Listening Campaign Update

Listening Campaign Update

It's time for a checkup on the listening campaign. It's been two years since we started the conversation, but considering that Covid-19 slowed us down a bit, we have made some great progress. After receiving over two hundred opinions from our congregants at over 20 small group meetings, we distilled our strategy into four categories: minyan, holidays, social, and young families.

We harnessed the enthusiasm of our chairs for each of these subcommittees; Nicole Saidman, Andy Siegel, and Sheila Adelman, and leveraged Rabbi Sam's minyan advisors as they read through all the notes from our conversations. We are now both creating the strategies and in parallel implementing many of the ideas we garnered from our family of congregants.

  • We will be enhancing our minyan with new spiritual discussions and thoughts of the day and involving our youth by teaching them to lead. We plan to increase the profile of our daily minyan which is unique in Atlanta and will also leverage technology to allow all to participate in whatever way they desire.
  • We are looking at our existing programs, such as the Eizenstat lecture, and ways to create additional social interactions to enhance both bonding and learning in smaller groups.
  • Our young family group may be our most enthusiastic with plans to involve our kids in our sanctuary services, enhance family Shabbat and create social events for grandparents, parents and grandchildren.  There has been a clear call to create events for "parents only" designed for those who need a little adult time with friends in our shul.

Our listening campaign meetings were so successful that many of our groups expressed a desire to meet again and we are looking into ways to facilitate get-togethers with those groups as well. Each step of the way, we have increased engagement and social interaction within our membership whether it be attending the small group meetings, serving on the committees themselves or participating in the planned events. If you have not had an opportunity to be a part of this process, we invite you to let us know.

Stay tuned for more to come…

Mark Stern
Listening Campaign Chair

Reopening Policies for Shabbat Morning Services

Reopening Policies for Shabbat Morning Services

Plan Highlights: 

With the recent changes in CDC guidelines and the experience of running services for the past few weeks, we believe that these changes will allow us to maintain our cautious approach while allowing for a more engaging and meaningful prayer experience.

Vaccines or PCR Testing: Our clergy and synagogue leadership strongly recommend that everybody receive a vaccine to protect against Covid-19. If anybody is unable to find or travel to a vaccine center, your synagogue family is more than happy to work with you to problem solve. We recognize that there are some individuals who are unable to go this route. Therefore, beginning this coming Shabbat, admittance to the synagogue will require either proof of vaccine (Vaccine card) or a negative PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test administered no more than 48 hours prior to arriving at services. You are welcome to forward proof of either by email to Jackie Nix ( or show them at the door. Currently, children 16 and under are exempt but we encourage children to keep their masks on when in the building for their own protection.

Masks: When entering and walking through the building masks must be covering both mouth and nose. When sitting in your pod, individuals are welcome to remove their mask. We ask that our masks be worn if/when leaving one's pod and when exiting the building. If you are not vaccinated, we strongly encourage you to remain masked throughout the service even when sitting in your pod. Because of your negative PCR result, you are most unlikely to be able to spread Covid-19 to others. However, people who are vaccinated can give it to you. Therefore, we urge you to remain masked, maintain distance and protect yourself.

Registration: Registration will no longer be required for our services, thanks to the blessing of having a large sanctuary space. Distancing will still be in place, and seat cushions have been removed from many seats to delineating seating between pods. Please remember, do not come to the building if you are feeling ill or have any flu symptoms.

Open Seating: Due to the wonderful compliance that our attendees have shown over the past few weeks, we feel confident that individuals, families, and pods can safely find their own seating instead of having assigned seating. With seat cushions being the marker of available seating, we invite our community to get to services on time and sit in a section which provides an optimal visual and auditory experience.
Thank you for your continued support and patience as we find our way. We are excited to finally be emerging from this very difficult time. However, there is still a road ahead and our continued vigilance will ensure that our congregation, community and world can move forward with strength, health and happiness.

Who Can Attend?

All members are welcome. However, we require either proof of vaccination status or a negative PCR test within 48 hours. You are welcome to forward proof of either by email to Jackie Nix ( or show them at the door. Currently, children 16 and under are exempt but we encourage children to keep their masks on when in the building for their own protection. No individual may attend who has not registered and received confirmation that they have received a spot. Registration alone is not a guarantee of admittance. Spaces are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis.

Please do not attend if any of the following are true:

  1. You are sick
  2. You have felt sick in the past two weeks
  3. You have been in close proximity with someone with Covid-19 symptoms and/or someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 in the past two weeks and is not yet fully vaccinated
  4. You are caring for a family member or living with someone who has currently contracted Covid-19 or displaying symptoms thereof
  5. You have been asked to self-isolate

Health and Safety Policies: 

We rely on each member of the community to keep each other safe. Therefore, we ask that you uphold the following safety guidelines and will enforce it if necessary. Failure to adhere to these guidelines, after initial reminders, may impact future ability to register for in-person experiences. While there is no guarantee of safety in attending in-person experience, the following is intended to mitigate risk and exposure as much as possible, while providing for a meaningful in-person experience. Participants participate at their own risk.

  • Upon arrival, all participants will be checked in.
  • Masks are required (covering both nose and mouth) while in entering, exiting or walking through the building. You may remove your mask while seated in your pod in the sanctuary. Masks with valves are not permitted. Masks will be available if needed.
  • Please note that those leading services from the bima will not be masked while they are leading. These leaders will be 20+ ft from any pod. Torah/Haftara readers and those receiving aliyot must wear masks (see ritual changes below).
  • Social distancing rules (6 feet) must be maintained, except among those in the same pod. In the sanctuary, pods will be 10+ ft apart from each other.
  • To accommodate for social distancing pods have been laid out throughout the lower level of the sanctuary. Sit only in pews with cushions on them – that is how we'll mark available and properly spaced seating. Please do not move cushions.
  • Ushers will be present to show you where your seats are located.
  • Tallitot and Kippot will not be provided to reduce shared items – please bring your own if you would like them.
  • Restroom use is restricted to up to one pod at a time. Please be sure to wash hands well after use. Sanitation stations will be provided throughout the building as well.
  • Attendees are expected to stay in the sanctuary throughout the service (other than to use the restroom) and are asked not to shmooze in the hallways or entryway. There will be a dedicated space in Srochi Hall for young children to play if they get antsy.
  • Anyone not adhering to these policies or following the instructions and reminders given will be asked to leave.
  • If you have symptoms of Covid-19 and/or a positive test within 10 days of your attendance, you must let the synagogue know as soon as possible, and all attendees will be notified. All names will remain confidential.
  • Following notification of a positive case of Covid-19 as reported by that attendee, in-person services will be suspended for two Shabbatot.

In addition to the policies above, we've made the following arrangements for the use of our space:

  • Open pews are spread out so that participants only sit with members of their pod.
  • Siddurim (prayer books) and Chumashim (our sacred texts) will already be placed in your spots, and we ask that you leave them there after the service.
  • There will be no kiddush at this time. We ask that all refrain from eating inside our synagogue space.
  • Sanitization stations will be placed around the synagogue for convenient sanitization.
  • At the end of services, we ask everyone to leave directly while remaining distanced, and to refrain from congregating in the building with those outside of your pod.

Ritual Changes: 

For the last year, we have refrained from the recitation of most d'varim shebikdusha, specific liturgy in our service which require an in-person minyan to recite. We are excited, then, to be able to bring these elements back into the service with the presence of a minyan.  

These additions include the:

  • Barechu
  • Kaddishes (Chatzi Kaddish, Kaddish Shalem)
  • Kedusha in the Amidah
  • Torah and Haftarah Blessings
  • Full liturgy of the Torah Service, as well as the full seven aliyot + maftir aliyah (which do not require a minyan, but we have not been fully doing online) 

For the Mourner's Kaddish only, we will continue to count both those in the room and those joining virtually towards a minyan.

There are several adaptations, however, that we will put in place to mitigate risk. The service leader will lead the service from the bima, which is 20+ ft from all pods. This leader will be unmasked while leading only. The two lecterns on the bima will be reserved for these leaders. Service leaders must be physically present in the building.

Torah readers will lead from one of two additional lecterns placed on the floor of the sanctuary in the front. All those participating in the Torah Service, including the service leader, must be masked. When multiple readers are present, two Torah scrolls will be taken out, and readers will alternate reading from each Torah to allow some time for the air to clear around the Torah. For the first several weeks, only Jordan Forman, our ritual director, will be reading Torah as we smooth out the logistics. Shared surfaces will be sanitized between touches.

Those receiving aliyot to the Torah will have a dedicated microphone near but not next to the Torah. They will recite the blessing before the reading at the appropriate time. Those participating virtually will have the opportunity to have aliyot, as well as participate in leading communal readings. A virtual participant may also read the Haftarah. There will be no Hagbah (lifting of the Torah) or G'lilah (wrapping of the Torah) at this time – scrolls will be wrapped on the reading tables. Additionally, there will be no processional of the Torah throughout the room – the Torah will be brought from the ark directly to the reading table.

Can I Still Participate From Home? 

Even as we resume in-person gathering, we are committed to providing an exceptional virtual experience. Thanks to a generous donation from the Reisman family in memory of Shirley Reisman, we have invested significantly in upgrading the audio and visual quality of our stream. This will include multiple cameras, the use of a high-end sound board, and a dedicated sound engineer. This allows us to ensure crisp and uplifting sound, both in the room and virtually. Those who are in person will be able to see and hear those who are online, and those zooming in will be able to participate in the ways outlined in the 'Ritual Changes' section above. All are welcome wherever they may be.


Zooming Services

Zooming Services

Dear Ahavath Achim Friends,
We are now well into our second week of responding to the Coronavirus pandemic and dealing with the changes it has brought to our lives and how we interact with each other – social distancing, moving from physical to virtual community, etc. It has been difficult… and fascinating. We are learning from our experiences and making changes along the way. We would like to describe one of those changes in this letter.
Up to this point, we have welcomed everybody to join us for prayer services, each and every day, through live streaming. This has been a one-way portal where you can see us, but we can't see you and, conversely, you can hear us, but we can't hear you. As of Friday morning, March 27, we will move all our services from live stream to Zoom. The links to the Zoom services will be available in the following places: the COVID Communication Hub, website calendar (you must click on the individual event to access the link), our Monday and Thursday eblasts, and the live streaming page on the website. Please explore these links to familiarize yourself with the changes and various places where Zoom links are found.
With the current arrangement of one-way live streaming, we have not been able to recite parts of our prayer service which require a minyan, most important of these, is the Mourner's Kaddish. Earlier this week the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), the Jewish ritual and legal deciding body for the Conservative Movement, provided rabbis with an alternative that would allow for recitation of the Mourners Kaddish under circumstances deemed as she'at hade'chak, time of emergency. Here is the relevant portion from that "CJLS Guidance for Remote Minyanim in a time of COVID-19:"
In this crisis situation in an area in which civil and/or medical authorities decree that it is unsafe for people to gather in person and recommend or order the closure of houses of worship, it is permitted to constitute a minyan whose constitutive participants (ten adult Jews) are not located in one physical place.
By switching to Zoom technology we will be able to know in real time how many people are joining us and whether we have a sufficient number to say the Mourners Kaddish. Please note that this change (including remote service participants among those who collectively constitute a minyan) is temporary and will end when we are able to return to our building. This emergency position of the JCLS, along with many other Jewish religious rulings of this moment, is rooted in a rabbinic concept known as she'at hade'chak, time of emergency.
The issues around use of computer equipment and the internet on Shabbat is another issue which we don't have meaningful guidance. In this circumstance, we feel that the mental and spiritual damage caused by isolation and social distancing encourages us to be a bit looser with our halakhic (Jewish legal) observance for the time being. We encourage you to follow your conscious and maintain as much of your religious observance as possible while allowing a bit of forgiveness to yourself and others as we all adjust to this very complicated time. The idea of a slippery slope is a real one so we would urge all of us that choose to compromise previous religious obligations and log-on to your computer to do whatever is possible to refrain from viewing emails, limit pop-up news and advertisements and to refrain as much as possible from what might be considered, Be'tul Torah (Nullification of Torah; engagement in frivolous activities.)
Please be in touch with us after Shabbat with your thoughts, comments and ideas. Please know that as your Rabbi, I am uncomfortable with all of this, but our souls are tied together in a single journey towards redemption. This moment in history is forcing us to find ways to walk together that are beyond ordinary. We will survive and thrive though and following this episode and I look forward to many more meaningful spiritual experiences together.
With admiration and kindness,
Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal

Digital Prayer Books

Digital Prayer Books

During this time, we recognize that many of our congregants do not have prayer books in front of them. Below are the digital prayer books that will guide you through our services.

Shacharit for Weekdays
Afternoon Service for Weekdays
Evening Services for Weekdays
Kabbalat Shabbat and Shabbat Evening Service
P'sukei D'zimra Shabbat
Shabbat Shacharit
Shabbat Morning Torah Service

Shabbat Musaf
Shabbat Afternoon
Services for Saturday Night and Havdallah

Virtual Schedule for the Week of 3/16

Virtual Schedule for the Week of 3/16

As a reminder, the synagogue will be closed this week through Sunday in an effort to limit activities that might compromise our health or safety. Below is a schedule of the services and programs for the upcoming week, all of which are to be conducted virtually. Prayer services can be live streamed here. All other programs listed will be conducted via Zoom video conference.

To join a Zoom conference, follow the links below. Clicking the links will prompt an automatic download of Zoom onto your computer. (Please do not worry, Zoom is a safe program to download). Once the program is downloaded, run the program and provide your name when prompted. You will have the option to join with video (allowing everyone to see you on their screens) or without video (voice-only).

If you have never used Zoom, we suggest you begin the instructions above at least 5-10 minutes before the start of the meeting in case of technical difficulties. If you run into an issue, please contact Jill Rosner (404.603.5741) who can assist you.

The Virtual Open Houses are oriented toward keeping us connected, spiritually-sound, and informed during this difficult time. Each rabbi will offer an appropriate teaching and provide people with the opportunity to share with the group. Finally, we may use some of the time to make or reiterate some announcements, answer questions, etc.. (Sessions will be no longer than an hour).

We look forward to seeing you (virtually)!


Upcoming Week

Tuesday, March 17
7:15 am: Morning Minyan
10 am: Tuesdays@AA (Zoom Link)
2 pm: Rabbi Rosenthal's Virtual Open House (Zoom Link)
6 pm: Evening Minyan
7 pm: Board of Directors Meeting

Wednesday, March 18
7:15 am: Morning Minyan
5 pm: Rabbi Rosenthal's Talmud Class (Zoom Link)
6 pm: Evening Minyan

Thursday, March 19
7:15 am: Morning Minyan
8:30 am: Rabbi Sandler's Talmud Class (Zoom Link)
10 am: Rabbi Sandler's Virtual Open House (Zoom Link)
6 pm: Evening Minyan

Friday, March 20
7:15 am: Morning Minyan
6:30 pm: Shabbat Evening Service
7:32 pm: Candle Lighting

Saturday, March 21
9:30 am: Shabbat Morning Service
7:30 pm: Mincha/Ma'ariv/Havdallah
8:15 pm: Conclusion of Shabbat
8:30 pm: Havdallah/Melava Malka (Zoom Link)

Sunday, March 22
9 am: Morning Minyan
6 pm: Evening Minyan

Associate Rabbi Search

Associate Rabbi Search

The search is on! After months of planning and a ten-hour day of interviewing candidates at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Ahavath Achim's Associate Rabbi Search Committee has invited two young rabbis to visit Atlanta and get to know our AA community. Just as important, these visits will be our congregation's opportunity to get to know each candidate and give feedback to the search committee.

We are excited to bring in these two intelligent, well spoken, and incredibly knowledgeable candidates. They both share a desire to be part of a traditional Jewish community and use their talents and enthusiasm to inspire us to deepen our relationships with one another and with God. Both value the power of music to move us spiritually, lift our voices in prayer, and join together in song.

We need your participation and help in selecting our next Associate Rabbi. These candidates are interviewing us as much as we are interviewing them. Therefore, we must put our best foot forward. During the interview weekends, there will be several opportunities for you to participate in services and conversations with our rabbinical candidates. Whether you are at AA weekly or participate occasionally in AA activities, your moment to impact the spiritual leadership of our congregation is now. Please review this schedule of visits when you can meet the rabbis and form your opinions.

Rabbi Rachel Salston will visit AA this weekend, from February 28 to March 1.
Rabbi Samuel Blustin will visit AA the following weekend, from March 6 to March 8.

During each weekend, the candidate will participate in Friday morning and evening services, Saturday Shabbat morning service followed by the Rebbe's Tish, and Saturday evening Havdallah service. Specific events will introduce the candidates to young families, Kesher kids, and HomeBeis@AA families and our Education Committee.

Take advantage of all these opportunities to meet the candidates. You will be asked to participate in an online congregational survey (check the website and Wednesday eblasts) to give us your thoughts on each candidate's performance, how likely you would be to hire each person, and how you would feel about the candidate's leading prayer and services.

Your participation in the selection process is incredibly important to the search committee's success in finding the right rabbi for Ahavath Achim. We urge you to be part of this critical conversation. This is a genuine spiritual journey. Don't miss it.


Ahavath Achim Associate Rabbi Search Committee

Meet the Candidates

Rabbi Rachel Salston

Rabbi Rachel Salston received her Rabbinic Ordination and MA in Rabbinic Studies from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in May 2018. A native of East Brunswick, New Jersey, Rabbi Salston currently serves as a Chaplain at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, where she is also completing her final unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, the formal training program for chaplains, an educational and spiritual journey that she began even before entering rabbinical school.

Rabbi Salston received her BA in Neuroscience with a minor in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University. She has learned in several yeshivot, including Hadar, Drisha, the Conservative Yeshiva, and SVARA.

Alongside her full-time work in the hospital, Rabbi Salston serves as a rabbi at the East Brunswick Jewish Center, the synagogue of her youth. Last year, Rabbi Salston served as Ritual Director of Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, coordinating the spiritual life of the synagogue. As a rabbinical student, she served as Rabbinic Intern at Burbank Temple Emanu-El in Burbank, CA and taught prayer and the spiritual practice of Jewish art and calligraphy in several Los Angeles Jewish education programs.

A Soferet Stam (Ritual Scribe), Rabbi Salston operates a Torah and Tefillin repair business and teaches seminars for people of all ages about how our sacred scrolls are written, constructed, and maintained. In completion of her rabbinical school concentration in Talmud and Rabbinics, Rabbi Salston researched the history of and laws regarding Jewish amulets. She designs modern amulets for those seeking a physical representation of the prayers of their hearts.

Strongly committed to social justice and global human rights, Rabbi Salston has traveled extensively in the Global South with American Jewish World Service and the Joint Distribution Committee. In her spare time she enjoys baking, crochet, needlepoint, sewing, Jewish and other podcasts, leading Daf Yomi (the daily page of Talmud), yoga, and running.

Did you meet Rabbi Salston? If so, please take 3 – 5 minutes to complete this survey.

Rabbi Sam Blustin

Sam Blustin is a fifth-year rabbinical school student who cares deeply about building communities where people feel seen and at home. Sam is passionate about creating meaningful prayer communities in which the opportunity for transformation and openness is present. He is currently writing his thesis on the theory and art of creating meaningful prayer experiences.

In addition to his studies, Sam serves as the gabbai for the Women's League Seminary Synagogue (for the third year) and is the Youth Director at Ansche Chesed. He co-founded Shira b'Dira, a monthly traditional egalitarian singing and prayer community, and started Shomer Achi, a group for male-identified rabbinical and cantorial students at JTS to discuss how masculinity plays a role in how we lead and how we can better be an ally for women and non-binary individuals in our communities. Sam is also a musician, composer, and songwriter, composing mainly for liturgical settings.

Did you meet Rabbi Blustin? If so, please take 3 – 5 minutes to complete this survey.

Shabbat Service Memorial Day Speech

Shabbat Service Memorial Day Speech

By Colonel Donald Gilner

A tiny island in the pacific dominated by a volcanic mountain and pockmarked with caves, Iwo Jima was the setting for a five-week. Nonstop battle between 70,000 American marines and an unknown number of deeply entrenched Japanese defenders. The courage and gallantry of the American forces was climaxed by the dramatic raising of the American flag over Mount Suribachi. Less remembered, however, is that the battle occasioned an eloquent eulogy by a marine corps rabbi that has become an American classic.

Rabbi Roland b. Gittelsohn (1910-1995), assigned to the fifth marine division, was the first Jewish chaplain the marine corps ever appointed. The American invading force at Iwo Jima included approximately 1,500 Jewish marines. Rabbi Gittelsohn was in the thick of the battle, ministering to marines of all faiths in the combat zone. He shared the fear, horror, and despair of the fighting men, each of whom knew that each day might be his last. Rabbi Gittelsohn's tireless efforts to comfort the wounded and encourage the fearful won him three service ribbons.

When the fighting was over, division chaplain warren Cuthriell, a protestant minister, asked rabbi Gittelsohn to deliver the memorial sermon at the combined religious service dedicating the marine cemetery. As the division chaplain, he was superior in rank above all the chaplains. Cuthriell wanted all the fallen marines – black and white, protestant, catholic, and Jewish – honored in a single, nondenominational ceremony. Unfortunately, racial and religious prejudice was strong in the marine corps, as it as throughout America. According to Rabbi Gittelsohn, most Christian chaplains objected to having a rabbi preach over predominantly Christian graves.

The rabbi and minister were close friends. To his credit, Cuthriell, the division ranking chaplain, refused to alter his plans. Gittelsohn, on the other hand, wanted to save his friend Cuthriell further embarrassment and so he decided it was best not to deliver his sermon. Instead, three separate religious services were held. At the Jewish service, rabbi Gittelsohn delivered the powerful eulogy he originally wrote for the combined service.

Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors' generations ago helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, negroes and whites, rich men and poor…together. Here are protestants, Catholics, and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men, there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy. Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this, then, as our solemn duty, sacred duty to we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of white men and negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price…. We here solemnly swear that this shall not be in vain. Out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.

Among Gittelsohn's listeners were three protestant chaplains so incensed by the prejudice voiced by their colleagues that they boycotted their own service to attend Gittelsohn's. One of them borrowed the manuscript and, unknown to Gittelsohn, circulated several thousand copies to his regiment. Some marines enclosed the copies in letters to their families. An avalanche of coverage resulted. Time magazine published excerpts, which wire services spread even further. The entire sermon was inserted into the congressional record. Radio commentator Robert St. John read it on his program and on many succeeding Memorial Days.

Arnovitz Leadership Institute – Call for Nominations!

Arnovitz Leadership Institute - Call for Nominations!

We are currently accepting nominations for the Arnovitz Leadership Institute and invite you to please submit the names of individuals you think might be interested in this exciting educational opportunity. This program was developed to shape and train the future leaders of our Synagogue. The theme for the 2019-2020 Arnovitz program will be "Finding the Leader Within Ourselves." Our curriculum will provide unique training in the areas of leadership skills, ritual, marketing, branding, and relational Judaism. Our training will also offer insight into the inner workings of every aspect of our Synagogue. Classes will take place once a month over a 10 month period, and will begin in August 2019.

Please submit your nominations to Lindsay Borenstein at, and feel free to nominate yourself. Nominations are due by June 1.

Best of Jewish Atlanta: 2019 Readers' Choice Awards – Vote for AA!

Ahavath Achim has been nominated for Best Simcha/Celebration Venue as part of Best of Jewish Atlanta: 2019 Readers' Choice Awards (brought to you by the Atlanta Jewish Times)! Vote for your Jewish Atlanta favorites for the next 3 weeks, and you'll be entered to win one of several prizes through a random drawing on March 30! We hope you'll keep AA in mind when casting your vote, but hurry! Voting closes on March 15.