Creating Community in Atlanta
by Rabbi Micah Lapidus
Atlanta has many wonderful qualities, but any Atlantan will tell you that Friday afternoon rush hour is not one of them. Five-minute trips become 50-minute hauls the minute the clock hits 4:00pm on a typical Friday afternoon. However, the traffic isn’t what made last Friday a special day for the Atlanta Jewish community.
In spite of the traffic, more than 400 members of Atlanta’s Reform Jewish community, representing our nine area synagogues, met for our fourth annual URJ Shabbat. Hosted this year by Temple Emanu-El, the Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat and dinner has become a much-celebrated and anticipated event. Our sense of excitement was heightened this time by the presence of Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the senior vice president of the URJ, who joined us as our guest speaker, along with his wife, Dana, and two of his beautiful daughters.
Led by more than 25 rabbis and cantors, the Shabbat service was upbeat and participatory. During his sermon Rabbi Pesner confronted us with the fact that the largest movement in Judaism isn’t Reform, Orthodox, or Conservative, but the “movement out.” By sharing personal stories, he offered us a vision of what the Reform Jewish community can be — a community that celebrates relationships forged by individuals who are committed to living meaning lives. Members of the congregation were charged by Rabbi Pesner’s remarks, and many were moved to tears when he shared a recollection from his days as a congregational rabbi at Temple Israel in Boston.
There’s much to be proud of our in our Atlanta Jewish community, which has grown dramatically in the last 30 years and continues to be at the forefront of innovation. Our vibrant Reform Jewish community includes not only nine synagogues, but also The Alfred and Adele Davis Academy, a Reform Jewish Day School, and URJ Camp Coleman. Reform clergy meet on a monthly basis around the city to ensure regular communication and shared purpose, and in addition to the URJ Shabbat, we also host a URJ Mitzvah Day focused on study and social action. This year, we’ve welcomed new rabbinic and cantorial colleagues, and approach the High Holy Days with a sense of energy and interconnectedness.
Rabbi Pesner reminded us that we are stronger together and that our Jewish future depends on our ability to create meaningful communities built on the solid foundation of trusting, respectful relationships. If your community is interested in launching a URJ Shabbat, reach out to your friends and colleagues down here in Atlanta. We’ve got four years of experience to draw from and would be more than happy to share our successes and insights.
Rabbi Micah Lapidus lives in Atlanta and serves as the rabbi and Director of Jewish and Hebrew Studies at The Alfred and Adele Davis Academy, Atlanta’s Reform Jewish Day School. He is also the executive vice president of PARDeS, the consortium of Reform Jewish Day Schools. He blogs at Rabbi’s Pen: Judaism Then, Now, Soon.