By Dara Gever
The March 4 editorial “Generation Now” highlighted the contributions and potential of Jewish leaders under the age of 40 in Atlanta. ACCESS Atlanta, the young adult division of American Jewish Committee, strongly supports the article’s statement that because of the positioning of young adult visionaries in professional and lay leadership, “Jewish Atlanta is in good hands to carry us into the middle of the 21st century.”
The ACCESS model focuses on cultivating young adult leadership through programs, meetings, and opportunities to serve on committees, co-chair events and oversee portfolios related to AJC’s priorities. Atlanta young professionals who attend programs and want to contribute more meaningfully to the ACCESS mission enter the leadership pipeline by serving on our steering committee, where they can play key roles in program planning. Those who demonstrate exceptional leadership potential move on to our executive committee, a small group of vice chairs who manage portfolios that align with AJC’s mission. Our young leaders’ portfolio areas include governance of our strategic plan, Jewish identity and culture, membership, leadership, international affairs, interfaith and interethnic relationships, Israel, international travel opportunities, and film festival partnership.
Some call AJC the State Department of the Jewish people, meaning we position ourselves as the first responders to interfaith and interethnic partners who seek updates about how current events are affecting the Jewish people. We also seek opportunities to advocate for areas of common interest to our Jewish and non-Jewish constituents.
ACCESS intergroup vice chairs tackle the lofty task of identifying Muslim, Latino, black, Asian, Christian and Indian leaders and organizations, building relationships by combining our networks and planning programs and events together that serve both of our communities.
What are the outcomes from all of the time our steering and executive committees put into meetings and program planning?
Our governance portfolio empowers our young leaders to set and meet development goals so that we can learn fundraising skills that will sustain our organization for generations. Through Shabbat in the City, our lay leaders take the initiative to host intimate Shabbat dinners to deepen connections with Jewish tradition. Our Dinner With a Diplomat series, which connects ACCESS with representatives of foreign countries in an intimate setting, has been adopted and implemented on a national level.
Our vice chair of leadership created a program planning seminar to train fellow steering members through ACCESS U, which enables us to perpetuate good leadership practices in our organization.
Atlanta and its Jewish community continue to be molded by former and current ACCESS leaders. Several ACCESS co-chairs have served as AJC Atlanta chapter presidents, including ACCESS founders Elise Eplan, Kent Alexander and Beth Paradies.
Other former co-chairs and steering committee members are contributing to facets of Atlanta’s Jewish and civic community: Beth Brown, who has served on the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s Israel outcomes committee and advisory board and allocations committee; Avery Kastin, who co-chairs Federation’s Under 40 Division and is a former member of The Temple’s board of trustees; Ross Kogon, who is on the board of Ahavath Achim Synagogue, has been heavily involved with AIPAC’s Young Leadership and National Council, and has served as vice chair of Jewish Federations of North America’s National Young Leadership Cabinet; EJ Stern, who chaired L.E.A.D. Atlanta; and Michael Morris, the Atlanta Jewish Times’ owner and publisher.
David Rubinger was named market president and publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle in November. BJ Bernstein has championed high-profile cases in criminal law, such as the Genarlow Wilson case. Russell Gottschalk splits his time among ACCESS steering in Atlanta and globally, the Birthright Israel Foundation’s Atlanta Chapter, and his pioneering role as executive director and founder of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival.
Sherry Frank, who facilitated the birth of ACCESS 26 years ago as AJC Atlanta executive director, said, “It is safe to say that ACCESS members have moved on to every major community board in the city — synagogue, agency and day schools.”
We believe strongly that our leadership opportunities empower Jewish young adults to be tomorrow’s leaders today. For this reason, ACCESS Atlanta is proud to provide leadership and professional development to young adults who are, according to the “Generation Now” article in the AJT, “stepping up to guide the community into the future.”
Dara Gever is AJC Atlanta’s Goldman bridge fellow.