It was an unusual end-of-school party May 20. Parents drove up to the Intown Jewish Preschool near the BeltLine and stayed in the car with their children. Each class had a different drive-in station.
In a sign of the times to help curb COVID-19, teachers wore face masks, said farewell and gave parents bags containing portfolios of children’s work from the school year. Then the parents inched their cars around the corner to the Park Tavern parking lot overlooking Piedmont Park for a tailgate party.
Everyone stayed in their vehicles and enjoyed individually packed sandwiches and entertainment by a balloon maker and a clown on stilts blowing bubbles.
After their busy morning, Melissa Kaplan, mother of two preschool children, gave a shout-out to Chabad Intown for being at the forefront of addressing many of the challenges people are facing during COVID-19.
“When the preschool made the hard decision to close because of the pandemic, they pivoted in 48 hours into this amazing online community,” Kaplan says. “Each preschool class met daily on Zoom. They made curated lessons for each class. They brought in all their specialties. We had art once a week, music once a week. They were so creative with how they engaged each student.”
Early on, teachers made activity bags filled with art, science and counting projects for children to work on at home.
“They had so many creative ways to engage the family,” enthuses Kaplan, a 35-year-old development professional and mom to 2-year-old Eli and 4-year-old Sam.
Keeping Atlanta engaged in Judaism during COVID-19
Kaplan appreciates Chabad Intown for keeping her children and family engaged in Judaism.
Like the Intown Jewish Preschool children, Intown Hebrew School students have kept up their learning through the Zoom platform.
Says Jessica Morris, a 41-year-old working mother of two: “We’ve been really impressed as a family with their virtual community and programming. Both of my daughters have continued to participate in Hebrew School on Sunday mornings. It means a lot to the kids to have that continuity.”
Her elementary school children enjoyed a special end-of-the-year celebration with gifts from Intown Hebrew School. One teenage teacher even borrowed her parents’ minivan to deliver the gifts personally.
Serving Torah to adults who hunger for learning
Chabad Intown serves adults as well during these challenging times. The rabbis and rebbetzins have provided Intown Jewish Academy Torah and Talmud classes, holiday bootcamps and even a mobile billboard and 20-car parade that passed by hospitals to acknowledge health care workers on Lag B’Omer, the day a pandemic ended in the time of the great second-century sage Rabbi Akiva.
The Intown Jewish Academy struck a chord with adults who hunger for learning and connection during these COVID-19 days. Under the leadership of Rabbi Ari Sollish, various teachers have offered more than 80 classes serving more than 1,000 adults during the pandemic.
Jeff’s Place at Chabad Intown hosts 12-step meetings. Meetings have moved online so members can participate from the comfort of their homes. For additional support for those struggling, Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman began a class providing a look at the 12 steps through the lens of Jewish thought.
One participant told Rabbi Schusterman, “My friend has three years in recovery. She said the way you explained addiction last night was the first time it really made sense. She also mentioned she’s really been struggling lately, and she left the session filled with a new sense of connection and hope.”
Other Jeff’s Place activities during these days and in recognition of May as Mental Health Awareness Month were a lunch-and-learn with Dr. Terry Segal, marriage and family therapist; a meditation with Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, Jewish mysticism and meditation author; and a discussion about shame with Rabbi Shais Taub, an author known for his addiction recovery work.
A beacon of hope and positivity
As Rabbi Schusterman explains, “We are focused on being a voice of hope and positivity and yes, even joy, doing what we can to lift the spirits of all who are directly and indirectly connected to Chabad Intown.” He and his wife, Dena, are the founders of Chabad Intown on the BeltLine.
Stephanie Lewis, who says she is mostly a shut-in, feels the love. The online community Chabad Intown has created is a boon for this wife and mother. At 58 and suffering from Crohn’s disease, she views the menu of Zoom classes as a gift.
“My life has been immeasurably improved through Intown Jewish Academy online instruction,” Lewis said. She delights in daily Torah classes; Talmud study; live broadcasts to prepare for Shavuot – which is May 28-30 – virtual Kabbalah & Coffee explorations of Jewish mystical teaching on Sunday mornings; and a Jewish Fireside Chat series with renowned scholars on Sunday evenings.
Chabad Intown’s online efforts have allowed Lewis, for the first time in many years, to share study and worship with fellow Jews. The icing on the cake is knowing that one of her favorite teachers, Rabbi Sollish, is a few miles away at his home in Virginia-Highland, saying hello to people on Zoom by name, and talking about Torah – not COVID-19.
Help Chabad Intown lighten spirits
In addition to online classes and events, Chabad Intown is reaching out personally to individuals in the community with phone and FaceTime calls to check on them and lift their spirits.
“People are hurting with loss of jobs and uncertainty. Our value to the community has never been felt more,” Schusterman said. “Our work makes all the difference for so many during this challenging time.”
To ensure stability and continuity for this vital and essential organization, please consider a gift at www.chabadintown.org/donate.