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The MJCCA's Impact

Impact Stories

Overcoming Obstacles

“Thanks to the support he received at the MJCCA, Ari is able to succeed independently.” - Ari’s mom, Jess

Ari Goldberg identifies with many labels: Jewish teenager, athlete, student, brother, and dog whisperer. But not for a second does he believe he is his autism. Ari may be on the spectrum, but he has worked unwaveringly to overcome his challenges. And the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta has played a big part.

When Ari was a toddler, his mom, Jess, worried about his delayed development despite their pediatrician’s reassurance. Ari’s preschool teachers at The Weinstein School shared her concerns. “With love and the best intentions, the preschool team steered us to a developmental pediatrician, and we soon received an autism diagnosis,” Jess recounts. “This was a gift, because early intensive intervention makes a profound impact on children under five. Ari got the attention he needed because of his incredible teachers.”

At four years old, Ari wanted to play team sports. Jennifer Lieb, the MJCCA’s Inclusion Specialist, arranged for a facilitator to assist Ari. Jess notes, “The facilitator gave Ari confidence, and for the first time, he could participate in a group activity like other kids. The day Ari kicked his first goal, there wasn’t a dry eye on the field. Therapy provided Ari with learning skills; the MJCCA’s Inclusion Program taught him how to embrace childhood.”

Jess touts the MJCCA’s Athletics Director, Zak Elfenbein, as “the type of coach and mentor I wish for all young athletes. Zak never saw ‘autism,’ he simply saw Ari.” With Zak’s coaching, Ari achieved big life goals; he made the 2019 JCC Maccabi Games® gold-medal-winning basketball team and his middle school’s basketball team.

After three summers at MJCCA Day Camps with a facilitator, Ari no longer needed one. He was determined to attend Camp Barney Medintz, but the idea of overnight camp was daunting. Jess notes it was Susan Berger, CBM’s Associate Director, who set Ari up for success. “Susan ensured he was accepted by peers and counselors. Ari not only learned social skills, but also developed a deep connection to the Jewish community and Israel,” Jess beams. This summer marks his sixth at CBM.

“Ari knew early on the MJCCA was a safe place to learn and grow, and it gave him confidence to explore” Jess explains. “Now Ari is thriving in all areas of his life and wants to help others. He plans to coach kids with special needs for his Bar Mitzvah project. Thanks to the support he received at the MJCCA, he is able to succeed independently.”

IMPACT
94% of parents said their child felt they were part of the camp community as a result of participating in the MJCCA Day Camps Inclusion Program.

Fostering Community

“We are teaching our young generation Jewish values and what it means to be part of a special community.” - Kim Sucan, Director MJCCA Preschools

The three Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta Preschools have earned prestigious accreditations, offer high quality education and programming, and prepare children to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. But ask Kim Sucan, Director of MJCCA Preschools, what the most impactful aspect of the program is and without pause she will answer - the community.

Kim explains, “I have always been dedicated to early childhood education, but it was the MJCCA where I rediscovered Jewish life and found a vibrant community that truly changed me, and with that, our preschools. Families tell us that our preschools feel like their second home. We see families make lasting connections that remain far beyond their child’s graduation.”

Stephanie Lampert, Director of The Schiff School in Sandy Springs agrees, “As I walk the hallways, I see an amalgamation of backgrounds, all joining together in learning that is rooted in ‘yiddishkeit,’ or Jewish core values. Our preschool is like a family. There is true collaboration with our parents and teachers, and working through challenges and celebrating successes together make it feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Both community and inclusion are hallmarks of MJCCA Preschools. Kim notes, “The social growth we see is remarkable, particularly because children of all abilities and from all walks of life are welcome.” Nancy Parker, Director of The Sunshine School in East Cobb, agrees, “Preschoolers walk away with a deeply rooted, solid foundation that prepares them to go confidently into the next phase of their lives.”

Nancy adds, “We have multiple generations come through our doors, and that’s a testament to the warm and welcoming environment that makes families feel at home in our preschool. The impact we have on these children is powerful and breathtaking and it brings tears to my eyes. I get to help make a difference in these families’ lives.”

Kim affirms, “We are teaching our young generation Jewish values and what it means to be part of a special community. The impact we make on these children and families is apparent, and in turn we get to build relationships and watch them grow and blossom. Stephanie, Nancy, and I feel fulfilled beyond measure.”

IMPACT
94% of program participants feel that the MJCCA is a warm and welcoming community.

Discovering a Passion

“To say that the MJCCA and its many wonderful programs have made an impact on my life would be an understatement.” Gene Benator

“It’s hard to believe that when I throw the first pitch to open the spring softball season in March 2020, it will be my 50th year,” Gene Benator shares, referring to his incredible modified fast pitch softball career played through the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. The one season he missed was because he didn’t want to leave his wife, Patty, at home every Sunday with their toddler, Brian, and newborn daughter, Jaime. “Oy! Had I known that was going to be the only season I’d miss in 50 years, I would’ve hired a nanny,” he jests.

Gene’s inaugural athletic season was during the summer of 1971, and “the rest is history,” he says. “From that summer onward, I have been involved with the JCC on a weekly basis.” Through five decades, he has been a fixture in several of the MJCCA’s youth and adult sports leagues, having served in formal and informal roles as a player, team captain, volunteer, coach, mentor, referee, recruiter, cheerleader, umpire, organizer, commissioner, and enthusiast -- but the softball program has had his heart. “Besides being with my family and friends, playing in the league with 109 other players and friends is the thing I most enjoy doing, win or lose (of course, I prefer winning),” he beams.

Ten years ago, Gene’s former teammate, Marcus Katz, suggested an ‘Old-Timer’s Game’ and asked Gene to make it happen. Gene recruited past players from the 1971 to 1992 leagues. “That first year we had four teams, 45 players, and a smattering of family and friends spectating, Gene relays. “The 2019 game saw six teams, 90 players, and 45+ friends and family. The now nicknamed ‘Alta Cocker Game’ is one not to be missed. “The camaraderie, laughter, smiles, and shrewd playing make for a great event!” Gene insists.

“To say that the MJCCA and its many wonderful programs have made an impact on my life would be an understatement,” Gene exclaims. After all, he met Patty, coached his kids in various athletics, played softball and basketball with Brian and his son-in-law, David – all through the JCC. “It doesn’t get any better than that! The MJCCA and its members and staff have played, and will continue to play, a pivotal role in my life and my family’s life.”

IMPACT
92% of parents said that their child learned about good sportsmanship through MJCCA youth sports.

Deepening Connection

“We all have a sense of comfort and home at the MJCCA.” - Josh Perlstein

Like a feel-good family movie, Josh and Deb Perlstein’s Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta story is
a heartwarming one. It all began about two decades ago when Deb was a volunteer MJCCA BBYO chapter advisor and they met through a mutual connection. The pair dated, wed, and joined the JCC. After their daughter Emma, now 16, was born, the intown dwellers moved to the suburbs to be close to the Zaban Park campus. From that point on, the Perlsteins have maximized their MJCCA involvement.

“We started with children’s programming: soccer, softball, dance, gymnastics, childcare, and holiday celebrations,” Josh recalls. Over the years, the family, which also includes Levi, 12, has participated in the Book Festival of the MJCCA, the JCC Maccabi Games®, the Erwin Zaban Leadership Development Program, cooking classes...the list goes on and on. “Staying connected and involved with the MJCCA has become an important part of raising our children,” Josh says. “It gives us a wider breadth of things to share as a family.”

Beyond the quantity of their MJCCA programs has been the quality. Josh’s personal JCC story began when
his family moved to Atlanta in 1979 and he became active in the sports leagues and Camp Barney Medintz. Following in his footsteps, Emma and Levi spend their summers at CBM. “Barney holds a special place in my heart,” Josh shares. “I learned a lot about myself those summers. It’s great to have my kids share that experience.”

Now, 20 years past Deb and Josh’s meeting through BBYO, the plot comes full circle. “Emma lives for BBYO. She has blossomed socially and it makes us so happy,” Deb says. The Perlstein children have also flourished in sports, like their dad. “The MJCCA introduced Levi to basketball at a young age, and he developed a love of the game,” Deb explains. He’s played continuously and recently made the MJCCA’s select team. “The basketball program is fabulous,” she continues. “Levi has developed lasting friendships and amazing skills.” Emma has also enjoyed playing basketball, which culminated in her making the 2019 JCC Maccabi Games team — a “huge accomplishment,” Deb beams.

Because of the MJCCA, the Perlstein kids have “gained independence, confidence, and a strong connection with their Jewish identity,” Josh reveals. “We all have a sense of comfort and home there,” Deb adds. “It truly has enriched our lives.”

IMPACT
96% of parents surveyed said that their child(ren)’s self-confidence increased as a result of attending Camp Barney Medintz.

Getting Involved

“I never would have become thebold, Jewish leader that I am today without BBYO.” - Lindsay Sharman

Most 17-year-olds are trying to find their footing in this world, but Lindsay Sharman is poised, laser-focused, and prepared for her future, thanks to her experience with BBYO at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. There, she has cultivated passion, proficiencies, opportunities, friendships, and a Jewish identity.

“I had been searching for a sense of fulfillment my whole life,” Lindsay says. “I tried sports, camps, and clubs, but none truly clicked. When I went to my first BBYO event, I felt something. When I met my best friends there, it felt like home. When I won my first board position, I knew I was meant to be in the organization. When I attended my first summer program, I fell in love with the world of BBYO.”

Following roles as her chapter’s N’siah (President) and Mazkirah (Secretary), Lindsay now serves as the 75th International Mazkirah. Through these positions, she developed leadership, time management, and communication skills, as well as a level of responsibility and professionalism that will carry her into college and beyond. “This is the type of leadership experience that very few teens get to have at this age,” Lindsay acknowledges.

Lindsay has also forged meaningful relationships through BBYO. “I love that the MJCCA has the Barbara and Sanford Orkin Teen House specifically for BBYO and we have our own physical space to work and host events.” BBYO facilitates friendships with peers throughout Atlanta, while Lindsay’s international role has enabled connections around the globe. “With this exposure to the international Jewish community, my worldview has broadened,” Lindsay explains. “On my phone, I can easily pull up the name of a teen from Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Russia, and the list goes on. Talking to teens from 50+ countries has been life-changing, and some of my closest friends live thousands of miles away.” This experience has profoundly impacted the trajectory of her future, sparking her plan to pursue a degree in International Relations.

BBYO has enriched Lindsay’s connection to Judaism as well. “I am a million times more involved in my Jewish roots and community,” she admits. “I have never felt more proudly Jewish than I do now. The most important thing BBYO has given me, though, is confidence. I never would have become the bold, Jewish leader that I am today without all the people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had with BBYO. I owe the organization everything.”

IMPACT
90% of teens surveyed said that BBYO helped them feel a stronger connection to the Jewish people.

Coming Together

“We are so proud of how our entire community came together to host this magical week of competition, community service, and connection.” - Libby Hertz

The Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta was beyond thrilled to host the 2019 JCC Maccabi Games® July 28-August 2 for just the second time in the history of the competition. The Zaban Park Campus and satellite locations throughout the city welcomed more than 1,600 teen athletes from around the globe to this Olympic-style competition. Co-chairs Libby Hertz and Amy Rubin were the heart and soul of the operation.

“Introducing Jewish teens in our community to the Games and to Jews from around the world was incredible,” states Libby. Team Atlanta’s nearly 600 athletes, the largest delegation in Maccabi history, competed with athletes from 35 visiting delegations from across the U.S., Panama, Israel, and Mexico.

Amy adds, “We were also able to highlight and bring athletes to some amazing Atlanta attractions, like Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Georgia Aquarium, Nitro Zone, and more. Our community had a chance to shine and we are grateful for their support.”

From the evening events to daily competitions, athletes made lasting connections and hundreds of coaches, volunteers, and supporters also formed lasting bonds. While competitors vied for bronze, silver, and gold medals, some also earned the special Midot Medals, given to individuals who represent the core values of the Games. Recipients embody what the Games are all about, stepping up and going above and beyond the competition, or “Beyond Sports.”

The MJCCA followed this mantra of #beyondsports throughout the event and introduced innovative components to the 2019 JCC Maccabi Games®. Amy explains, “We had the first-ever Gaming and eSports category, an elevated Star Reporter program, and the first inclusive program where athletes with special needs competed and participated in all aspects of the Games.”

JCC Cares was another impactful element of the Games. The MJCCA partnered with the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled and the Shepherd Center, showing athletes and coaches that it is critical to go “Beyond Sports” and see all people for their abilities rather than disabilities.

Libby beams, “We’re incredibly grateful to everyone who played a role in making the 2019 JCC Maccabi Games such a success, and for helping create memories that will last a lifetime. ”

IMPACT
99% of teen athletes surveyed said they made new friends or acquaintances as a result of participating in the JCC Maccabi Games®.

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The MJCCA’s Inclusion Program strives to provide the necessary accommodations and flexibility for youth who require additional support so they may access the transformative opportunities available at the MJCCA. Our Inclusion Team collaborates with parents, educators, and staff to determine if successful program placement is possible. These youth and their families are then supported by our Inclusion Team through program accommodations and may also receive individualized assistance. Click here for more information.