Let’s talk about the Jewish scene So-20. By “So-20” I mean “South of Atlanta Interstate 20,” where I have lived for nearly ten years and would like to continue to live. As I know, there is no Jewish scene south of 20.
If one is looking for Jewish community intown, it’s several miles north at a minimum. There’s Jewish Kids Groups at the Kindezi school near O4W–but otherwise Ponce is about as far south as it goes. For synagogues, it’s Chabad on Ponce, Shearith (Highlands), AA (Buckhead), the Temple (north Midtown), or Toco Hills. If one is looking for a Jewish school intown you’ve got JKG, Torah Day School in Toco, perhaps a bus from Toco to Sandy Springs, and otherwise nothing post-preschool (and the southernmost preschool is IJP in the Highlands). If you want a mikvah, you have to go to Toco, Sandy Springs or, as I did for a while, pretend “floating” is a mikvah (it is not). There are various events held in my hood, which I enjoy, but are ultimately social / transactional in nature.
I’ve been meditating on the following verse lately, inspired by a session I attended at the Reconstructing Judaism convention on creative use of space:
וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם.
Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, that I may dwell within you. Exodus 25:8.
Perhaps I’m a unicorn, but I very strongly want to practice daily Judaism, be part of a community of Jewish families, to observe Shabbat and attend a synagogue, … and to live where I live. So far that’s manifested in a lot of driving (and lately for our one-car family, Ubering and bus-riding) as well as some hosting people who are willing to brave the Friday-afternon southbound traffic to come over for Shabbat dinner.
I know there are other Jews around. Many probably don’t care about Jewish community. Some may have made the rational assessment that they had to choose between neighborhood and Judaism. Some are satisfied with the occasional social events that some shuls and other groups sponsor. For some (including rabbis) traveling to a Jewish space is a given, as part of their commute. And on the rare occasion I meet someone in a Jewish setting who lives near me, we both tend to express enthusiasm for creating Jewish community in our area, but lack resources to do it.
This is a problem without an apparent solution. Atlanta is a major and growing city in which many Jews live, and in which an increasing number of families are remaining intown rather than moving to the suburbs. The So-20 area in particular is exploding. But from an outsider’s perspective, the existing organizations (with one exception I’ll discuss below) don’t want to invest in a “sanctuary” down here–they are focused on the “neighborhood event” approach that often best serves the interests of the Judaism-lite crowd. And those in the Jewish community driven to build something (including me) are already involved building things in other geographic locations (or, um, working at their day jobs, as I should be really doing now).
JKG offers a bright spot. While their physical spaces remain squarely north of I-20, the model offers sustainable Jewish programming targeted for intown families. Their aftercare gives me at least some option for my kids to get Jewish education during the week–and while the Highlands still quite the haul for me, they have affirmatively expressed interest in sending a bus down to my kid’s school, but why would they do that if I’m the only one signed up? (and marketing is not my forte).
I have no idea how to translate the JKG concept into something for grownups. All I know is that I would really like to see a physical space down here–maybe just on Shabbat–devoted to Jewish community and prayer. Maybe someday I’ll have the resources to build it myself. I know a mikvah is a long shot but could we at least have one closer than Sandy Springs?
Until then, all So-20 Jews are welcome for Shabbat dinner at my house–and I hope to see an increasing number of meaningful Jewish experiences close by.