Savvy Benjamin Takes Helm at AA
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Savvy Benjamin Takes Helm at AA

Ahavath Achim Synagogue announces goals and forms real estate committee to evaluate property possibilities, as it has done every decade.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

Gerald Benjamin takes the presidential helm of the 133-year-old synagogue.
Gerald Benjamin takes the presidential helm of the 133-year-old synagogue.

Ahavath Achim Synagogue has a new president and goals that include considering whether or not to sell off excess land.

Earlier this summer, June 28, the 133rd AA annual meeting was held for the first time virtually via Zoom. The congregational invitation letter expressed this time to gather as a family to take stock of current and future synagogue affairs with the subject line as an open conversation about the future of the facilities with ongoing endeavors to renovate and rejuvenate.

The meeting contained the emotional torch passing of immediate past president Mark Cohen to new president, business scion Gerald R. Benjamin, vice chairman of GreenSky, LLC and managing partner of Atlanta Equity Investors, LLC.

Benjamin laid out many traditional synagogue goals such as: introducing new musical elements into services; increasing the level of congregational participation in worship services, education and cultural programs; increasing the number of new AA congregants with a continued emphasis on families with grade school-aged children; supporting Ahava Early Learning Center’s growth so it can mature into a viable contributor to the annual operating budget; establishing a synagogue permanent endowment at $10 million-plus; ongoing succession planning to ensure future capable lay leadership; and delivering an annual balanced operating budget notwithstanding the near-term COVID-19-related challenges.

An especially intriguing goal was stated as “evaluating the opportunity to optimize AA’s ‘excess land holdings.’”

Ahavath Achim at the juncture of Peachtree Battle Avenue and Northside Drive is focused on neighborhood communication and cooperation.

Ahavath Achim is well positioned as a jewel in Buckhead’s 30327 tree-lined neighborhood. With Memorial Park a block west, 2019 saw the culmination of the renovation of the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center and Bobby Jones Golf Course facilities to its immediate southeast.

In a separate conversation with the AJT, Benjamin emphasized that the real estate evaluation was the continuation of a process originally suggested by a congregant who had a deep background in real estate. The site consists of 14 acres, including a number of adjacent lots and a lower level parking lot.

“We are strictly updating a valuation study that the synagogue has historically conducted about once every 10 years,” Benjamin said. “There have been unsolicited offers from developers, and we want to asses the current value with what are the opportunities.

“Further and emphatically anything we do, IF anything, will be in concert with the local neighborhoods and community associations along Peachtree Battle and Northside Drive. It may make sense to sell, or it may make more sense to hang on for the future. There is quite a lot of land and nearby lots, which would not effect a change in the building. Let me reemphasize that we have no imminent plans for any type of development, and value our role as a responsible and good civic neighbor.”

Benjamin explained that the lower level parking lot has been very effective in film production rental with trailers and equipment capitalizing on Buckhead as a base. Movie production, which was curtailed because of COVID is now starting to slowly come back. “The Suzuki School rents the building’s lower level and has been a great partner and will continue to be so. The Ahava school also on the property has enrollment ramping up nicely to about 65 students as a neighborhood draw.”

In addition to Benjamin, the ad hoc real estate committee is: Manny Fialkow, Michael Habif, Michael Plasker, Mickey Steinberg, and Howard Wertheimer.
Senior Ahavath Achim Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal added, “Regarding the real estate, I am supportive and interested to see where the process takes us. Gerry is the right leader at the right time. The entire spiritual world is changing and business as usual doesn’t exist anymore.  Gerry has the right balance of respect for tradition, curiosity for the future and imagination of what could be, to partner with us to craft our place in the new tomorrow.”
Benjamin concluded, “As we together work to address the many serious challenges being presented by the current COVID-19 pandemic, the one silver lining in a day and age when many are questioning the role of organized religion, in general, and Conservative Judaism, in particular, is the harsh reminder of the importance of family, in-person gathering, personal relationships, and one’s faith. It is gratifying to witness AA once again rising to the challenge, as it has for the past 133 years, in meeting the spiritual, pastoral, social, and human needs of our extended AA family.”

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