What Happens When 400 Southern Jews Come Together?
by Jane Aronoff and Alan Kitey
The power of a community can be transformational. When we belong to a synagogue, we come together for any number of reasons: for Shabbat, religious school, a community service project, a board meeting, a class, or a card game. We take comfort in seeing people we know and meeting new friends. When we participate in synagogue activities, we learn new ways of thinking and of doing things together.
Most of us think of our synagogues as our community or even as our extended family. But in reality we – and each of our temples – are part of a larger community, as well. In Atlanta (as well as in several other places in the Union for Reform Judaism’s South District) our congregations come together every now and then to worship, learn, and celebrate as a larger community. The nine URJ congregations in the greater Atlanta area have come together to form the Atlanta Association for Reform Temples, and once a year, all nine congregations come to worship and celebrate together on Shabbat.
On August 3rd, more than 400 Reform Jewish Atlantans will come together to pray, sing, and share in what has become an annual tradition in the South known as the Atlanta URJ Shabbat. This one-of-a-kind experience is spirited and engaging, spiritual and joyous. For the past four summers, this service has rotated among participating area synagogues, with different rabbis and cantors leading worship but everyone participating and sharing their congregational customs and traditions. In addition to celebrating Shabbat together, this service offers the opportunity for Atlantans to gather with old friends, meet new ones, and gain fresh perspectives from clergy we don’t normally get to hear.
Our group here in Atlanta models some of what can be done when our professionals and lay leaders work together in partnership. By belonging to a geographic affinity group, our member congregations have the ability to bolster and maximize their membership with the larger Reform Movement. Assisted by the URJ’s skilled lay leaders and professional staff, these affinity groups are often able to do things that individual congregations cannot do on their own, like bringing in speakers on leadership development, membership, outreach, social media, and many other topics that allow our congregational leaders to learn together and experience new ways of doing things. Our group convenes area temple presidents and clergy to discuss issues of concern to the community. They work together on joint advertisements to encourage unaffiliated individuals and families to try out one of our wonderful synagogues. And most importantly, they provide a sense of stability in times of crisis when our communities need help the most.
As we look forward to this year’s Atlanta URJ Shabbat, we also look forward to once again convening our community of Reform Jews from across the greater Atlanta area and coming together as one voice.
Jane Aronoff is the South District Chair for the URJ. She is a founder and past president of Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, GA. Alan Kitey is the South Congregational Network Director for the URJ and is a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dunwoody, GA.