When it comes to storytelling, you might compare Marcia Caller Jaffe’s flair for exposing the art, food, designer homes and prominent Jews of Atlanta to the entertainment style of iconic newswoman Barbara Walters. Or perhaps a Southern Jewish take on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
Over the past 11 years, Jaffe has built a reputation for her AJT Chai Style Homes/Art, showcasing the “tasteful” digs of Atlanta’s high society; her Lowdown with renowned community members; heart-wrenching pieces about depression and teen addiction; struggles for acceptance among transgender and black Jews; and her mouth-watering dining reviews.
“While I don’t consider myself to be among the greatest journalists, my writing encompasses a life of experiences,” said Jaffe, who was previously advertising manager for the Atlanta Journal Constitution for 37 years. “Writing is inspired by curiosity and uncovering fascinating stories among regular folks. Every time I go to an event, even seders, I come back with new topics and interviews,” said the prolific AJT freelancer. “More importantly, finding a Jewish connection is a passion.”
Jaffe has an insider’s familiarity with the movers and shakers in our midst and keeps a running list of interview subjects, always planning ahead for how to fit them into the AJT’s weekly themes.
She cites a wedding she spotlighted in which the eight bridesmaids each carried an adoptable puppy. Another story featured a Jewish couple who raised owls and falcons. There was also the 6-foot-2 Israel Defense Forces soldier in a blond wig, dress, fishnet stockings and heels she took with her to Shabbat services at Ahavath Achim Synagogue.
“Through writing for the AJT, I have exchanged shoes with Dr. Ruth, interviewed stars and authors from Nelson DeMille to Alan Alda. I drove Thomas Freidman around, and one might say ‘we clashed a bit,’” she said. “I get follow ups … ‘Come see me in LA.’ (I don’t.)
“My most fulfilling interviews were with Savannah native Bruce Feiler, ‘Walking the Bible’ series and PBS contributor, and Ken Feinberg, the ‘pay czar’ attorney, who negotiated the damages for 9/11, the BP oil spill, Sandy Hook,” and others. “I learned to remain nonplussed when out pops, ‘That’s when I was in treatment for crack addiction.’”
For someone who prides herself on high culture, Jaffe’s roots are in the small-town South. She was born in LaGrange, Ga., and grew up in Knoxville, Tenn. Her father, an immigrant from Poland, was believed to be the longest-serving president of the Conservative congregation in Knoxville. Jaffe attended services every Shabbat then and now as a longtime AA member.
“In Atlanta, I’m enthralled with the depth of Jewish programming, speakers, charitable events and kosher food,” she said of some of the topics she covers.
Her own life mirrors her fast-paced story turnaround. “My mother quoted the high holiday prayer book: ‘Time is like a moonbeam. The minute you catch it, you open your hand and it’s gone.’ I am constantly running the race with the rapid movement of years. I do several things at once … even trying to eat while working out, which didn’t turn out so well.”
If you ask Jaffe about her food critiques, she’s sure to answer, in her feisty Southern inflection, how she’s eating her way through Atlanta. That, from a petite former cheerleader who in 2010 co-founded the Dream Supremes, a senior women’s dance squad for the WNBA Atlanta Dream team. Now a grandmother, Jaffe was once a pinup “Gator Girl” at the University of Florida, where she received a journalism degree.
“While I play mahjong twice a week, an average day is an hour walk with rotating friends, or while listening to TED Talks, a workout and swim. That’s a half day. … Nights are filled with covering events or attending advance movie screenings.”
She considers as her second job 20 years as vice president of the Buckhead Business Association, “which affords exposure to prominent speakers in retailing or real estate, many of whom turn out to be Jewish.”
Another sideline for Jaffe is bringing people together. “My son says I have a place in heaven for successful matchmaking, dozens of marriages and relationships from 25 to 80. (Only three secures a spot!)”
When she’s not writing or visiting her two children and two grandchildren, Jaffe can be found reading. “A happy place for me is a public library, where I worked as a teen. … I read nonfiction, mostly biographies, and subscribe to Architectural Digest, the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Town & Country, and cookbooks to be able to write about art and chefs.
“I keep notes of expressions, headlines and words that ring well. You can’t write if you don’t read! Mark Twain said, ‘The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.’”