One of the events I most enjoyed covering in 2017 was the first Mitzvah for the Mikvah, a benefit for the Metro Atlanta Community Mikvah that exceeded its goal of paying off MACoM’s construction debt.
What made the night so moving, however, wasn’t the mikvah’s financial success or the always entertaining setting of the Georgia Aquarium ballroom, but the testimonials from speaker after speaker about the modern meaning they had found in the living waters of the mikvah and the revelation of the deep friendship Rabbis Alvin Sugarman and Joshua Heller developed in the course of midwifing the birth of this invaluable community asset.
The emotion and joy of the night didn’t come from the mikvah itself. Instead, MACoM was a vessel through which members of the Jewish Atlanta community were able to expose their stories and their passions to hundreds of mostly strangers.
That’s why I’m looking forward to the second Mitzvah for the Mikvah, set for Thursday, May 3, at Congregation B’nai Torah (tickets are $180, $90 if you’re 35 and under): It will be another chance to hear some extraordinary stories from people who aren’t necessarily the big machers in town — this time from more than a dozen people who are doing crucial work to make the Jewish and non-Jewish communities better places to live.
I don’t immerse in the mikvah myself, but I believe in its importance as a community-building and -sustaining asset. A kosher mikvah open to all, to be discovered and experienced as each Jewish person needs and desires, is a rare common ground we all can share. And we’ll get to see that at the fundraiser honoring Jewish community heroes, some of whom had never been to MACoM before a meet-and-greet session held during Purim.
The honorees shied away from being labeled heroes, as MACoM is calling them, but they’re all being recognized by their congregations for going above and beyond the call of duty in their volunteer work — beyond the good many of them do in their jobs, such as SOJOURN Executive Director Rebecca Stapel-Wax, whom Congregation Bet Haverim is celebrating for her work with MACoM.
Mikvah Executive Director Barbara LeNoble was particularly excited about the latest hero on the list, Devorah Lowenstein, being recognized by Young Israel of Toco Hills for her involvement in the Torah and Tefilla program. The participation of an Orthodox shul completes the denominational spectrum for the celebration and helps expose MACoM to the full community.
Many of the other heroes have appeared in the AJT; some, I’m afraid, have not until now. The honorees in addition to Stapel-Wax and Lowenstein:
- Linda Bressler, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, AA-ACT.
- Samra and Ronald Robbins, Congregation Beth Shalom, Backpack Buddies.
- Arlene Exelbert, Congregation B’nai Torah, Family Promise.
- Karen Baron, Temple Emanu-El, Community Assistance Center of Sandy Springs.
- Bonnie and Alan Silverman, Congregation Etz Chaim, Safe Driver Program.
- Lori Carling, Congregation Gesher L’Torah, animal shelter and food bank.
- Annette Marcus, Congregation Or Hadash, Chesed.
- Gillian Gansler, Congregation Shearith Israel, Rebecca’s Tent.
- Jeff Willard, Temple Beth Tikvah, Tzedek Georgia.
- Robin Mayer, Temple Sinai, Family Promise.
- Ronnie van Gelder, The Temple, too many to list.
It’s great that Federation brought 70 community leaders to Israel to help break down the invisible walls in Jewish Atlanta; we need people chipping away from the top. But it feels right that a mikvah, which we are commanded to construct even before a synagogue, can help build truly communal feelings from the bottom up.