Jewish Communities Grow

Jewish communities from Boston to Berlin are growing and succeeding despite facing challenges.

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So what did Atlanta’s Jewish kingpins do? They made it even harder by nearly doubling their goal to $45 million. That, after all, was closer to what was needed to refurbish the old-age home, build a new community center, and reconstruct other critical Jewish institutions. And the volunteer fundraisers vowed not to accept a dime unless the donor agreed that giving to the building fund would not mean giving less to the annual campaign.

It took just two calls to know it would work. The co-founders of the Home Depot chain committed $15 million outright, along with a $5 million challenge grant. The campaign chairman and his sister, three honorary chairs, and five other wealthy Jews each kicked in $1 million. The best part was the $4.7 million contributed by Coca-Cola, the banks, and other bastions of the Protestant power structure. The fundraising was so successful that, barely 18 months after it began, it ended with $50.3 million--twice what the consultants had predicted and $5 million more than the quixotic goal set by its bullish leaders.

Money too often is used as a measure of a Jewish community’s strength but it does matter, more so in Atlanta than anywhere. What the community raised let it reach out to new arrivals, who have more than tripled the city’s Jewish population over the last 30 years. As word spread of its fundraising prowess, other Jewish communities have looked to Atlanta for hope that, in an era awash in stories of vanishing Jews, growth is possible and productive.

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Larry Tye

Larry Tye is a former reporter for the Boston Globe, and the author of Home Lands: Portraits of the New Jewish Diaspora.