We like to think of Atlanta as one of America’s most underappreciated communities, despite being among North America’s 10 biggest and supplying innovators and fresh ideas nationwide.
Jewish Atlanta has slowly gained attention, as seen this year with half a dozen major Jewish organizations holding their conventions here and with the Jewish Agency bringing a delegation of Knesset members to Atlanta for the first time Sept. 7 and 8. As our colleague Marvin Botnick, the publisher of the Jewish Georgian, pointed out during a breakfast with the visiting Israeli politicians at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, we should remember that Atlanta has about 1 percent of the world’s Jewish population.
The other 99 percent couldn’t help but notice when this community responded to the double disasters of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
The Orthodox community of Toco Hills, led by Rabbi Ilan Feldman at Congregation Beth Jacob and Rabbi Adam Starr at Young Israel, deservedly gained local, national and worldwide press with its response to the two hurricanes.
First, Rabbis Feldman and Starr led members of their congregations in rushing to Houston over Labor Day weekend to help with the demolition and cleanup of the devastated Jewish community there. No sooner did they return to Atlanta than they began to get calls from fellow Jews in Florida, looking for a place to spend Shabbat while Irma took aim at their state.
By the time Shabbat arrived Sept. 8, just three days after the rabbis and their congregants wrapped up their priceless service in Houston, Beth Jacob and Young Israel had found a way to shelter and feed upward of 1,000 people.
Toco Hills set the tone but was far from alone in rising to the occasion.
Congregation Beth Tefillah and other Chabad centers found homes for hundreds of additional evacuees, often on air mattress placed anywhere floor space could be found in classrooms and offices.
Conservative congregations created a united list of members who were ready to open their homes to evacuees, and other synagogues and organizations across the religious and activist spectrum helped in ways big and small, from a shipment of kosher food sent from The Temple to Toco Hills to forward-thinking offers by Temple Kol Emeth, Shema Yisrael and others to invite evacuees for the upcoming High Holidays. And while Atlanta answered the immediate needs created by Irma, the Packaged Good and others ensured that Harvey’s victims continued to receive supplies and support.
All these efforts took place as Atlanta itself became a target for Irma. The evacuees who took shelter in Toco Hills, for example, found themselves stranded without power when tropical storm winds began toppling trees.
None of it mattered. When Beth Jacob lost power, Quality Kosher supplied a refrigerated truck to store the kosher food that otherwise might have spoiled in the synagogue refrigerators.
Jewish Atlanta’s response to the needs of our guests and, in the end, ourselves set an example of Jewish values in action to make any community proud. The only downside is we’ll have a tough time topping ourselves in 5778.