With a rich history dating back to the late 1880’s, Ahavath Achim (AA) Synagogue is a pillar of Atlanta’s vibrant Jewish community. In addition to its longstanding commitment to building a welcoming home for worship, education and life cycle events, the congregation is steeped in another vital tradition, as well: the pursuit of social justice through collaboration with MAZON.
Since MAZON’s earliest days, AA has been an invaluable partner in its efforts to heighten awareness about, and raise funds for, lasting hunger relief. The synagogue’s dedication to improving outcomes for the neediest members of our society – regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds – stems, says Rabbi Neil Sandler, from its understanding of what it takes to sustain a kehillah kedosha, or holy community. “It’s not just about how we reach out and care for each other,” Rabbi Sandler observes. “We also have to expand our outreach to include the world ‘out there,’ and to recognize b’tzelem Elohim,” the notion that all people, whatever their background, are created in God’s image.
That recognition has played a critical role in galvanizing AA’s membership, which includes 1,100 households across Atlanta, into concerted and effective action. The synagogue encourages member families to support MAZON through a broad range of congregational simchas, from brises to bar and bat mitzvahs to weddings. As it works with MAZON to have an impact on the national hunger front, AA also focuses its energies on alleviating suffering closer to home, directing donated food to MAZON grantee Atlanta Community Food Bank. “We went up over 1,000 pounds in the amount of contributions we brought in last Yom Kippur,” Rabbi Sandler says proudly. And AA has demonstrated impressive leadership in drumming up enthusiasm – and crucial donations – for the city’s annual Hunger Walk. “The Jewish community is in position number one in terms of Hunger Walk fundraising in Atlanta,” points out Rabbi Sandler, “and this particular congregation is the leading fundraiser of any congregation in the community.” Recently, the synagogue implemented a program that enables congregants to pick up leftover food from the weekly kiddush and take it to local shelters. “It gives hunger a face,” Rabbi Sandler says, which is so important because, for many people, it’s a cause that can “otherwise be very abstract.”
More than a hundred years after its founding, AA continues to serve as a powerful change agent. “We have been around for a long time, but what’s exciting is the process of renewal we’re now undergoing,” Rabbi Sandler says, pointing to the rise in social action as one prime example. And by joining MAZON as it seeks to provide for the less fortunate, he says, AA is “contributing to a greater sense of wholeness and wellness for the world and for God’s creatures.”