Synagogue Name: Congregation Shearith Israel Date: July 16, 2014 Address

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Congregational Questionnaire

Synagogue Name: Congregation Shearith Israel Date:  July 16, 2014
Address:1180 University Drive
City:Atlanta State/Province: GA Postal Code:  30306
Country: United States of America
Telephone: 404-873-1743 Fax: 404-873-6235

Primary Contact’s Email:

Facebook Page:
Twitter Handle: N/A.

What websites can the candidate check for more information regarding the larger Jewish community?

What websites can the candidate check for more information for the general geographic area?

Part I: Primary Mission

  1. Who are you as a congregation? Please describe your institutional story in one paragraph:

We are one of Atlanta’s three original synagogues and have served as a welcoming home for worship, education, life cycle events and social action for 110 years. We were founded as an orthodox shul in 1904 by a minyan of Eastern European immigrants, who chose the name Remnant of Israel in acknowledgement of their status as pioneers in the American South. We were led early on by one of the area’s premier rabbis, Rabbi Tobias Geffen (of blessed memory), who issued the “Kosher for Passover” Certification for Coca Cola. We evolved to become a Traditional synagogue and finally a Conservative Egalitarian synagogue in 2002. We built and moved into our current building in the Morningside/Virginia-Highlands neighborhood in 1957-58, and have flourished as a demographically diverse and multigenerational, in-town congregation ever since.

  1. What is your mission? (please share your mission statement, if you have one)

Published Mission Statement: The purpose of the Congregation shall be to offer a place in metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia for the advancement of the Jewish faith, a proper place for conducting all services in the traditional Jewish manner, as determined by the Congregation’s Rabbi, to foster the teaching of Judaism for young and old, and to develop the mental, moral, and spiritual growth of the members of the Jewish Community.

  1. What is it about your congregation that would signal to a visitor that yours is a Conservative/Masorti congregation?

When you enter our sanctuary, you will see that there is mixed seating with siddur Sim Shalom and chumash Etz Hayim at all of the seats. You will also see that every man and some of the women wear kipot and tallitot. Services might be led by a woman or a woman might be at the arc for an aliya. If you enter the building from the parking lot on Shabbat, you are likely to see congregants arriving by car. The flyer rack would have notices for Camp Ramah, USY, Kadima, Fuchsberg Center, and FJMC programs.

  1. Why are you currently searching for new rabbinic leadership?


Rabbi Hillel Norry, who joined Shearith Israel in 2002, decided that he was ready to make a change. He informed the congregation that he will not seek a renewal of his contract, which ends July 31, 2015.


  1. What are your congregation's core values and principles which guide the actions of the congregation and which are not dependent on the rabbi?  List three:

We seek to maintain a spiritually and intellectually stimulating environment, in which families and individuals are inspired to forge strong connections to their Jewish heritage, G-d, Israel, and the Jewish community. Our path is guided by our core principles:

    • To strengthen our faith in our people’s covenant with God through Conservative Jewish tradition including both observance and tikkum olam

    • To nurture synagogue community and embrace our members’ needs as well as the needs of the bigger community in which we live

    • To pursue meaningful and engaging Jewish education for adults and children

  1. In addition to leading religious services; what are the three next most important tasks/priorities/roles of the rabbi?

Our community is in need of a rabbi who:

    • Is a leader that can set, communicate and execute a vision, while inspiring religious growth.

    • Has heartfelt people skills and who makes pastoral caregiving a top priority.

    • Is a community builder who can help strengthen the bonds and involvement of our current members, as well as to enable us to become more visible in the external Jewish community.

  1. What are your congregation’s strengths? List three:

Congregation Shearith Israel’s (CSI) three greatest strengths are:

      1. Our people. We have a core group of active, dynamic members whose dedicated participation provides for such benefits as:

a. Moving services filled with lay-led davening, lay Torah reading and a wonderful high holiday lay choir

b. Full Chevra Kaddisha for men and women

c. Powerful story-telling through our outstanding high holiday Yiskor book, which comes out each year at Yom Kippur

      1. Our warm, inviting environment with an unpretentious, down-to-earth family feeling

      2. Our multi-generational congregation with members of all ages


  1. What are your congregation’s challenges? List three:

Our biggest challenges include:

      1. Our current governance structure creates dynamics between the board’s role and the rabbi’s role that need greater clarity and improvement. Recent changes to the by-laws and board size is a good start, and we are committed to seeking additional progress through such avenues as leadership training and external coaching.

      2. While we have a wonderful core of committed, involved members, we have many other members who stay on the periphery for a variety of reasons. We want to improve our efforts to draw them in and expand participation levels.

      3. We need to further ramp up creative, dynamic fund-raising efforts to create more income for the synagogue in order to better fulfill our mission.

  1. What is unique about your congregation?

The following attributes and qualities make us unique:

    • Our innovative religious school program

    • Our annual full Torah reading and davening led primarily by members

    • Our terrific in-town location, situated near major universities

    • The Women’s Homeless Shelter located in the basement of our synagogue and founded by our congregation 30 years ago


  1. What are the three most important issues to confront your synagogue in the next five years?

In the next five years, Shearith Israel must confront and overcome these three issues:

      1. We need to build a more widespread sense of community and involvement within our membership

      2. We need to increase our financial resources to support all of the learning, services and programming our membership would like to experience

      3. We want to attract new members (particularly young families) to sustain a vibrant, diverse and active congregation

What role do you want the rabbi to play in meeting these challenges?
Our next rabbi will be pivotal in leading us through these challenges by:

• Building deep relationships and inspiring member involvement throughout the Shearith Israel community

• Helping us to grow Jewishly and to stay relevant in today’s Jewish world

• Actively supporting fund-raising activities

• Inspiring and relating to our children of all ages (both in individual and group settings)

• Serving as a positive ambassador and “salesperson” for Shearith Israel in the greater Atlanta community


K. What do you want your next rabbi to change?
We look forward to the future with hope and optimism. We would like:

    • A rabbi to inspire us to make Judaism and the synagogue a more relevant part of our lives. Our congregants would like to feel more personally connected to Shearith Israel and our rabbi. We crave the warmth and commitment that comes from a deep relationship with our rabbi, and our synagogue.

    • A rabbi who will help us to expand our belief in what’s possible for our congregation (in terms of membership, fundraising, family involvement, programming, community presence, etc.).

    • A rabbi who will energize our religious services, while maintaining rituals that are so important to the regular attendees, such as our twice-daily minyan, which is a highly-valued institution to many congregants. The difficulty of getting 10 members and nonmembers to attend, especially in the evening, is a problem that needs some new solutions.

L. What do you want your next rabbi to preserve?
We take great pride in and want to preserve the following:

    • Our lay Torah readers, daveners and high holiday choir and our twice-daily minyan (including efforts to grow them in strength and numbers)

    • The upward trajectory of our experiential and engaging religious school program

    • Our open-minded philosophy that embraces diversity of thought, membership and observance while trying to balance our traditional roots with today’s dynamic/evolving Judaism.

    • Our family-friendly atmosphere and our commitment to multi-generation membership

• Our egalitarianism
M. The most important thing a rabbi needs to know about your congregation is:
Our congregants are a highly educated and capable community who are hungry for wise rabbinic leadership to push us forward and lead us higher. Our core numbers are not large, but our potential is enormous. From this position of strength we can grow, strengthen our faith, nurture the religious development of our members, and stay relevant in today’s Jewish world.
N. What is it about your synagogue that makes your synagogue particularly attractive to a rabbi? Why should a rabbi come to you?
Congregation Shearith Israel is at one of the most exciting and pivotal moments in its 110 year history. We offer our next rabbi the opportunity to have tremendous impact by providing the vision and leadership needed to help us write the next chapter of our story.
Shearith Israel also offers:

    • The strong, growing Atlanta Jewish community with outstanding city-wide programs such as:

o The second largest Jewish film festival in the U.S.

o The 23 year old, hugely successful Atlanta Jewish book festival

o A young, growing Jewish music festival

o A dynamic Limmud-Atlanta, which was spearheaded by Shearith Israel members and is now a vital initiative with participation from across the Southeast

• A number of opportunities for rabbinical professional development and collegial development through the very active Atlanta Rabbinical Association

• A parsonage in a beautiful residential community located in an eruv with:

o great public schools and day school choices

o a variety of kosher food options just minutes away by car

o a setting in the heart of in-town Atlanta, within walking distance of shops and restaurants

• A synagogue building location near major academic institutions, the CDC and many unaffiliated Jews

• An active Shearith Israel Sisterhood and Men’s Club, which are part of the strong foundation of the congregation

• An attractive synagogue building without a mortgage

Part II: Demographics

  1. Number of member units today:                     

  1. Total households/memberships: 341

  2. Number of households

    1. Under 32 years old: 1

    2. Between 33-64: 152

    3. Between 65-103: 169

    4. Associate Members: 17

  3. Number of households consisting of:

    1. Singles/Single Parents: 133

    2. Married/Partnered: 189

    3. Single Parents: N/A

    4. Empty Nesters: N/A

    5. Associate Members: 17

     Comments about demographics:
Our religious school families, some of whom are not members, are younger than the congregation as a whole.

  Number of member units five years ago: 


  1. Total households/memberships: 450

  2. Number of households

    1. Under 45 years. old:

    2. Between 45-64:

    3. Between 65-84:

  3. Over 85:

  4. Number of households consisting of:

    1. Singles:

    2. Married/Partnered:

    3. Single Parents:

    4. Empty Nesters:

      Comments: Please note that this breakdown from 5 years ago is not available.

  1. Are you affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism/Masorti Olami?



D. Synagogue Facility

Describe your physical space: 
Congregation Shearith Israel is in the lovely, residential Morningside/Virginia Highlands neighborhood in the heart of in-town Atlanta. Our one-acre campus includes a main building with a handsome outdoor courtyard, a religious school building, a playground and a parking lot.
The main building’s focal point is a beautiful 415-seat sanctuary, which can be expanded into the adjacent social hall to seat 800 adults during the High Holidays. This building, constructed in 1957 and renovated in 1982 and 2004, also has a charming 40-seat chapel that was renovated in 2008, 2 social halls, a rabbi’s office, administrative offices, a library, a Sisterhood-operated gift shop, a conference room, a large kitchen, a youth lounge/babysitting room and a playground. In addition, there has been a women’s homeless shelter in our basement for the last 30 years. (CSI was the first synagogue in the nation to house a homeless shelter.)
A separate two-story religious school building sits opposite the main building next to the playground. Nearly 100 years old, the school building was renovated in 1982 and includes 12 classrooms, a library, a small conference room, an office and a kitchenette.
Next door to the synagogue building is the Shearith Israel parsonage, which is a 3 bedroom/2 ½ bath home with a sunroom and finished basement that sits on a landscaped, wooded lot.
Describe the room where you usually meet for Shabbat services:
Our Shabbat and holiday services are held in our main sanctuary, which has a 24-foot ceiling and colorful contemporary stained glass windows. There is a two-level bima and the arc has handsome hand-carved wooden doors. Our twice-daily minyan and our Shabbat youth services are held in the small, more intimate chapel with upholstered hardwood pews and hand-crafted wooden cabinetry.
Please feel free to include any links to pictures on the web of your building:
E. Senior staff history (all that apply)


Years Served



Present Rabbi

Rabbi Hillel Norry



Preceding Rabbi

Rabbi Mark H. Kunis



Preceding Rabbi

Rabbi Judah Kogen


Cantor (hazzan)


Business Manager

Jodi Miller

Hired 10/1/14

Educational Director

Rabbi Marsall Lesack



Key lay leaders


Years Served




Edward Jacobson



Search Committee Co-Chair

Pia Frank


Search Committee Co-chair

Bruce Stiftel


G. Religious Life
What is your primary siddur for:
Daily/weekday? Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays (Rabbinical Assembly, 2002)
Shabbat and Festivals? Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals (Rabbinical Assembly, 1998)
High Holy Days?  Mahzor Hadash (Prayer Book Press, 1995)

What are your goals for Shabbat and Festival services?
Our goals are to provide inspiring and meaningful services that teach, rejuvenate and stimulate our congregants to live a more Jewish life, while fulfilling the requirements of strict observance of each Shabbat and Festival.
Looking forward, our goal is to build attendance at all services under our new rabbi through:

  • Injecting the energy and charisma of a new religious leader into services

  • Finding creative approaches to our services that better meet the needs of our diverse membership and particularly appeal to a young adult audience

  • Attracting new and past members inspired by our new leader

Describe your Shabbat morning services:
At Shearith Israel Shabbat is truly a time for spiritual reflection, quality time with the family, and a break from routine. Our services provide the opportunity to disconnect from the daily world and transition away from the push-pull turmoil of modern life. Shabbat morning services also celebrate the full range of lifecycle events, embracing all of those who want to share in the joy of baby namings, wedding anniversaries, birthdays and B'nai and B'not Mitvah.
Our egalitarian, Conservative services have a full annual Torah reading. Services, which are largely lay led, follow the Sim Shalom liturgy and are almost entirely in Hebrew. Different daveners lead p’zudkei d’zimra, shacharit, and musaf. There is a full repetition of the amidah during shacharit and a heiche kudusha during musaf. Most often 4 or 5 members read Torah each Shabbat (with a scholarly member on hand to insure correct trope and nusach.) Pre- or recently post-b’nei mitzvah members will often lead ashrei or the conclusion of musaf.
It is not unusual to have to wait a few minutes for a minyan during baruch ha’shachar, with many congregants arriving prior to the Torah service. It is our desire (and was our long-time tradition) to have a full Kiddush lunch in the social hall every Shabbat. Almost all attendees stay for this wonderful time of eating together and catching up from the week. Generous donations make this possible most weeks. If there are not sufficient funds for a given week, a light Kiddush is provided.

Do you have a sermon or Torah discussion?

There is a sermon by the Rabbi on almost every Shabbat. Occasionally, when the Rabbi is away or there is a special occasion, a congregant or visitor may present a d’var Torah.

Does your service include congregational singing?
There is a great deal of singing throughout the service. The voices of the rabbi and the davener leading the service are usually joined by all of the members in the sanctuary.

What is the balance of Hebrew and English used?
Shabbat morning services are in Hebrew with the exception of responsive readings and the Prayer for Our Country, which are recited in English.

What are your attendance patterns for Friday night? 
While there are 8 to 15 members at most Kabbalat Shabbat services, held at 6:00 pm., we welcome 25 to 50 members once a month to our lively, fun Friday Night Live Shabbat that is filled with singing. It begins at 7:30 pm and is led by members. We also have “Shabbat in the Park,” once a month from April – October, which is a favorite of our young families. This delightful approach to Shabbat is a program that draws a group of 20 to 30 members and their friends.

What are your attendance patterns for Shabbat morning?
Approximately 50-75 core members attend services on most Shabbat mornings, while anywhere from 75 to 300 members come to services when there is a simcha, a special focus Shabbat, or a special d’var Torah.

Do you use a full, triennial or other division of Torah reading?
We have a full, annual Torah reading.

Who usually reads Torah?


Our congregants read the Torah -- the parshayot are assigned ahead of time by a member who has made this her ongoing responsibility. Occasionally the Rabbi reads, when asked or when he wants to. We also have a Golden Kippah society with approximately 25 members who are regular Torah readers (defined as members who have read Torah at CSI at least 10 times).

Describe the High Holy Day services in your congregation:
The High Holy Day Services at Shearith Israel are marked both by piety and the joys of new beginnings and seeing old friends. They are a very special time for our congregation to come together to reclaim and acknowledge our faith and our connection to our synagogue community.

The services, which begin at 8:30 am and conclude about 1:00 pm on Rosh Hashanah, and 2:30-3:00 pm on Yom Kippur, have large attendance with seating extending into the adjoining social hall.

These are full services from the Machzor Hadash. Kol Nidre begins before sundown and lasts for about an hour and a half, plus a sermon. The Yom Kippur Mincha/Neilah service has attendance of 300-500 congregants. All High Holiday services are led by the Rabbi as well as by members.
We also have an outstanding choir made up of 8-12 congregants spanning multiple generations, from elementary school children to retirees, which sings during high holiday musaf services. It is led every year by our extraordinary high holiday lay cantor, a longtime member whose expressive voice helps to create the inspiring atmosphere of the service.
In addition, during the first day of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur there is an excellent alternative “teaching” service. Led by our educational director, Rabbi Marshall Lesack, this service provides an intellectually stimulating environment for learning, discussion and reflection. These services are attended by 35-85 congregants.

Do you have a choir?

x Yes


The Choir sings during High Holiday Musaf services only.
Do you have parallel services?

x Yes



On Shabbat there are Adult Learners services and Children’s services every other week.

Who leads the services?
Education Director Rabbi Marshall Lesack

What religious service is the synagogue most proud of and why?
We are most proud of our Erev Simchat Torah service. It is one of our most joyful services, when all of our Torahs are taken from the arc and members take turns reading the prayers. Our children hold miniature Torahs, and anyone strong enough to hold a real Torah takes a turn, parading around the sanctuary.

About half-way into the seven hakafot, everyone marches into the social hall and dances to celebrate the Torahs. Then we unfurl one of the older, no-longer-Kosher Torahs with the adults holding it up by their fingertips until the whole scroll is visible. The Rabbi moves around the circle, noting interesting parts and teaching how to determine where one book ends and another begins. He points out the exact center of the cycle, how the text differs visually when the Ten Commandments appear and how several poetic selections are written. Every year members learn more about how the Torah is written and how it is used on Shabbat and holidays.

Congregants enjoy looking for meaningful parshayot, such as those from their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Meanwhile, the children sit inside of the circle, taking it all in. They ask and answer questions and are given chocolate to build the association of Torah with sweetness.

Everyone learns a great deal of Torah trivia that night and sees up close how the cycle of the Torah gives structure to our year.

 Is there a mikveh in the community?

x Yes



Is there an eruv in the community?

x Yes



Describe your congregation’s current approach to:


  1. Instrumental music/music:

Instruments are allowed, except on Shabbat and festivals, but are generally only used at Havdallah, Shabbat in the Park and the once-a-month Kabbalat Shabbat.

  1. Kashrut:

The Shearith Israel campus is fully kosher following Conservative practice, with the CSI rabbi serving as the mashgiach. The synagogue kitchen, which is normally milcheg, is steam cleaned when used for fleishig on the few occasions when a meat meal is served. It is then steam cleaned again to go back to milcheg.

  1. Egalitarianism:

Both women and men read Torah and lead davening, as well as serve in leadership positions in the shul. Seating in the sanctuary is predominantly mixed, with two small, lightly used single-sex areas set apart by a waist-high mechitzot.

  1. Electronic media on Shabbat:

A sound system is preset prior to Shabbat and used in the sanctuary, and portable earbuds are charged ahead of time and made available to those who have difficulty hearing. There also are timed alarm and security camera systems in the building that run continuously and can be viewed from the administrative offices during Shabbat. Cameras and hand held devices are not permitted for use in the synagogue buildings during Shabbat.

  1. Gay and lesbian families:

Although we do not have defined policies that address sexual orientation, we do have members who are gay or lesbian and they are welcome. Rabbi Norry has consciously tried to create a positive atmosphere for gays and lesbians, teaching about relevant issues and discussing them in appropriate contexts, including in our children’s religious school classes.

Following state law, however, we do not perform marriages for gays or lesbians.

  1. Interfaith families:

We welcome and respect interfaith families. Non-Jewish family members are encouraged to participate in all synagogue functions with the exception of ritual honors and voting in Congregational elections. During simchas, non-Jewish relatives are acknowledged and will sometimes undertake non-ritual roles.

The last successful major religious policy change was:

In 2002, Shearith Israel made the move from being a Traditional synagogue to become an egalitarian Conservative synagogue.

  • Describe the impact of this change:

Approximately 100 families left CSI with our previous rabbi, who followed an orthodox orientation, to form a new shul. Overall, though, there was an increase in membership as new congregants joined because of the egalitarian approach, USCJ affiliation and the new rabbi.

At the same time, members attended programs that taught them about the Conservative movement, women were counted as part of our minyans and Torah trope classes were taught to both women and men.

  • Describe the change process and what factors made the change successful:

We held a number of learning sessions during which Rabbi Norry discussed sources that allowed/promoted egalitarianism. At the same time we held "Idea-Schmoozes," open meetings lead by Rabbi Norry that allowed any and all ideas and questions to be brought to the discussion. Every member was personally invited to a specific idea schmooze, and all of them were open to anyone. The learning sessions were held at various times so that anyone interested would have a chance to attend one of them.  The whole process took approximately 8 months.

What is likely to be the next major religious policy issue facing the congregation?
As we continue on this exciting journey to grow our membership and expand our Jewish practice, we will need to examine policies that impact providing a welcoming, inspiring and spiritually dynamic experience. Such policies could include how to adhere to Conservative principles of kashrut while making celebrations with food more approachable and greater use of musical instruments on Shabbat.

What are future religious trends the candidate should know about?
As a 110-year-old synagogue with many long-time members, we follow religious practices that have worked very well for us in the past. We would, however, like to explore with our new rabbi possibilities of alternatives in the future and give the full congregation a chance to work toward defining who we are today.

G.  Programming
Describe three current synagogue events of which your congregation is most proud:
CSI offers a variety of events that touch segments of our congregation deeply. We are most proud of:

  1. Our annual Special Needs Pesach Seder that has welcomed people with developmental disabilities for the last 16 years. This is the only community seder for this group of 75-100 adults and teen-agers, who come from across the metro-area, and it is the only seder that many of them attend each year. This event, which is led by Rabbi Norry with a great deal of story-telling and singing, is a complete seder with Haggadot and traditional Pesach food, most of which is prepared in the Shearith Israel kitchen. It is an event not only for this special population, but also for people that are their non-Jewish roommates and house managers, their parents who drive them to the event and volunteers who help serve and get to experience the joy of working with the developmentally disabled. The Special Needs Seder is underwritten by donations and is offered at no cost to participants.

Since 2010, there also has been a Special Needs Succot Party held in the Shearith Israel Succah for this group. It, too, is a free event, which is attended by 65-75 people from across metro-Atlanta.

  1. Our special Friday night programming that truly offers something for everyone. Activities include Shabbat in the Park for our families with young children who meet at a neighborhood park for a pot luck vegetarian Shabbat meal and Shabbat songs; Guess Who’s Coming to Shabbat, that brings new and old members together in a host member’s home for Shabbat dinner; and Friday Night Live, a rousing evening of lay-led Kabbalat Shabbat singing followed by wine, schnapps and dessert.

  1. Our Tager Music Program, which brings exquisite music into the synagogue for 2-3 concerts each year. Open to the greater community, these events have featured diverse artists such as a Balalaika group, Klezmer musicians, nationally renowned choral groups and classical virtuosos. Last year’s concerts included “Dangerous Music” -- Jewish composers and music banned by the Nazis -- along with an afternoon of Chopin, Gershwin and Warsaw.


Describe your current adult education program:
Our overall education goals are to provide opportunities for a lifetime of learning that:

  • Deepen our connections to Judaism

  • Explore spirituality and its role in our lives

  • Expand our horizons as global citizens

  • Help to build community through shared learning and experiences

We work to engage congregants in ongoing learning opportunities. For the last two years we have offered an adult education class on Sunday mornings. These have ranged from an art class to a Bible class to a class on Israel. All are taught by high-level instructors, many of whom have either Masters, Rabbinic or PhD degrees.

In addition, our educational director, Rabbi Lesack, has an learning service and a text-study class for adults every other Shabbat.
As part of our religious school, we have a program every 4 to 6 weeks where parents come and learn with their children in a storytelling and discussion format. Also for parents, we have intermittent classes on Sunday as well as a once a month class taught at different peoples’ homes and a family service every other Shabbat.

Describe your current social justice programs:
For the last 30 years Shearith Israel has housed a women’s homeless shelter from November through March, when it is coldest in Atlanta. The first in the nation to be housed in a synagogue, the shelter has helped more than 1000 women with food, lodging and life coaching. In recent years, the shelter has expanded services to include job training and job search support. Shelter residents are provided with showers, laundry facilities, computer and telephone access, MARTA transportation, case management and empowerment programs. All shelter services are free so that residents who are employed can save toward the costs of independent housing. After leaving the Shelter, former residents are invited to participate in a 12-month aftercare program to support them in maintaining stable employment and housing.

Which adult Jewish learning opportunity is your congregation most proud of?


Shearith Israel has an increasingly popular Shabbat Morning Learner’s service as well as a Shabbat Morning Text Study, both led by Rabbi Lesack, our Education Director. These stimulating programs, which also are held on the high holidays, take place concurrently with the regular services.

What does your congregation do to reach out to the unaffiliated? 
There is a large group of unaffiliated Jewish people in the in-town Atlanta area, close to where we are located. We are increasing our outreach to them through:

  • Social media: Our Facebook page and our newly designed website which shows our updated and active calendar of events.

  • Our services and events: Shabbat in the Park invitations go out to local unaffiliated groups, including Havurah groups and In the City Camp families.

  • Media outlets: We use them to publicize programs and invite nonmembers.

  • Easy membership options: We currently offer two alternative paths to membership:

  • By allowing families to send their children to our religious school, Machaneh Shai, for two years before joining the synagogue

  • By devising a dues structure that allows new members to pay 50% of dues in their first year of membership, 75% of dues in their second year, and 100% during their third year

What are other committees and programs the rabbi should know about:
During the recent High Holidays we launched 2015: Our Next Chapter, an initiative focused:

  1. Membership

  2. Expanding religious education, and more specifically, Machaneh Shai

  3. Fundraising and the Yom Kippur appeal

The program’s goals this year include adding 25 new members by the end of 2014, enrolling more than 70 children in religious education, and raising $275,000 via the Yom Kippur appeal.

As part of 2015: Our Next Chapter, a new 4-shelf handmade bookshelf has been placed in the lobby for commemorative books recognizing those members who make a donation of $201.50 or more during our Yom Kippur appeal. There will also be commemorative books to honor those members who broaden our community by bringing a guest that enrolls in Machaneh Shai and/or joins our congregation.
In addition, we don’t want to complete this questionnaire without mentioning our Chesed Society, a very important institution at Shearith Israel. This big-hearted group extends life-cycle support and services to our members in times of happiness and sadness. They provide shiva meals, pay condolence calls, make hospital visits, visit the homebound and also congratulate members on joyous occasions. The Chesed Society gives our members wonderful opportunities to perform rewarding mitzvahs.

Describe the rabbi’s role in synagogue governance:
The rabbi is a non-voting ex officio member of the Board of Directors. While the Business Manager formally reports directly to the Board, the Rabbi and Business Manager work together closely to determine priorities for administrative functions.

Does the rabbi attend board meetings?

x Yes


What is the rabbi’s role at board meetings?


The Rabbi attends all board meetings. Under current board policy, he or she is asked to attend executive sessions of the Board, except when there is a discussion of his/her own contract or performance.

H. Congregation Education for Youth

  1. What are your community’s overall educational goals?

Through our program, we seek to:

  • Connect youth to their Jewish identity

  • Build a foundation of knowledge and skill that will enable and inspire children to fully participate in Jewish life

  • Foster a sense of community among our children

  • Establish an expectation that learning is a lifelong journey of growth and discovery

  • Accomplish Jewish learning through fun, interesting and engaging experiences

  1. Does you congregation have a preschool or early childhood programs?


No Please see below.

If yes:

Onsite Please see below.

Describe the program:
Our early childhood program is modest: we conduct a Tot Shabbat service twice a month on Shabbat morning, and a family Kabbalat Shabbat service outdoors once a month during the warmer months.

  1. How many and which days does your supplemental school meet each week?

    2 days: Sundays 9-12. Wednesdays 4:30-6.

How many students does it have in grades K-8? 63 students for this current school year

Describe the program:


Our supplemental school (called Machaneh Shai – MS), creates an educational environment that is positive, engaging, relevant, meaningful, content-rich and child-focused. We effectively balance formal and experiential learning. Children are happy to be here as they engage in learning in exciting ways. In addition to the regularly structured sessions, we provide special holiday and family programs. When writing curriculum, hiring educators and building this program, we take into account our own educational goals, while considering the reality of where these children are coming from, the few hours each week we are able to spend with them, and what they do or don’t do in their own homes.

Children are exposed to a variety of content areas (Jewish history and culture, Bible, Hebrew, Israel, Judaism and social justice, and more). They engage in their learning through many different media, structures, and activities. No formal homework is assigned (all our MS “assignments” are optional) and we do not use the language of school in our setting. We seek to hire educators who have skills in both formal and informal education, offering an activity-based Hebrew class, a Bible class that includes both hevruta learning and hands-on activities developed from that learning, a class on Jewish songwriting, and other offerings.
Family learning is an important component of our program. Once a month we hold a Parent/Child Beit Midrash where texts and prompting questions are provided so families explore, question, and learn together. We seek to reinforce that learning is not just something children do, but is instead a wonderful experience for the whole family and a lifelong journey.
Our model relies on Shabbat morning attendance to provide the necessary training related to services, tunes, etc. We teach some tefilah on MS days but encourage all families to come to shul to truly learn these things. Getting families to make this commitment is still a work in progress.

  1. How many b’nei mitzvah does your congregation have per year?

5-12 per year (17 this past year).
How many b’nei mitzvah did your congregation have 5 years ago?

5-12 per year.

What is your congregation especially proud of in its b’nei mitzvah program?
We are incredibly proud of how many of our Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids are advanced enough in their study and commitment to conduct virtually the entire Shabbat morning service on their special day. To further advance this ability, we recently started a wonderful program that trains post-bar and bat mitzvahs to lead junior congregation for elementary school children. It helps to keep them connected, learning and serving as role models for the younger children. This new program is taught by Rabbi Lesack, our Education Director, as well as by our lay leaders.

  1. Does your congregation have a Post Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program?

X Yes


If yes, how many children are enrolled? 15-20.
Describe the program:
Shearith Israel has a chapter of Kadima and of USY. The Kadima chapter events have been well-attended. We hope to re-invigorate the USY chapter, perhaps by connecting with small chapters from other Atlanta synagogues.
Teenagers also attend monthly pizza dinners at the Rabbi’s house (called Rap with the Rabbi), each with a thought-provoking topic. Some of our teens continue to read Torah or help lead services, and we hold a Teen Shabbat, led mostly by our teens, twice a year. Some of the teens volunteer in Machaneh Shai. They also run a fund raiser to sell Mac and Cheese boxes as groggers for Purim that are then donated to the food bank. In 2013, we organized an Israel Teen Fest where speakers talked about Startup Nation, environmental initiatives and media.
This program is in a rebuilding phase. The teens involved are wonderful and enjoy being together, but they are a small group. We’re actively working to compete against all the school and extracurricular activities that take up so much of their time.

  1. What program for young adults are you most proud of?

In 2012, we developed a CSI Teen Film Project, in which 16 teenagers (grades 8 through 11) interviewed seven Holocaust survivor congregants.

How many children are involved? 16.
Describe the program:
The students began with a tour of Atlanta’s William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum and attended a special session to learn about interviewing from a documentary producer, broadcast journalist and author. Then they attended a brunch with a couple of our survivors, so the teens could get to know them in a more informal way. The teenagers drafted their questions and formed teams of four; two teens helped with the camera and sound and two conducted the interview. With the help of a congregant who is an amateur filmmaker and the then-vice president for youth (who is a freelance journalist), the interviews were edited into a 40-minute film called Edim L’Shoah.
The project was a huge success in many ways:

  • It engaged teenagers who hadn’t previously been involved in the shul’s youth programming and created new inter-generational bonds.

  • It gave our teenagers a new, more personal perspective on the Holocaust – especially as they realized that the survivors were about their age when they experienced the persecution, disruption and tragedies of the Holocaust.

  • The resulting film, which was very moving, was well-received by the synagogue community, and the film and raw interviews serve as an archive of our congregants’ stories. (Some had never before spoken publicly about their experiences.)

This was a one-time effort, but we hope to repeat the process with the topic Jews in the South.

  1. How many children in your congregation go to Camp Ramah/Noam Camp:  15-20.

  1. How many children in your congregation are involved with USY/Noam?  5 – 10.

  1. How many children in your congregation are involved with USY/Noam summer programs?   Unsure; most go to summer camps.

  1. What other youth movements and camps are popular in your community?

Camp Barney Medintz (sleep away camp run by the MJCCA in the Georgia mountains):

Camp Judaea (Hadassah sleep away camp in North Carolina):
Epstein School pre-school and summer camps:
MJCCA day camps:
Jewish Kids Groups:
Camp Gan Israel:

  1. Are there Jewish day schools in or near your community?  

x Yes


If yes, please fill out the following information about each of the schools:
Name: Epstein School, the Solomon Schechter School of Atlanta


Affiliation: Conservative

Grades:  18-months through 8th Grade

Name: Doris and Alex Weber Jewish Community High School


Affiliation: unaffiliated (“independent; embracing them all”)

Grades:  9th – 12th Grades

Name: Atlanta Jewish Academy (formerly: Katherine and Jacob Greenfield Hebrew Academy of Atlanta, and Yeshiva Atlanta)


Affiliation: unaffiliated community school

Grades:  infant – 12th Grade
Name: The Alfred and Adele Davis Academy


Affiliation: Reform

Grades:  K – 8th Grade
Name: Torah Day School of Atlanta


Affiliation: Orthodox

Grades:  K – 8th Grade
Name: Temima, the Richard and Jean Katz High School for Girls


Affiliation: Orthodox

Grades: 9th – 12th Grades

What is the total the number of students in local Jewish day schools?  3,100.
What is the total number of students from your synagogue in day schools? 25.
How does your congregation connect to the college age population?
We reach out to our college age members by sending College Outreach packages 4 times a year (High Holidays, Chanukah, Purim, Passover) with a letter from the Rabbi. The USY advisor is most often a student enrolled in an Atlanta university. We are well-known to the Emory/Georgia Tech/Georgia State University Hillel advisors, hold Emory Shabbatot from time to time, and send congregants to Hillel events One of our congregants regularly leads services at Emory/Oxford College.

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