As the Atlanta Scholars Kollel prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary Sunday night, March 11, organizers have enjoyed reminiscing through hundreds of photos from students affected by the Jewish study that is the organization’s mission.
In one, a husband and wife and their seven children are dressed up as they walk to a special family gathering in Jerusalem. What’s remarkable about this photo, said Congregation Ariel Rabbi Binyomin Friedman, a founding ASK member, is that the father in the photo was once a teenager who walked into the kollel in Dunwoody to ask whether someone could tell him what to do with his grandfather’s tefillin.
“That picture brought tears” by showing how far that young man has come, Rabbi Friedman said.
When the program launched in 1987, no one in Atlanta knew what a kollel was or how it would affect Jewish learning, said Rabbi Dave Silverman, the kollel’s dean, who focuses on outreach programming, while co-leader Rabbi Daniel Pransky focuses on educational programming. But because so many people took a leap of faith to help begin what has become a vibrant element of Jewish Atlanta, ASK now can honor its 18 founding funders.
An Atlanta kollel was the vision of Rabbi Ilan Feldman, then the assistant rabbi at Congregation Beth Jacob. In the beginning, a group of students from Ner Yisrael Rabbinical College in Baltimore came to Atlanta to teach Torah during the summers. It was popular from the start, said Rabbi Friedman, who was part of the original group.
The program went year-round after four summers when the Baltimore yeshiva students moved to Atlanta permanently to study and teach Torah.
Roberta and Allan Scher are among the founding funders. Roberta said it’s true that they had never heard of the kollel concept until Rabbi Feldman and Rabbi Menachem Deutsch explained it and its value to all Jews in Atlanta.
“Flash-forward 30 years,” she said, “and we feel the kollel has been very valuable in raising the bar of Jewish/Torah education in Atlanta.”
Not only has her husband attended classes the past 10 years, but also one of her sons joined a kollel in the Washington area, then became a rabbi. “I particularly like idea that it’s for all Jews,” she said, adding that the rabbis make the classes fun. “It makes us very happy to see so many people supporting the kollel.”
The Atlanta Scholars Kollel has expanded in many ways.
In addition to the two permanent locations — a study hall attached to Beth Jacob in Toco Hills and the Kollel Dome at Congregation Ariel in Dunwoody — classes take place all over the city, Rabbi Silverman said. ASK now supports four scholars dedicated to full-time Torah study, overseen by Rabbi Pransky, who studies Torah and offers religious guidance to the community.
“Our organization is a bunch of rabbis who teach in high schools, on colleges campuses, corporate offices, people’s homes, any avenue where people are open to a nonstructured Jewish educational experience,” Rabbi Silverman said.
The kollel has done “a lot of planting of seeds” over three decades, Rabbi Silverman said. “Sometimes we get to reap the benefits, and sometimes we don’t ever know who we have touched and inspired.”
Rabbi Friedman said the kollel is hiring younger people and emphasizing outreach to families with young children, as well as young professionals. “We have classes that touch all ages, generations,” he said. “Every new generation needs something new from their Torah that needs to be presented in a different way.”
Women’s programming has been an ASK focus from the beginning with several of the rabbis’ wives, including Julie Silverman and Esther Pransky.
“The women’s program capitalizes on the feeling that women enjoy learning from other women and with other women,” Silverman said. “It’s a fun dynamic and a great opportunity to share with them and experience learning together. It’s very empowering. We as women have a lot of wisdom, and we share in a different way.”
Experiential trips have become a popular way of making an impact. ASK offers women’s and men’s trips to Israel, Poland and other places, ranging from entry level to great depth. Some are primarily for study, such as a recent trip to a Baltimore yeshiva, while others are geared toward discovery, Rabbi Friedman said.
While ASK responds to changing needs, Rabbi Friedman said that “the fundamental rule, which has not changed, is that the Torah G-d gave us, as such, is the heart and soul of the Jewish people. All we want to do is connect people to Torah. If that happens, everything will fall in line.”
For the anniversary celebration, Tribute to Learning 2018, the kollel contacted all the founding funder families, some of whom now live in Israel, Rabbi Silverman said. About 12 are expected to attend the event, which includes a dinner, a Torah dedication, and, on a lighter note, a song sung by the kollel rabbis to the tune of the ’80s hit “Eye of the Tiger” called “Jewish Revival.”
Elaine Alexander is donating the Sefer Torah in memory of her father, Bennie Auerbach. Alexander said her father, fondly known as “Bobo,” loved going to shul and loved people.
A retired real estate developer, Auerbach attended an ASK class taught by Rabbi Menashe Goldberger. The two became friends, often going out to lunch, until Auerbach died at age 94 in September 2015.
Alexander said her father would be thrilled to have a Torah dedicated in his memory to the kollel. When the idea was presented, Alexander said, “we thought about it and thought it was a great thing to do.”
Many of the photos that have been received will be shown at the gala. Rabbi Silverman said the images show people at all ranges of engagement: Jews who have become more active in their synagogues, families who have become more spiritually oriented and ritually observant, and even Jews who have moved to Israel as a result of their involvement in the kollel.
“It’s a source of great pride and joy seeing the impact we’ve had touching families,” he said.
What: ASK Tribute to Learning
Where: Westin Atlanta Perimeter North, 7 Concourse Parkway, Sandy Springs
When: 5:30 p.m. Sunday, March 11
Tickets: $108 for two; www.atlantakollel.org/event_detail.php?event=215 or 404-321-4085