaism isn’t one of stories they learned in Hebrew school of the 10 Plagues. It has no real sophistication or depth or meaning to them as teenagers. We want to open up their minds that there is a lot more to Judaism.”

Next month Chabad will get a new Torah that was written for it in Jerusalem. Representatives from Chabad will finish the final letters March 22 with a scribe at Dickerson Middle School and parade the Torah down Lower Roswell Road to Chabad’s building under a wedding canopy with a police escort. The celebration will continue with a lunch at Chabad.

“We really try to have people bring their children to be able to get out there on the street and celebrate the Torah and Jewish identity,” Rabbi Silverman said. “It’s very inspirational for many people.”