2015: A Year to Remember

2015: A Year to Remember


A new leadership team took charge at the AJT with the start of the year, the newspaper’s 90th serving Jewish Atlanta, and we immediately faced the horror of the terrorist massacre of 11 people at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7 and the killing of four people at a kosher supermarket two days later in Paris. Jewish Atlanta was well represented at a march in solidarity with the French on Jan. 11.

The Epstein School found its new head of school, David Abusch-Magder, in mid-January. He arrived from San Francisco to take charge at the Conservative school in Sandy Springs on July 1.

Kollel Ner Hamizrach, based at Congregation Ner Hamizrach, celebrated its grand opening Jan. 20 with speakers from revered yeshivot in the Northeast. The new kollel expanded its reach later in the year, opening branches in Norcross with Congregation Beit Yitzchak and in Sandy Springs with The Kehilla.

The last living chief prosecutor from the Nuremberg war crimes trials, Benjamin Ferencz, came to Atlanta for Am Yisrael Chai’s annual Holocaust commemoration Jan. 25.

The 15th Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, the first held as an independent nonprofit organization, opened Jan. 28 with a screening of Nancy Spielberg’s documentary about the birth of Israel’s air force, “Above and Beyond,” as part of a gala at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. By the time the festival closed Feb. 19 with two screenings of “Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem,” Bikel’s last appearances in Atlanta before his death July 21, more than 38,600 tickets had been sold, making the Atlanta festival the largest of the more than 200 Jewish film festivals in the world.

In the opening salvos of a fight that would last throughout the General Assembly’s session, Jewish leaders including several rabbis and the Anti-Defamation League participated in an interfaith press conference at the state Capitol to criticize a proposed religious liberty bill a few minutes after the Georgia Baptist Convention held a press conference in the same building to support the legislation. The bill, which opponents said would facilitate discrimination against the LGBT community, eventually was tabled March 26 after Jewish Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, succeeded in amending the bill with nondiscrimination language.

Jewish Family & Career Services announced Jan. 28 that Gary Miller would step down as the agency’s CEO after 24 years July 1, to be replaced by Rick Aranson, who had spent 11 years as the chief operating officer of JF&CS.


Temple Beth Tikvah on Feb. 1 approved the hiring of Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner to replace Rabbi Fred Greene on July 1. She had been the No. 2 rabbi at a congregation in Overland Park, Kan., since 2008. Rabbi Greene accepted a position as the senior rabbi at Congregation Har HaShem in Boulder, Colo.

Chabad of Cobb celebrated 15 years with Rabbi Ephraim Silverman and his wife, Chani, with a gala Feb. 7.

Reflecting the work of its Jewish Disability Task Force, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta held its first Power of One reception Feb. 8 to honor leaders in inclusiveness at organizations throughout the community.

The Kehilla of Sandy Springs celebrated its fifth birthday Feb. 8 by bringing the Israeli-American rock band Moshav to town for Kehilla Fest, co-sponsored by the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival.

2015: A Year to Remember 4A Cumming 15-year-old was arrested Feb. 9 and charged with making terroristic threats through a vicious voicemail message left at Congregation Gesher L’Torah in what appeared to be a nasty prank.

Ruth Messinger, the head of the American Jewish World Service, made the case for applying Jewish values to seek social justice for non-Jews around the world during a visit to Atlanta on Feb. 9. The local AJWS committee ramped up during the year to increase its Atlanta visibility ahead of Messinger’s retirement, which she announced in October, effective in July 2016.

One of the world’s best-known Jewish leaders, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, spoke at Young Israel of Toco Hills on Feb. 11, warning about the mutation of anti-Semitism as a Muslim weapon.

Rabbi Sacks’ stop in Toco Hills was part of a visit tied to his appearance at the largest gathering of Jewish teens ever in the United States. Over Presidents’ Day weekend, BBYO and NFTY held their conventions together in downtown Atlanta, bringing together some 3,000 youths, while Young Judaea gathered in nearby Winder. USY, which held its convention in Atlanta in late December, and NCSY also sent representatives to a pre-convention confab called the Coalition of Jewish Teens, at which plans were made for new interorganization cooperation.

2015: A Year to Remember 3Anti-Jewish terrorism again shook the community when a lone gunman attacked a synagogue in Copenhagen during a bat mitzvah party early Feb. 15, killing a Jewish guard.

The youth program at Congregation Ariel raised more than $33,000 in 24 hours as part of a national online crowdfunding campaign called #MillionforOutreach.

“The Red Tent” author Anita Diamant, one of the founders of a nondenominational community mikvah in Boston, spoke at The Temple on Feb. 22 to help launch a similar mikvah at Congregation B’nai Torah called the Metro Atlanta Community Mikvah, or MACoM. The mikvah’s groundbreaking was May 17, and its ribbon cutting, under the leadership of Executive Director Abby Horowitz, was held Nov. 15.

The University of Georgia’s Students Supporting Israel chapter championed a resolution passed by the student government Feb. 24 that called for expanding study opportunities in Israel, the first pro-Israel resolution passed by a U.S. college student government in 2015.

Congregation Ner Tamid, establishing a Reform presence in West Cobb, held its first bat mitzvah at its new home in Marietta on Feb. 28 when Samantha Ficarro was called to the Torah.


Taking advantage of a planned appearance at the AIPAC Policy Conference at the start of March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angered the White House and some members of Congress, including Atlanta Democrat John Lewis, by speaking to a joint session of Congress on March 3 about the dangers of a nuclear deal with Iran.

Chabad of North Fulton marked the first yahrzeit of the death of its rebbetzin, Rashi Minkowicz, with the dedication of a Torah and groundbreaking of a campus expansion March 8.

2015: A Year to Remember 5Long-planned assisted-living facility Berman Commons opened next to the Marcus Jewish Community Center on March 8 and, after a bit of negotiating, soon landed full kosher certification.

The sixth annual Atlanta Jewish Music Festival highlighted a mix of international and local acts from March 12 to 23.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis conference in Philadelphia in mid-March honored Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Emeritus Stanley Davids for 50 years in the rabbinate.

Athens held its seventh annual Jewish film festival March 14 to 18.

Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta founder Mort Barr stepped down as the organization’s president March 16, handing the reins to Laura Kahn Travis.

Netanyahu, expected to face a tough re-election vote March 17, won 30 the Knesset’s 120 seats and went on to form a 61-seat coalition.

Young Israel of Toco Hills was named Congregation of the Year at Georgia Interfaith Power & Light’s Gippy Awards, held March 19 in Young Israel’s new EarthCraft-certified building.

After more than 340 Jewish Atlantans traveled to Washington for the AIPAC conference at the start of the month, about a dozen made the same trip north three weeks later for the J Street conference. Among them was Emory University junior Leah Michalove, who went on to be named a Rhodes Scholar in November. The conference brought news that J Street was cutting back efforts to grow chapters in areas such as Atlanta.

2015: A Year to Remember 6Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed joined Conexx: America Israel Business Connector and the Metro Atlanta Chamber for a cybersecurity mission to Israel from March 21 to 27.

Chabad of Cobb dedicated a Torah on March 22.

The Marcus JCC ended eight years of dual-board governance by merging its financial oversight board and its advisory programming board March 24.


The General Assembly passed legislation April 2 to allow DeKalb residents, including those in most of Toco Hills, to vote on whether to incorporate as the city of LaVista Hills. The referendum lost in November.

Over the objections of Israel, the United States and its negotiating partners announced a framework for a deal with Iran to halt its progress toward nuclear weapons in exchange for the end of economic sanctions. The final deal, announced in July, split the Jewish community. Depending on your perspective, the agreement either delays Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for at least 15 years or ensures Iran will get such weapons in no more than 15 years.

The University System of Georgia on April 15 approved the creation of the Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality after Mike Leven gave Kennesaw State $5 million.

2015: A Year to Remember 2The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust honored former Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos and Israeli Consul General Opher Aviran on April 17. It was one of a series of honors Aviran received in his final months in Atlanta before returning to Israel at the end of July, to be replaced by Judith Varnai Shorer. Galambos, stricken with cancer, missed the ceremony and died two days later at age 87, to be remembered as the Jewish mother of Sandy Springs.

The American Jewish Committee’s ACCESS young-adult group in Atlanta celebrated its 25th anniversary April 18.

Marcia Rothschild, the daughter of legendary Temple Rabbi Jacob Rothschild and Janice Rothschild Blumberg and a community activist herself, died in a car accident driving to Tennessee for a funeral April 19.

Hemshech marked the 50th anniversary of its Memorial to the Six Million at Greenwood Cemetery with a Yom HaShoah program featuring Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat on April 19.

2015: A Year to Remember 10The Atlanta Hawks, owned by a Jewish-led ownership group, announced April 22 that Tony Ressler, backed by Jesse Itzler and Sara Blakely, among others, was buying the team for $730 million plus $112 in assumed arena debt.

Jewish National Fund’s annual Yom HaAtzmaut breakfast, set for April 23, erupted in controversy weeks in advance over the choice of First Baptist Church Atlanta Senior Pastor Charles Stanley as the honoree. Stanley’s support of Israel was impeccable, including leading hundreds of congregants on a mission to Israel just after the Gaza war in 2014, but his history of anti-gay statements upset SOJOURN, rabbis and community members. Stanley pulled out of the breakfast, avoiding a threatened boycott of the event but leaving hurt feelings on both sides.

Israel was first on the ground with medical aid after a massive earthquake hit Nepal on April 25. Two members of Young Israel of Toco Hills, Sarah and Josh Weinstein, were living in Nepal and helped organize relief.

Oscar winner Hilary Swank was announced in late April as the actress playing Emory professor Deborah Lipstadt in a movie about her court battle against Holocaust denier David Irving. Swank later dropped out, to be replaced by another Oscar winner, British Jewish actress Rachel Weisz.


After a successful online campaign to raise the money to match a KaBOOM! grant, Toco Hills got its first public playground May 1 in Kittredge Park near Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael.

The American Jewish Committee’s Atlanta Chapter honored Eliot Arnovitz with its Selig Award on May 4.

2015: A Year to Remember 8Ahavath Achim Synagogue became a temporary goat farm May 4 to 8, using the tireless eaters to clear overgrowth and garbage.

JNF CEO Russell Robinson came to Atlanta and met over breakfast May 8 with agency supporters and those angered by the previous month’s planned Charles Stanley honor, but he failed to resolve the feud.

Emory junior Aaron Karas was named in May as one of two North American winners of the inaugural Goodman Prize for Israel Engagement on Campus.

Federation honored Perry Brickman for decades of devotion to the Jewish community, including exposing the anti-Semitic history of Emory’s dental school, during its FED Talks event May 12.

Gov. Nathan Deal named legislator Mike Jacobs to the State Court in DeKalb County on May 12, reducing to one, Michele Henson, the number of Jewish members of the state House.

Congregation Ner Tamid celebrated Rabbi Thomas Liebschutz’s 50 years in the rabbinate May 16.

Graduation season began with the Weber School’s ceremony at the Ferst Center on May 17. Other graduations included the Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School on May 20 and Middle School on May 27, the Epstein School on May 28, the Davis Academy on May 28, Torah Day School of Atlanta on June 8 and Temima High School on June 11. Pace Academy’s valedictorian was Jewish Atlantan Mark Grenader, son of Russian immigrants.

2015: A Year to Remember 7The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces gala May 19 at the Georgia Aquarium had an unwelcome disruption when Rise Up Georgia protesters chanted and sang their support for Palestine before being hustled out of the ballroom.

Emory’s Raymond Schinazi was the top honoree at Conexx’s Eagle Star Awards on May 28.

Congregation Shearith Israel honored outgoing Rabbi Hillel Norry on May 30. Shearith in June named Rabbi Melvin Sirner its interim rabbi, effective in August.

The Atlanta Scholars Kollel handed out a new award, named for Bernie Marcus, to new University of Georgia graduate Abbey Meller on May 31 so she can spend at least a year in Israel.


InterfaithFamily/Atlanta launched June 1 with the arrival of Rabbi Malka Packer.

The elections for the U.S. delegation to the World Zionist Congress, set for October, were won by the Reform movement’s ARZA with 38 percent of the votes, the American Zionist Movement announced June 4.

Jewish-owned American Pharoah became the first Thoroughbred to win the Triple Crown since 1978 when he romped to victory in the Belmont Stakes on June 5.

2015: A Year to Remember 15Federation Chairman Howard Feinsand announced plans June 9 to condense the 2015-16 annual campaign to four months.

Hemy Neuman, who admitted gunning down fellow Jewish community member Rusty Sneiderman in Dunwoody in November 2010, had his conviction thrown out by the state Supreme Court on June 15 because the trial judge erred in admitting certain evidence. A retrial is planned for August 2016.

Sandy Springs on June 16 approved AJA’s plans to expand its Northland Drive campus to consolidate its student body. AJA sold its Doraville campus but leased space for the coming school year. It later announced a $10 million capital campaign and released its plans in October.

Conexx ended its search for a new top executive in mid-June by naming COO Guy Tessler president.

The fatal shooting of nine people at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church on June 17 sparked outrage from Jewish organizations.

On the path to the centennial of Leo Frank’s lynching, the Atlanta History Center on June 17 hosted the unveiling of a historical marker honoring Gov. John Slaton, the man who destroyed his own political career by commuting Frank’s death sentence to life in prison 100 years earlier.

2015: A Year to Remember 9The U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal nationwide June 26, receiving cheers from SOJOURN and immediate plans by many non-Orthodox rabbis to perform such weddings. Cobb County Superior Court Judge J. Stephen Schuster performed that county’s first same-sex wedding.

BBYO Director David Hoffman was one of 100 young adults worldwide who attended a climate change conference at the Vatican in late June.


Former Weber Head of School Sim Pearl returned to communal service July 1 with the launch of Congregation Or VeShalom’s Brookhaven Bayit@OVS program for young adults.

July 1 marked the arrival of Rabbi Spike Anderson as the new senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El.

July also marked the arrival of Rabbi David Katz as the interim rabbi at Congregation Dor Tamid.

The Shearith Israel Night Shelter for Women became Rebecca’s Tent at the start of July.

Congregation Etz Chaim’s longtime associate rabbi, Paul Kerbel, left the area to take a similar position at a Long Island synagogue July 15.

2015: A Year to Remember 11DeKalb County State Court Judge Dax Lopez, a Jewish Republican, was nominated by President Barack Obama to the U.S. District Court in late July. The Senate has not acted on the nomination.


The Marcus JCC announced Aug. 5 that CEO Gail Luxenberg had resigned, effective Aug. 11. Board Chairman Douglas Kuniansky is serving as interim CEO during the search for a successor.

The initial budget the Israeli Cabinet approved Aug. 6 called for closing the country’s consulate in Atlanta, as well as several other diplomatic outposts. It remains unclear what the final budget enacted Nov. 19 means for the consulate’s future.

Multiple events marked the Aug. 17 centennial of the lynching of Leo Frank not far from the modern site of Marietta’s Big Chicken. The events included calls for the state to exonerate Frank, whose 1986 pardon did not declare his innocence in the slaying of Mary Phagan in April 1913.

The Chabad Jewish Center in Kennesaw dedicated a Torah on Aug. 23.

2015: A Year to Remember 12The Brickery in Sandy Springs announced Aug. 24 that instead of relocating in response to the reconstruction of the strip mall where it has operated since 1992, it would close. Owners Bruce and Sally Alterman later announced that Dec. 23 would be the last day.

Chabad of Georgia held the first Kosher Food & Wine Atlanta festival Aug. 27.

Jewish Atlantans with ties to New Orleans, including those who moved here after the storm, marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.

The Temple Sinai-based Wo/Men’s Infertility Support Havurah, or WISH, officially launched Aug. 30.

A new Chabad house serving Georgia Tech and Georgia State opened Aug. 30.

For the ninth consecutive year, Congregation B’nai Torah won the Atlanta Men’s Synagogue Softball League’s top division Aug. 30.

2015: A Year to Remember 13September

Vice President Joe Biden delivered a defense of the Iran nuclear deal and the Obama administration’s support of Israel during the annual Eizenstat Lecture at Ahavath Achim Synagogue on Sept. 3.

Several hundred Jewish Atlantans headed for the hills Labor Day weekend for LimmudFest.

Michael Horowitz announced Sept. 8 that his is resigning as Federation’s CEO, effective in February. Later, Federation Chief Development Officer Michael Balaban announced he was leaving, effective Dec. 24, to take over the Jewish Federation of Broward County.

Jewish Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made his first campaign appearance in Atlanta on Sept. 11.

The Davis Academy in mid-September launched a $7.5 million capital campaign to add an auditorium, a sanctuary and a dining hall to its campus.

Georgia Tech’s Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity reached the final stages of a $1.3 million fundraising drive to replace its aging house.

2015: A Year to Remember 14Anti-Israel activists gathered in Atlanta from Sept. 25 to 27 for the national conference of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

Congregation B’nai Israel bid farewell to longtime part-time Rabbi Lou Feldstein with a party at the Fayetteville synagogue Sept. 26.


The largely Orthodox neighborhood of Toco Hills welcomed a decidedly non-Orthodox Jewish community when Reconstructionist Congregation Bet Haverim celebrated Simchat Torah on Oct. 5 in its new home, the former building of Young Israel of Toco Hills, after completing renovations that took most of a year.

Relay for Life Ruach Atlanta, the only American Cancer Society Relay held on a Sunday, moved to North Springs Charter High School to provide more room Oct. 11.

Dozens of Jewish Atlanta organizations lined up with SOJOURN for the annual Pride Parade on Oct. 11.

Sandy Springs sealed a sister city relationship with Israel’s Western Galilee Cluster during a mid-October trip by Mayor Rusty Paul and others.

Souper Jenny Levison announced Oct. 14 that she is moving her flagship eatery just down the road in Buckhead to the Atlanta History Center in April. She also announced Dec. 21 that she is closing one of her other restaurants, Cafe Jonah.

A dispute over the addition of a 6-foot-tall menorah to the Light Up Dunwoody celebration almost led to the event being moved from the Spruill Farm House, but a mid-October compromise led to the Nov. 22 event staying put and a 35-foot Christmas tree and the menorah being placed next door.

2015: A Year to Remember 16Jewish Atlanta responded to a rash of terrorist attacks on Israelis by holding a prayer vigil at Congregation Beth Tefillah on Oct. 15 and protesting CNN coverage Oct. 18.

Congregation Beit Yitzchak, a Bukharian congregation in Norcross, celebrated the opening of its new synagogue building Oct. 18.

After a year’s absence, the Atlanta Kosher BBQ Competition returned Oct. 18, with Congregation B’nai Torah winning the overall title.

The Shabbat Project, which packed the Marcus JCC with 600 challah makers Oct. 22 and concluded with a big Havdalah concert Oct. 24 at AJA, was a huge success.

Atlanta rabbis across denominations retreated to Camp Ramah Darom from Oct. 25 to 27 to strengthen their bonds under the auspices of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association with a grant from the Marcus Foundation.

The Catholic and Jewish communities celebrated the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican’s declaration that Jews did not kill Jesus and that anti-Semitism is wrong, on Oct. 28.

2015: A Year to Remember 17November

Greater Atlanta Hadassah began a yearlong celebration of its centennial with the opening of an exhibit at the Breman Museum on Nov. 1.

Israel Bonds honored Gov. Nathan Deal on Nov. 3 at its Community Tribute Dinner, which featured Elliott Abrams as the guest speaker.

The Chaya Mushka Children’s House announced the hiring of Rabbi Michoel Druin to serve as head of school of the elementary and middle schools, effective March 1.

Nov. 4 brought the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The Book Festival of the Marcus JCC started a day late when opening-night author David Gregory canceled because his father was dying, but the festival, running through Nov. 22, still was a big success.

2015: A Year to Remember 18The Nov. 13 terrorist attacks on Paris stunned Atlanta, leading hundreds of people, including many from the Jewish community, to gather at the French Consulate two days later to support France and defy the terrorists.

The U.S. Naval Academy honored Rabbi Albert Slomovitz, a former Navy chaplain, at Congregation Etz Chaim on Nov. 14.

The Birthright Israel Foundation, led by new Atlantan David Fisher, moved its National Gathering from Las Vegas to Atlanta, culminating in a gala at the St. Regis on Nov. 16.

Kosher chocolate Maccabees sold by ModernTribe had a real surprise uncovered in mid-November inside the foil wrapping: a secret Santa, courtesy of the mold used by the manufacturer.

Ahavath Achim turned into a movie set for a day when the film “Bastards,” starring Owen Wilson and Ed Helms, needed a place for a simcha scene.

Temple Sinai installed Beth Schafer as its Bunzl Family cantorial chair Nov. 20.

2015: A Year to Remember 19Torah Day School dedicated a Torah on Nov. 22.

JF&CS entered the final phase of its capital campaign for its Dunwoody headquarters just before Thanksgiving, with plans to break ground in March but a need to raise $350,000 more than initially planned because of rising construction costs.


A new resource for couples struggling to have children, the Jewish Fertility Foundation, launched at the start of December.

Congregation B’nai Israel installed new Rabbi Rick Harkavy on Dec. 4.

The AJT reported Dec. 4 on something talked about around the community for months: the ouster of Chabad Intown from Chabad of Georgia.

Congregation Anshi S’fard launched a new Shabbat attraction Dec. 5: a trivia contest, “Good Shabbos, Atlanta,” integrated into Saturday morning services once a month.

The Georgia Aquarium got into the festival spirit by lighting up an underwater menorah each night, starting Dec. 6.

An interfaith rally Dec. 6 rejected Islamophobia and refused to let different faiths become enemies after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif.

The Chabad Israeli Center Atlanta bought a new home in Brookhaven on Dec. 7.

2015: A Year to Remember 1The FIDF celebrated Israel’s soldiers and its own support mission at a gathering featuring a Yom Kippur War hero Dec. 8.

Jewish Voice for Peace used Chanukah as an occasion to criticize Islamophobia, support refugees and boost a range of progressive causes Dec. 10 in Toco Hills.

Georgia political leaders joined Chabad for a Chanukah menorah lighting at the state Capitol on Dec. 10.

The Atlanta Hawks had only one home game during Chanukah — a Saturday-night matchup against San Antonio that was a sure sellout — but the team accommodated Chabad of Georgia and arranged Jewish Heritage Night, complete with a pre-game menorah lighting, Dec. 12.

Congregation Beth Shalom celebrated the restoration of a scorched Holocaust Torah on Dec. 13.

An interfaith gathering at the King Center on Dec. 14 rejected Donald Trump’s call to bar Muslims from entering the United States.

Kollel Ner Hamizrach landed the Daf Yomi Commission’s global celebration of the completion of Tractate Sotah with a siyum Dec. 15.

Kenneth Feinberg, the nation’s pre-eminent administrator of claims for events such as the 9/11 attacks, the BP oil spill and the Boston Marathon bombing, spoke to Federation donors at the Exchange on Dec. 15.

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival on Dec. 18 announced its lineup of 77 films for the 16th festival, which opens Jan. 26 with “Remember.”

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