After a groundbreaking first year, the second annual Atlanta Jewish Life Festival shattered all expectations. It united more than 4,000 Jews from throughout Atlanta in the Georgia Aquarium’s Oceans Ballroom on Jan. 26 for a day of fun, festivity and forging bonds with friends old and new.
“It was great to see so many people from different parts of Atlanta come together for a positive community celebration,” AJT owner and publisher Michael Morris said. “The camaraderie, entertainment and community partners and vendors made it incredibly meaningful. The connections made there strengthened our community.”
New aquarium chairman Steve Koonin shared his thoughts on the event. “It was very rewarding to see so many people come together to celebrate the Jewish community in Atlanta,” he said. “Whether you have been in the city 60 years or 60 minutes, the festival was fun, informative and a great value for our community.”
Filling row upon row in the Oceans Ballroom were over 100 community partner and sponsor tables. Organizations including synagogues, schools, camps, nonprofits, businesses and more shared their important missions with those in attendance.
“I was glad to see so many community partners this year,” Morris said. “One of the main reasons for this festival is to showcase some of the incredible work our wonderful community partners do and introduce them to members of our community.”
As soon as doors opened at 10 a.m. community members flooded into the ballroom, going from table to table to see everything Jewish Atlanta has to offer.
And it wasn’t just guests making new connections, community partners also laid the groundwork for future partnerships, according to Erin Lis, A Kosher Touch Catering’s director of sales and marketing.
“We went into the main ballroom and chatted with a lot of vendors,” she said. “In particular we connected with Second Helpings, who we used to work with, … and they told us about [Jewish Family & Career Services’] kosher food pantry, and we discussed the possibility of a partnership.”
In addition, art vendors in The Shuk sold their wares, including handmade Judaica, rugs, fine art and more.
“We were thrilled to have some artists back and see some new faces this year as well,” Morris said.
What would a Jewish event be without food? The AJLF showcased how diverse kosher cooking in Atlanta is, with 11 food vendors on hand.
“There was really an outstanding diversity of food and it was all kosher, so no one was left out,” Morris said. The entire atrium smelled like a true Jewish festival and I know several non-festival aquarium visitors were so enticed by the smell they came up for a taste.”
Jodie Sturgeon of For All Occasions and More was one of the vendors on site, who was serving two kinds of beef with rice.
“It was truly a great event. We were there last year but this year was even bigger,” she said. “There were people coming back for thirds and fourths just for themselves. We prepared twice as much food as we did in year one, and just like last year, we sold everything and had no leftovers.”
Just like Sturgeon, A Kosher Touch doubled its food again this year, serving South African curry chicken with green cabbage slaw and naan, according to Lis.
“It was fabulous, and we got great feedback,” she said. “We sold out of food once again this year, so we were thrilled. I was also really impressed by the other caterers there, and it was really great to see them and talk about what they were doing.”
For an adult pairing with their kosher treats, Tip Top Proper Cocktails’ canned cocktails and Israeli wine from The River Wine were big hits.
On a stage sponsored by the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, the AJLF featured a number of performers, opening the day with some of Atlanta’s students, first from The Epstein School and Atlanta Jewish Academy, and then the Atlanta Jewish Boys Choir performed with Rabbi Jake.
“My choir and I had an amazing time. We started off with a song [“Hinei Ma Tov”] about how beautiful it is when the Jewish people come together, and that’s how I felt about the day,” said Jake Czuper, aka Rabbi Jake. “It didn’t matter your denomination or background; it was a day for everyone to come together.”
Following those performances came three bands who rocked the ballroom. Friction, formed by students at The Davis Academy who are now around 15, returned after shocking attendees in their first year. Once again, they performed some classic melodies.
Zale was next up, led by singer Hannah Zale. They performed a combination of originals and covers, including Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” While performing, Zale was unconfined to the stage, making her way into the crowd, and inviting them to be a part of the show.
“I always try to get the audience involved in some way and I wanted them to know how much I care about them,” Zale said. “It also gave my Jewish friends who are probably more familiar with my Jewish music a chance to see this other part of who I am,” she said.
Webster followed and brought their classic, hippie sound to the stage, performing hits from the Grateful Dead and The Beatles, among others. The afternoon entertainment concluded with the Atlanta Jewish Theatre Company performing excerpts from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Founder and director Aurélie Weinstein explained that the troupe was formed out of a desire for a theater group tailored to Jewish performers and audiences.
“We are very excited to see this dream turn into a reality this past Sunday at the Georgia Aquarium,” she said. “The Atlanta Jewish Theatre Company is grateful for the staff and volunteers who made the Atlanta Jewish Life Festival into another great success and we hope to be a part of this event and future Jewish events in the months and years ahead.”
Morris was thrilled with this year’s musical variety.
“The entertainment was spectacular, from the student choirs in the morning to rock ‘n’ roll midday, and our fantastic finale, excerpts from ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ which reminded us all of our rich Jewish tradition,” he said.
Also in attendance were a number of wandering performers and entertainers, including Ruby the Clown and Magic & Mirth with Paul Sponaugle.
“The Atlanta Jewish Life Festival was amazing,” Sponaugle said. “It was so much fun to entertain the attendees with our special brand of magical entertainment and comedy. The ensuing laughter and applause were a great way of knowing that everyone was having fun and enjoying themselves.”
The Kids Zone was also a hot ticket, with face painting from Kool Kids Face Painting and art from Caricatures by Lindsay. Henna art by EnRapturing Entertainment also excited festivalgoers of all ages.
Reflecting on the AJLF as a whole, Morris expressed his gratitude to the community and looked toward the future.
“This year’s success ensures that there will be a festival next year and for years to come,” he said.
- Eddie Samuels
- Local News
- Atlanta Jewish Life Festival
- Michael Morris
- steve koonin
- Georgia Aquarium
- Atlanta Jewish Times
- A Kosher Touch
- Erin Lis
- The Shuk
- The Nosh Pit
- Community Partners
- Jodie Sturgeon
- Rabbi Jake
- Atlanta Jewish Boys Choir
- atlanta jewish academy
- The Epstein School
- Fiddler on the Roof
- Atlanta Jewish Theatre Company
- Tip Top
- Tip Top Proper Cocktails
- River Wine
- Paul Sponaugle