There is a flurry of commotion. Lighting and sound are tested. Scenery pieces move left and right under careful direction, and costumes are donned amid the excited chatter and high-pitched giggles prevalent among high school girls.
Though this familiar scene repeats itself every two years, something is different about the level of anticipation. The introduction of a new concept, perhaps? A fresh script whose origins lie right here in Atlanta, where two great beginnings found themselves intertwined?
We’re talking about the upcoming musical production put on by the girls of Temima, the Richard & Jean Katz High School: “It’s the Real Thing! You’ll Know When You Taste It — Putting Atlanta on the Map: Coca-Cola & Rabbi Tobias Geffen, Spiritual Leader of Atlanta, 1910.”
The story follows the efforts of Rabbi Geffen in creating a Jewish presence in Atlanta and his role in establishing an indisputable kosher certification for the ever-popular drink Coca-Cola in the first quarter of the 20th century.
Written by Temima Principal Miriam Feldman, the original script was conceived after extensive research about Coca-Cola and the Geffen family, as well as Jewish Atlanta at that time. Contact with members of the Geffen family from the very beginning of the process has added a personal touch to the story.
The show is directed by Rachelle Freedman, a homegrown professional director. The Temima girls themselves have produced the costumes, scenery and props.
The entire Geffen family (all eight children) is represented in the show and played by Temima students.
Born in Kovno in 1870, Rabbi Geffen was raised in a traditional Lithuanian Jewish home. He married Sara Hene Rabinowitz and eventually immigrated to the United States, establishing roots in Atlanta in 1910 as the spiritual leader of Congregation Shearith Israel. Almost immediately upon arrival, Rabbi Geffen sought to establish a Jewish community, streamlining kashrut supervision and founding Atlanta’s first Hebrew school.
Rabbi Geffen arrived on the Atlanta scene a couple of decades after the birth of Coca-Cola as its distribution and popularity spread across the country, including among Jews. But rabbis of various Jewish communities in America were unsure about the kosher status of the beverage, and conflicting opinions emerged.
Having settled in Atlanta, Rabbi Geffen felt a responsibility to solve this issue because he was located at the source of the problem. However, because of Coca-Cola’s infamous secrecy, he faced challenges in proclaiming Coca-Cola kosher. Allow the Temima girls to share with you his story and lasting impact.
Since its inception in 1996, Temima has presented 14 musical productions to the women of the Atlanta Jewish community. The professional-level productions have been well received by close to 600 women each season.
Temima has also taken its Chanukah show, “Twirl & Zip,” on tour to Jewish preschools throughout Atlanta.
“We have our girls work on these musicals to internalize the messages which are integral to them growing to be Jewish women who take responsibility for their community, themselves and their Jewish identity,” said Gitty Golding, the activities coordinator at Temima and producer of the shows.
“We feel our students have a lot to learn from the vision, dreams and hard work of both Rabbi Geffen and Coca-Cola,” she said. “It is their big dreams, long-term vision and perseverance that impact our thriving Jewish community to this day, as well as the global name brand that was born right here in Atlanta.”
Meechal Lovett, who is playing Rabbi Geffen, said she had no prior knowledge of her character or his story before embarking on this theatrical journey. “I had no idea that such a story happened in the city I live in.”
Representing this remarkable figure and his love for fellow Jews is a daunting task, she said, but she identifies with the rabbi’s value of family connection.
“Our students are proud that they are still living Rabbi Geffen’s dream today,” Golding said. “And as Coke says, we’d like to share it in a way that is enjoyable, creative and exciting. This is sure to be another memorable Temima production.”
What: “It’s the Real Thing”
Where: Congregation Or VeShalom, 1681 N. Druid Hills Road, Brookhaven
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, March 14 and 15
Tickets: $22 in advance, $26 at the door, $15 for students (women and girls only); www.Temima.org/production