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Don’t Stop, Make it Pop
Atlanta manages to find a way to make their parties pop with flare, meaning and a sense of community in the face of a worldwide pandemic. Thinking outside the box and pivoting like never before, the stories that fill this winter simcha issue spotlight non-traditional party plans. Let’s start with the couple who had to change their original wedding plans because of COVID and logistics but stayed true to their roots. Bride Anna Streetman graces our cover. You may have noticed large celebration signs on neighbors’ lawns announcing a special occasion. The AJT interviews the sorority sisters who started a rapidly expanding sign company in response to the pandemic. Other businesses profiled in this issue offer scrapbooking to record the event and tie dying as a gift option or an artsy party activity. We take you outdoors and socially distant to learn about ethnic driveway celebrations taking place in a Marietta neighborhood. Read how some b’nai mitzvah students had to learn a second Torah portion when their plans changed because of COVID. The AJT covers the first kosher wedding at Zoo Atlanta and reports on the opening of The General Muir in Sandy Springs with its beefed-up focus on catering. Speaking of party food, there’s a piece on elaborate cookie cakes and, because you can’t have too many simchas, we highlight a second marriage and a double sibling mitzvah. These celebrations and more prove the resilience of Atlanta’s Jewish community. Just ask area party planners how they’ve pivoted to meet their clients’ desires to keep the party rocking despite the obstacles. Just goes to show, the party doesn’t have to stop when a worldwide crisis gets in the way.
Kaylene Ladinsky Kaylene Ladinsky Editor & Managing Publisher
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EDITOR & MANAGING PUBLISHER Cover Photo: Anna Streetman met her husband at Congregation Etz Chaim preschool, so the couple’s ketubah incorporates the Tree of Life (Etz Chaim).
KAYLENE LADINSKY email@example.com Executive Assistant
EDITORIAL Associate Editor
Jewish Atlanta’s Stylish Simchas and Celebrations
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The Atlanta Jewish Times is printed in Georgia and is an equal opportunity employer. The opinions expressed in the Atlanta Jewish Times do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. Periodicals postage paid at Atlanta, Ga. POSTMASTER send address changes to Atlanta Jewish Times 270 Carpenter Drive Suite 320, Atlanta Ga 30328. Established 1925 as The Southern Israelite www.atlantajewishtimes.com ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES (ISSN# 0892-33451) IS PUBLISHED BY SOUTHERN ISRAELITE, LLC © 2020 ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES Printed by Walton Press Inc. MEMBER Conexx: America Israel Business Connector American Jewish Press Association Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce Please send all photos, stories and editorial content to: email@example.com
14 A Match Made in Preschool 16 Party Plan Pivot 18 ‘Greeting Card for the Neighborhood’ 20 Amid Elul and Elephants 22 Couple Unites After Decades of Life and Kids 24 Spices and Havdalah B’nai Mitzvah 26 Double Mitzvahs 29 How to be Happy
30 Color, Caftans and COVID-Safe Parties 32 Cloud 9 Encapsulates Special Occasions 34 Driveway Dining 36 How Sweet It Is 38 New General Muir Bets Big on Catering 40 Winter Simcha Announcements 44 Advertisers Directory 46 Marketplace
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A Match Made in Preschool
CELEBRATIONS By Roni Robbins
You often hear about high school sweethearts who tie the knot. But preschoolers? Anna Streetman and Harrison Levy are one such newlywed couple who met as 4-year-olds in teacher Rita Breier’s Cool Cats class at Congregation Etz Chaim. I interviewed Streetman and Levy before and after their wedding, which took place Aug. 23 at VG Bistro in Roswell. Here’s the story of their union. Streetman, the AJT’s new online content coordinator, recalls her initial impressions
of the mechanical expert who would become her mate. “Photos suggest we were really friendly with each other,” Streetman said. “There’s a photo of him in preschool with his arm around her. But they didn’t connect again until middle school, playing a few rounds of hard-to-get. “Harrison doesn’t remember. We were in middle school sometime between 11 and 13. Right around then he got interested in me, I think. Harrison was flirting with me and trying to get me to sit next to him. He put on the charm and I played hard to get. “Six years ago, my mom
ran into Harrison in the grocery store. She said, ‘I’m Toby Streetman, do you remember me?’” She was also an Etz Chaim preschool teacher and the two set of parents had been friends. “I remember Anna,” he replied. Next step was Anna’s. She looked him up on Facebook and added him to her online friends. “I was too scared to talk to him, and he was too scared to talk to me. … I finally asked him to dinner on Facebook Messenger.” As it turned out it was a terrible first date, they both admitted. “I messed up,” Harrison said. Streetman fills in
the details. “Harrison was very nervous. He talked about cars. He’s a mechanic. Every time I talked about something else, he was persistent … He knew he made a fool of himself. … I like that he didn’t give up, and here we are.” Harrison proposed at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom in front of the Tree of Life (Etz Chaim) Oct. 28, 2018. “I love Disney and am a huge Disney person,” Streetman said. The child-like belief in dreams coming true combined with a determination and longhaul approach paid off for the pair when it came to planning
Anna Streetman and Harrison Levy met in preschool at Congregation Etz Chaim.
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1 2 3 4 5 6 1 Anna Streetman wore ruby slippers with her dress, a tribute to “The Wizard of Oz,” a favorite during childhood when she met Harrison.
2 A Disney-themed snow globe that reads “Happily Ever After” sat on the cake table.
3 The wedding cake had a Disney-themed “Happily Ever After” cake topper.
4 Anna Streetman, in Disney ears and T-shirt, shows off her ring.
5 Harrison Levy proposed to Anna Streetman in front of the Tree of Life at Walt Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
6 In keeping with the “Tree of Life” (Etz Chaim) theme, the couple’s ketubah features two people embracing underneath a tree.
their wedding, which ended up falling during COVID. The initial plans called for the couple to be married in October 2019, but they decided to push it to the summer at Etz Chaim, where they met, never anticipating a worldwide health crisis would hit. The plans were to include 40 people, but the pandemic forced them to cut that number to 10. Then there were the meals to consider: dinner, brunch, restaurant, catered, home cooked? “We eventually decided on VG Bistro because it had everything we needed in one place,” Streetman said.
Of the preparations, Levy said, “I think it added a little stress. Initially we scrambled to figure out something,” to which his new other half finishes, “and a couple of minor changes. We always wanted a small wedding, and we knew that. We did not cut down a huge amount.” Streetman said the experience was “definitely a little scary and challenging, all the uncertainly. I think it brought us closer as a couple. It reminded me of what it meant to be together, to get through this and support each other even if our plans change. I’m glad to have him to go through it.” ì
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Party Plan Pivot A bridal vendor Zoom session.
By Anna Levy
The age of COVID has presented unique challenges to those celebrating simchas and those planning them. Atlanta videographers, photographers and event planning professionals had to shift their businesses to adjust. The AJT spoke to three event professionals about how their businesses have been impacted by COVID, and how they’ve adapted to help clients safely celebrate their simchas.
Robin Vogt Blue Orchid Productions Robin Vogt, who heads virtual events for Blue Orchid Productions, explained that the biggest hurdle for families right now is trying to readjust. “Many people do not know what their options are, so they immediATLANTA JEWISH TIMES
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ately go for Zoom. But there are plenty of other ways to create virtual events that are more userfriendly.” She cited a program called Event Live, a streaming service, which is popular with Blue Orchids’ clients. It is simple to use in that to join, all one needs to do is click a link that is sent to them. The program also offers options to make comments, sign a guestbook, and watch the event without having to worry about background noise or having your camera on. Vogt jokes that you can even “watch a wedding in your pajamas with popcorn” with Event Live. As recently as last week, the company used the program to host a wedding with viewers as far as Australia, Hungary and South Africa, she said. “Some of our clients have relatives that are all over the world, and they want their family to be able to attend,” Vogt said. “Part of our mission is to make
their vision a reality and show our clients that virtual events can be both intimate and engaging,” she explained. “In videography, things change a lot. There’s nothing people aren’t doing today in video that isn’t new and refreshing. So, we keep up too because that’s the way of the world now. We’re happy to evolve, and happy to take the technical side off people’s shoulders so they can just enjoy their events.” She added that being flexible and keeping her customers’ needs front-of-mind has helped the company flourish through the pandemic. “We aim to make things easy for everyone,” Vogt said. “Whatever plans change for our clients, we change too. Our business has always been about saving memories and family moments for some of life’s happiest occasions. For us, COVID has just been another way we have adapted to help fit our clients’ needs.”
Shelly Danz Atlanta Wedding Extravaganza In normal times, the Atlanta Wedding Extravaganza attracts a crowd of more than 1,000 people. The event is filled with booths of wedding vendors, live entertainment, food, gifts and giveaways. However, once COVID hit, founder Shelly Danz had to make some modifications to the usual festivities. “My goal was to make things as interesting and interactive as possible, despite it being virtual,” Danz said. “We’re covering all the most-loved aspects of a wedding expo: fantastic samples, vendors in action, getting questions answered, inspiring with creative displays and images, and fun activities that make it feel like a party. And we’re doing it in a way
1 2 1 Envato Elements // Blue Orchid professionally orchestrates livestreaming productions.
2 A bride with some of her gifts from the curbside pickup of the Atlanta Wedding Extravaganza.
3 Shelly Danz is producer of the Atlanta Wedding Extravaganza.
that protects the safety of our attendees and vendors.” The most recent event, July 25-29, featured COVID-friendly ways to celebrate. The event was a combination of virtual booths and daily Zoom calls with nightly entertainment. Daily guest speakers spoke on popular wedding topics such as wedding planning, ideas for virtual ceremonies, and how to find a dress to flatter the bride’s body type. Those wishing to attend could also get VIP tickets, which entitled them to extra gifts and other privileges. “The VIP curbside experience allows brides and grooms to enjoy a drive-through celebration with live music and gorgeous décor to pick up vendor gifts to sample at home, at their leisure,” Danz said. During the week of the event, participants could log onto the website to learn more about the vendors. Every vendor had a special offer, and there were giveaways during the entire event. Some of the giveaway prizes included a honeymoon, a wedding photographer, a DJ, and discounted wedding dresses. At the end of this year’s event, 75 prizes were given away. “For me, the most exciting part of this was seeing how happy our brides were,” Danz said. “People have been so upset and so lost during this time because everything has changed. But when they joined our event, we would
4 Duane Stork photographed the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, among other events and celebrations he captures.
5 Blue Orchid films Jay Kessler at Zoo Atlanta for the Jew-
ish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta’s anniversary last month.
6 Brides who bought VIP tickets to the Atlanta Wedding Extravaganza were able to pick up their gifts curbside.
see them laughing and chatting with everyone and just having an amazing time. They forgot they were even on a Zoom call and not together in person.” The next Atlanta Wedding Extravaganza virtual event is planned for Jan. 23-29. New for next year, brides can book mini consults with wedding vendors through their virtual booths. There will also be a New Yorkstyle fashion show pre-taped with a limited audience. The fashion show will screen during the online show with pop-up details for viewers, followed by a video chat with wedding fashion experts.
Duane Stork Photography Duane Stork is a triple threat. He specializes in video, photography and audio. When the pandemic began, his business took a sharp drop, and he lost out on about $75,000 worth of events he was scheduled to work. The sudden drop in business forced Stork to get creative. For a few months, he led a class called “Putting Your Best Foot Forward.” It was designed for Zoom professionals, where Stork coached them on how to look and sound better on Zoom. He also helped professionals with lighting on Zoom calls to make sure they were presenting them-
selves as well as possible. However, Stork says he did not make enough money on the classes, so he came up with another idea. He created the website Livestream ATL. After that, Stork said business became a “madhouse” again. Since then, he has livestreamed weddings, funerals and other events, and has turned all physical events into virtual events. Stork recently did a full production for the Sequoyah High School choir in Canton. He was able to do full audio and video of the choir’s performance, and the video was sent to all of their families and friends. In addition, he also filmed astronaut Jessica Meir as a guest star for the ARCS Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting upstanding scholars in Georgia whose research could lead to advances in science, engineering and medical research. And he did all of this from the comfort of his own home. Stork, who has a background working with companies such as The Coca-Cola Co. and Chick-fil-A, says he is continuing to do commercial photography, but business is slower. He recently photographed a law firm and did some family portraits. “I’m very grateful and beyond thrilled that my business has been able to still grow and thrive during the pandemic,” Stork said. ì
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‘Greeting Card for the Neighborhood’ Serena Iteld stands in front of the Sign Greeters display for her fourth birthday.
By Chana Shapiro
The colorful yard sign company, Sign Greeters, headquartered in Atlanta, is quickly spreading cheer throughout the United States. Cofounded by Stacie Francombe in Atlanta and Ivonne Simon, in Coral Springs, Fla., the joint venture was a natural collaboration for the two women who met in 1992 as sorority sisters at The Ohio State University. Now 28 years later, Francombe’s marketing experience ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES
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and deep involvement in the Jewish community, including managing the 2019 JCC Maccabi in Atlanta, and Simon’s financial background and recruiting skills, form a successful team. Their yard greeting sign company has rapidly expanded, with 41 licensees in 11 states. Amazingly, COVID-19 was their business catalyst. When Francombe lost her job at the
Ivonne Simon, president of Sign Greeters, works from Coral Springs, Fla.
beginning of the pandemic, her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in. Francombe, Sign Greeters CEO and cofounder, explained, “We saw that there was a demand for service that offers a unique way to celebrate when people are feeling anxious or uneasy. During this pandemic, we knew families were looking for new ways to celebrate birthdays and special occasions.” Simon, Sign Greet-
er president and co-founder, added, “We also wanted to help people looking for a new source of income after losing jobs. They are now regional licensees of a company that is both meaningful and profitable. It started with people we knew, but then others approached us. Some have been in corporate America and were looking for something that is new and Stacie Francombe, CEO of Sign Greeters, runs the company out of Atlanta
exciting.” Sign Greeters provides inventory, marketing materials, training and social media support for licensees across the country. Licensees include wedding planners and photographers who found themselves out of work during the pandemic. It was a natural fit for them, allowing them to continue helping customers celebrate joyful events. The yard greeting signs are something everyone enjoys, not only the lucky recipient. For those who walk or drive by, good news is spread to include everyone in the celebration. The yard signage, with balloons, flowers,
hearts and stars, lets the whole neighborhood join in a family’s simcha. Francombe described the yard signs as “greeting cards for the neighborhood.” She said, “Our goal is simple: make people happy,” offering a few examples of memorable signs her company provided. A young man rented a “Happy Birthday” sign for his girlfriend’s Labrador Retriever. A grandmother rented a sign welcoming her granddaughter home after a long hospitalization for a serious accident. And a sign celebrating a teen’s completion of cancer
treatment proclaimed, “Hip, Hip, Hooray, Chemo Ends Today!” Sign Greeters customizes and installs catchy displays ranging from celebrating graduations to promoting events at synagogues. The company has become a leading participant in drive-by celebrations, outdoor gatherings and Zoom parties, and photos of their work are ubiquitous in social media. Notably, the company specializes in surprises. The process of renting the company’s personalized signage includes assistance with selecting the right graphics, themes and color choices that fit each spe-
cific occasion, individual hobbies or special interests. Rental periods range from one day to much longer periods of time. The average rental is for two days, typically over the weekend, with a Friday drop-off and Sunday pickup. Elisa Iteld Ellman, who found Sign Greeters through Jewish Moms of Atlanta, was so pleased working with Sign Greeters for her daughter Sarina’s fourth birthday, that she recently ordered a sign to congratulate her daughter’s “Morah” (teacher). “Sign Greeters made my daughter so happy! They did everything! It’s the best money I’ve spent in a long time.” ì
When the pandemic prevented a party, Sign Greeters provided a communal celebration.
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Amid Elul and Elephants
Harold Alan Photographers // The chuppah had a natural organic design with curly willow and jasmine surrounded by floral clusters at the base.
By Marcia Caller Jaffe
Groom and local attorney Danny Wasserman fondly recalled his Labor Day Zoo Atlanta wedding – the first kosher event there – to Jennifer Snow, whom he met on JSwipe while she was a dental hygienist in Boone, N.C. “During the month of Elul, we had elephants and giraffes on the double-decked venue at the new Zoo facility. We had masks during the ceremony, and guests considered it a welcomed ‘date night out’ as a safe solution during the pandemic. Open bar, dancing, outdoor patio, terrific kosher food. I had previously worked with kosher caterer Eli Brafman and knew his food was top notch.” Visible from the back terraces of the Carlos Ballroom, ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES
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three Zoo Atlanta elephants roamed the African Savanna while bluegrass music played during cocktail hour. The couple planned in December for a May wedding, which was pushed back because of COVID to September, with only 80 guests. “Plans had to shift gears,” the new bride said. “We had some nail-biting months not sure if it was even going to happen. I started researching and planning myself. Once Danny saw how much went into it, he stepped in and we worked together. I made a checklist and binder to keep everything organized. Planning with my fiancé was challenging, but it also brought us closer and gave us a mutual goal, which made the event even more special.” On Sept. 6, Zoo Atlanta hosted the Snow-Wasserman’s
event, its first kosher wedding in its newly opened Savanna Hall, with Proof of the Pudding leading the event’s culinary direction as Zoo Atlanta’s sole catering partner. Eli Brafman was a culinary and kosher consultant for this Labor Day event. Built in 1921 and known as a historic Atlanta landmark, Savanna Hall (which once housed the Cyclorama painting) opened in February as part of the Zoo’s Grand New View transformation, a three-part project that includes the new African Savanna and the new Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Plaza. “The Proof of the Pudding team and I are very excited about our new kosher kitchen at Zoo Atlanta,” said Adam Noyes, the catering company’s president. “This new venue is truly
amazing and gives us the ability to serve our community the finest and most innovative kosher cuisine for all types of events and gatherings.” Raymond King, president and CEO of Zoo Atlanta, said, “While these are challenging times for gatherings, we are very proud to have been able to put together an event that was not only beautiful and memorable, but also designed with impeccable attention to detail to ensure and promote wellness.” All CDC’s COVID-19 safety precautions and guidelines were strictly enforced and exceeded, he said. The menu included themed appetizers such as Thai jungle meatballs, apple smoked chicken and vegetarian empanadas with chef-attended stations:
1 2 3 4
a taco cantina, grits bar, and a more traditional station offering grilled rosemary salmon, white asparagus and vegetable risotto pilaf, alongside a dessert destination. Zoo Atlanta operations and animal care teams were also onsite to ensure guest and animal safety throughout the event. Here are some other visuals: The bride wanted a comfortable gown to be able to move effortlessly without fear of tripping. She purchased one with a sheer lace, three-quarterlength top, a soft tulle skirt, and hemmed off the train for dancing. She carried an asymmetrical cascade bouquet with English tea roses, white larkspur, lilies, blue delphinium, silver dollar eucalyptus and hydrangea entwined with jasmine. The chuppah had a natural organic design with curly willow and jasmine surrounded by floral clusters at the base. The table centerpieces had potted plants of a variety of herbs and succulents. The couple wanted guests to bring a plant home instead of using cut flowers. Jennifer said, “I didn’t want to put too much emphasis on large floral center pieces, so guests could focus on live animals right outside!” She continued, “Rabbi Pin-
ny Andrusier, a friend family came from Florida to officiate. Emotions were not only high from feelings that a wedding stirs, but some were nervous about being in a public space during a pandemic. The rabbi reminded us that our people of Israel have been through so much, and that we really needed something good to happen this upcoming year, that we were blessed to share and bring something good (our wedding) into 5781. Since it was days before Rosh Hashanah, he blew the shofar and for that moment, everything stood still. It was cathartic.” Danny’s children enthusiastically participated. Yaakov, 13, carried the ketubah; Avi, 11, carried the ring; Asher, 8, carried the shofar; and Chana, 8, laid out a ring of rose petals under the chuppah. Jennifer offered this advice to future brides. “Balance yourself. It’s a lot of pressure to plan and organize a wedding. Take breaks to spend quality time with the person who is there for you through it all, your fiancé. What really matters is that you two are together, and everyone is there to support your love.” ì
1 For centerpieces, Jennifer chose to bring in nature with herbs and succulents by husband-wife team Laurens Floral Art.
2 Proof of the Pudding got creative with a jungle and zoo-themed menu. 3 Jennifer and step-daughter Chana don masks.
4 The bride and groom were photo bombed by an elephant in the background.
5 Danny with his sons Avi (with the ring), Asher (with the shofar), and Yaakov (with the ketubah).
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Couple Unites After Decades of Life and Kids
By Marcia Caller Jaffe
Marcy Green Maya and Chip Umstead re-met at their Briarcliff High School reunion, the second time around. Only problem was that Maya was already dating someone and didn’t respond enthusiastically to Umstead’s overtures until they ran into each other at Costco. Five years later they tied the knot. Maya teaches preschool at
Congregation Beth Shalom. Umstead is in commercial real estate and finance. Between them, they have seven children. They got engaged in December 2019. Pre-COVID they went back and forth on the format of the wedding. Umstead wanted to elope to Hawaii. Maya recalled, “Plan A was May with 60 guests at Aunt Brenda and Uncle Mark Lichtenstein’s Sandy Springs home. Plan B venue
Jack Parada Photography // The bride and groom entered the chuppah to “A
Thousand Years” performed by live musicians.
was the same, but with 40 guests in September with Rabbi Brad Levenberg officiating.” Brenda is the sister of Maya’s mother Emily Green. Maya went for an upscale Mexican decor with hot pink and orange tablecloths. She encouraged guests to wear floral prints. Umstead wore a dark blue suit, and Maya’s dress was lace Marc Jacobs. Maya described the wedding. “We were really lucky with the weather, but had a back up tent reserved just in case. Added Touch Catering put together many elements, Jack Parada Photography, Chris Macksey of Topher Mack Floral & Events. One of my favorite touches was the custom cookies by Galu Sweet Deco … As a measure of good luck, Chip stepped on two glasses!” Erin Lis, director of sales and marketing for Added Touch Catering, said, “This Latin-in-
spired late-summer backyard wedding was all about having fun and being in love. Guests were greeted with live music, sugar and cinnamon-rimmed tequila shots, frozen margaritas, mini blackened fish tacos, and mushroom quesadillas. We timed the evening so Marcy and Chip would be walking down the aisle at dusk and married by sunset when the twinkling lights and candles surrounding the pool would be sparkling. Immediately after the couple said “I do,” guests feasted on grilled cilantro lime shrimp, tenderloin steak churrasco with chimichurri sauce, black beans, rice, Mexican street corn, our signature cabbage slaw, citrus green salad, and all trimmings: tortillas, salsa, queso, and guacamole.” Maya is known for her candy obsession, so rather than a traditional wedding cake, she was surprised with a colorful
Guests got a COVID kit alongside custom heart cookies by Galu Sweet Deco & Gifts.
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1 1 Chip Umstead broke two glasses as Rabbi Brad Levenberg cheered him on.
2 The family gathered under the chuppah at dusk.
3 Since Marcy Maya loves candy, Added Touch’s pastry chef created this cake, which had bounds of candy and gummies inside. 4 Brenda and Mark Lichtenstein toast the newlyweds.
5 The pool setting in the Lichtensteins’ backyard.
5 gummy “surprise!” cake made in-house by an Added Touch pastry chef. Added Touch owner Sandra Bank commented, “Like the damask linens and beautiful florals, the cake was accented with hot pink and bright orange icing. When it was cut, tons of rainbow candies and sprinkles spilled out, perfectly complementing the tone of this playful and romantic affair.” Many brides have a wonderful coterie of food and flowers, but not many have a pilot/
6 aunt with a private jet to escort them on the honeymoon. Brenda Lichtenstein has been flying for more than 25 years. Escorting honeymooners and flying friends for island jaunts is glamorous, but Brenda has turned this hobby into meaningful mitzvahs. She is now into her fifth plane: a Citation Excel, requiring two pilots at all times. Brenda recounts, “Friends and family have been flying with me to fun places for years! I’ve also been flying missions for Angel
6 Aunt Brenda’s jet is a Citation Excel, which she used to whisk away the couple for their honeymoon.
Flight, whose goal is to remove the obstacle of transportation for folks needing medical attention. Most have suffered enough without worrying about paying for transportation to the best doctors. The other organization is Veterans Airlift Command. These are wounded warriors mostly from Afghan/Iraq wars, ... the injuries, amputations, PTSD, are unimaginable. I also flew several medical missions into Haiti post-earthquake and flew supplies to Texas after floods.
For me, listening to speakers is not as fulfilling as the ‘hands on’ giving … Marcy wanted to go away to someplace warm for a few days. I said, ‘We’ll fly y’all down, and go someplace else.’ They insisted that we go along. It didn’t take much encouragement. Post-wedding, we were off to Palm Beach and the beautiful Breakers. I’ve always been very close to Marcy. Our love is mutual. It was just natural for us to host their wedding. I love her like a precious little sister.” ì 23 • STYLE MAGAZINE
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By Marcia Caller Jaffe
Spices and Havdalah B’nai Mitzvah
Ray Alyssa Rothman reserved a b’nai mitzvah date on the calendar three years ago at Congregation B’nai Torah for her son Sammy and daughter Becca Goldstein. She always knew she was having a double b’nai mitzvah for her younger children with them being only 16 months apart and Becca being the younger one. Rothman noted some of the challenges she experienced with the planning. “We picked a Havdalah service to be different and more economical. When the pandemic happened, the synagogue told us that they could not
promise a better date. We canceled the party and those vendors and moved forward with plans for the virtual ceremony. In our online invitation, we called the double simcha a Zoomitzvah after reading a prior article in the Atlanta Jewish Times.” Sammy and Becca began training with in-person meetings with tutor Rebecca Cheskes, who also worked with older brother Teddy three years earlier. With the onset of the pandemic, the sessions became virtual. Becca went first with 30 minutes on Sunday afternoon; and Sammy followed with his session. B’nai Torah Assistant Rabbi Hillel Ko-
nigsburg was also part of the preparation team. At 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, the sanctuary was empty except for the Rothman-Goldstein family, with Rabbi Joshua Heller participating from the social hall. Over 190 family and friends joined on Zoom with their voices and images filling the room. People attended virtually from all across the United States, Israel, Brazil and Spain, making it truly a global event. After the 90-minute service, guests mingled with the family in a virtual cocktail party. Becca and Sammy’s parshah was Chayei Sarah, recounting
Sarah’s death and how “teaching us the awareness of death gives meaning and inspiration of life,” Rothman said. They spoke about their interpretation relating to strong female leaders and powerful negotiation skills. Heller blessed the children that they carry on their mother’s resilience, and the best traits of Isaac and Rebecca. He also provided soothing comments about the drama of the past week’s election. When the prayer for the country was recited, Heller noted that the Psalm of Ascents, Psalm 121, which is often part of the Shabbat afternoon service, speaks of both anxiety and hope.
Jon Marks // Mother Ray Rothman commended Becca and Sammy for their commitment to each other and Judaism.
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1 2 1 Prior to the pandemic, the party theme was going to be The Red Carpet Event. Rothman did a smaller version for the immediate family.
2 Jon Marks // Becca and Sammy posed for the pre-mitzvah photos at the Roswell Mill.
3 Jon Marks // Becca and Sammy, just 16 months apart, selected the b’nai mitzvah date three years ago.
4 Jason Burke // The Rothman family are dressed all in black for the Friday night dinner.
Rothman’s parents Harriet and Stan Dickman were online from Virginia Beach, Va., and recited a moving grandparent’s prayer and two other prayers. Elegant in a navy lace dress, Rothman expressed her love of Judaism and pride in Becca and Sammy and their kindness and reliance on one another, along with her hope that they continue religious practice in home and synagogue, an example that she sets. Students at Peachtree Charter Middle School, Sammy and Becca both play soccer for the Rush Union league. For their mitzvah project, they volunteered at two fall events for the CCC (Creating Connected Communities). The group focuses on bringing programs to children in need by empowering teens to become engaged community leaders and volunteers. The siblings worked at two fall festivals last year, providing a cookie decorating station to underprivileged children. The fall festivals provide children in need with a safe, fun-
filled block party, an opportunity for those who might not have this chance elsewhere. Sammy and Becca loved knowing they made even a small difference in these children’s lives. They hope to continue to work with the CCC because they saw “on a personal level that giving back to our community is an important thing to do, and we can always do more to better the world around us,” mom Rothman said. A single mother, she planned all the details. She recalled that “it has been a long journey to get to this milestone; the whole ceremony felt perfect. It was meaningful and intimate; no complaints about doing a Zoomitzvah!” At the end of the ceremony, many resounding “mazel tovs” were blasted on the screen. The pre-mitzvah pictures were taken at Roswell Mill, the same location used for Teddy’s pictures. During the ceremony, 16-year-old Teddy dressed the Torah, opened the ark and recited the “Prayer for our Country.” ì
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By Roni Robbins
When Stella Galanti read from the Torah Nov. 14 it was a big feat in two ways. She is believed the first bat mitzvah to read from the Torah on Shabbat at Congregation Or VeShalom and it was her second time mastering a Torah and haftorah reading. Most b’nai mitzvah have a difficult time learning one pair of readings, let alone two sets of the standards for the coming-of-age ceremony. But learning new parts of the service is par for the course when lifecycle events are upended during a worldwide health crisis. While some Atlanta synagogues have allowed b’nai mitzvah students to continue with their originally planned readings despite a date change, others required students to learn the por-
tion designated for the actual ceremony. Stella was among them. “It was upsetting at first when some things … weren’t possible,” Stella said about the pandemic putting a wrench in her original bat mitzvah, scheduled for mid-March. She learned her Torah maftir (final) reading and haftorah for the original date and learned a new pair of readings for Nov. 14. Her haftorah reading was extremely long for the original date and even longer for this month’s simcha. But Stella said the extra effort was worth it to set a new standard at her traditional Sephardic synagogue. “It’s very special to be able to follow my great-grandfather, grandfather and father to read out of the Torah at Or VeShalom.” They are original OVS members. “It’s an incredible honor. I’m very
excited to make that step in my life and to start a new chapter at Or VeShalom.” The Davis Academy eighth grader added, “I’ll have a great story to tell my kids.” Stella is not alone in her determination to become a b’nai mitzvah despite the logistical obstacles. The AJT found two other b’nai mitzvah from different synagogues to share their experiences learning a double set of readings – or more – when their big day fell within the pandemic. What the students seem to have in common is diligence, flexibilty and advanced Hebrew skills. They rescheduled from earlier in the pandemic to a later date, projecting that the pandemic would be over and traditional b’nai mitzvah and celebrations would resume. Wishful thinking because
COVID had other plans. Stella and another student the AJT interviewed shared a b’nai mitzvah date, March 21, a week after the pandemic shuttered synagogues, schools and businesses.
Fast Learner It’s a good thing Jacob Levin and the other students interviewed are fast learners. Levin took the challenge of a bar mitzvah in a pandemic in stride, performing both sets of readings at his intimate, but memorable, bar mitzvah ceremony during Sukkot last month at Congregation Etz Chaim. “I look at things straight on,” the Mabry Middle School teen told the AJT. “I am not looking for the easy way. I go right through
Scensations Photography // Jacob Levin’s bar mitzvah was postponed from March to October as a result of the pandemic. Here he poses with his family
showing off their personalized masks.
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1 Sari D’Agostino reads from the Torah May 2 in the chapel of Congregation Shearith Israel surrounded by her parents, Annie and Josh.
the middle of it. It was going to be a pain in the tuches, as I said in my d’var Torah, but I put my head down and kept working on it.” Levin’s first maftir and haftorah were among the longest of the year, taking 20 minutes each to recite, according to his parents. His second set of readings were a lot shorter. A rescheduled b’nai mitzvah certainly comes with its benefits and drawbacks. Levin’s new date, with its shorter readings, convinced his mother to read a line of Torah, but his grandfathers, who were prepared to read at the original bar mitzvah, were unable to read last month because of COVID concerns. Families that didn’t quarantine with each other couldn’t stand together on the bimah, Levin explained. The highlights of the ceremony last month were that both sets of Levin’s grandparents and his 91-year-old great-grandmother Janine Storch, a Holocaust survivor, were in attendance. Levin also invited three classmates, including two who had virtual b’nai mitzvah earlier in the pandemic, to stand on the bimah with him – socially distanced – for the Ashrei prayer. His mother Beth tears up remembering the scene. “It was like as it would have been if there had not been a pandemic. They got to have a moment like that as Jacob
did.” She kvelled over her son’s selflessness, that “he would think enough on his day to include his classmates.” Her husband Micah echoed those sentiments. “He kept a level head. I couldn’t be prouder. To watch him do what he did was surreal.” Dad also learned a new portion for the rescheduled bar mitzvah, but admits it was easy for him, being a product of Atlanta’s Jewish day schools. For Jacob, it was a challenge, his father said. But instead of having a negative attitude, Jacob used positive energy “regardless of how difficult it was. Once he got to game day, he shined like a star.”
For her original bat mitzvah date, May 2, Sari D’Agostino learned the maftir, an additional 1 Scensations Photography // Jacob Levin’s great-grandmother, Holocaust Torah portion – because she didn’t survivor Janine Storch, was able to attend his bar mitzvah last month. think the maftir was long enough – and a haftorah. And the How- 2 Sari D’Agostino learned the maftir, another Torah portion and the haftorah for two dates, May 2 and Aug. 15. ard Middle School eighth grader performed them by Zoom from the small chapel of Congregation 3 Stella Galanti had to learn two sets of Torah and haftorah readings. The first haftorah was very long and the second one, even longer. Shearith Israel while Rabbi Ari Kaiman led the service from the 4 Scensations Photography // Jacob Levin learned two Torah portions and main sanctuary and congregants two Haftorah portions because of the pandemic. The first pair were among led the rest from their homes. the longest of the year. Sari called this her “mock mitzvah,” according to mom An5 Stella, center, with her parents Todd and Julia and siblings, Jaron, 7, and Ileana, 10. nie. Then Sari learned a second set of maftir, Torah and haftorah 27 • STYLE MAGAZINE
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Jacob’s Hebrew School classmates joined him on the bimah for the Ashrei prayer. Two of them had Zoom b’nai mitzvah because of COVID, so being on the bimah was bittersweet.
readings for the rescheduled date of Aug. 15. At that time, her immediate family and about 30 family and friends attended in the main sanctuary, spaced and masked. It wasn’t the full sanctuary the family had envisioned, but when the dust settled, Sari said she was relieved to have the smaller audience and opportunity to greet each guest instead of being overwhelmed by attendees crowding the bimah to wish her “mazel tov” after the service. “I kind of really liked it. I did not want a huge celebration in the first place. I don’t like big events. … It was really nice to have a smaller service, but still a bunch of people there to watch you read Torah.” Sari said she tried not to think about what could have been and walked away having a “great experience.” Mom Annie chokes up remembering how 18 of Sari’s friends, half of whom weren’t Jewish, attended the bat mitzvah. “It was nice for them to support her when half of the family was not able to be there.” She also recalls how the pandemic derailed plans for her middle daughter’s special day. “In the middle of March, we knew when everything was shutting down, we saw the writing on the wall. One of the things she was most looking forward to was her first and second cousins and all her aunts and uncles being there. When everything shut down, we realized that was not going to ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES
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happen.” Sari reiterated, “I wanted my cousins and friends to be there; not just to be on Zoom. I wanted to see people and their reactions to stuff like my d’var Torah.” Initially it was difficult to accept the idea of starting over, Sari confessed. “I was pretty disappointed and sad. I worked a full year for one thing, and that one thing was not going to happen. Every Thursday I would go home and do my Hebrew tutoring and not hang out with my friends. I was missing out.” Still, Sari said it was easier the second time to learn her new readings. “I knew how to read, how to highlight, all the trope. … I just hit the ground running.” Plus, since Camp Barney Medintz was canceled because of the pandemic, she had more time to study over the summer. But she admits she wouldn’t have wanted to continue learning new readings in the hopes that a future date would allow for a return to traditional services on the other side of COVID. “It doesn’t make sense to keep postponing. Who knows when I’d actually be able to do it?” Mom also learned a second Torah portion. “I promised all my kids that I would read a Torah portion for their bat mitzvahs. I told Sari if she was learning portions for two mitzvahs, then I would too. I did learn a second portion, although all the portions were really long for the August date so the rabbi graciously allowed me to do half of the reading and a congregant did the other half.”
Sari D’Agostino with parents Josh and Annie, and sisters Elena, 15, left, and Mira, 11, right.
Easier Second Round
Like Sari, Stella said learning her second set of readings was easier than the first because she had already caught onto the trope. On her original bat mizvah date, Stella performed her first set of Torah and haftorah readings informally for her family and grandparents, social distanced in her backyard, as well as for her extended family through FaceTime. While her grandfathers and uncles weren’t able to read the Torah portions they had studied for the original bat mitzvah date, Stella’s father Todd persisted in learning a second reading. His wife Julia explained her husband’s time commitment. “It means so much to him that this is happening in the first place.” The couple initially didn’t think their daughter would have the privilege to read from the Torah on Shabbat at OVS. Julia added: “The fact that everything we hoped is going to come true, he said, ‘If I have to learn a new portion, I will make sure I set aside time and dedicate myself’ because he felt it was important to also do his part.” Similar to Jacob’s ceremony, Stella’s 96-year-old great-grandmother Ila Galanti was able to attend the bat mitzvah. “I’m excited to have my bat mitzvah in her presence,” Stella said. She added that she was blessed to
also have all four of her grandparents there to share the special occasion. Meanwhile, at some other synagogues, students weren’t required to learn new portions. They could recite the original portion on the new date. “We are permitting our kids to read whatever portion they prepared regardless of the date,” Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim said in an email to the AJT. Rabbi Jason Holtz of Temple Kehillat Chaim said his synagogue follows the same pattern. “We allowed students to recite the portion that they originally learned at a later time. So plenty of postponements, but no student had to do more as a result.” While Temple Beth David didn’t encounter this circumstance, the students of a newly started adult b’nai mitzvah class will have to learn two Torah portions, according to Rabbi Jesse Charyn. He explained via email that “built into the curriculum is a Zoom ceremony and an in-person ceremony (subject to the pandemic). “At TBD our approach is to schedule the in-person ceremony once we receive the all-clear to resume indoor in-person gatherings. Adult b’nai mitzvah candidates will ultimately learn two Torah portions. Their second Torah portion will be determined once a vaccine has been widely administered and the CDC has revised guidelines to plan this wonderful simcha.” ì
By Allen H. Lipis
Of all the emotions that we humans possess, being happy is perhaps the most precious one of all. Being happy is what God wants us to be. Whatever your occupation, whatever your role in life, God wants us to do our job on earth in a state of joy. God wants us to be happy, and He has laid out in the Torah a path that we can follow to be in a state of joy on a regular basis, if not most of the time. That path is not an easy path to follow, for it requires dealing with many issues that we face in life, good and bad, serious and insignificant, whether we are young or old, man or female. The Torah’s path is very clear. It is a path of joy. The Torah commands us to be happy (Devarim 26:11) and is referred to as “a tree of life.” However, as with other things that are complicated, the path is not obvious because there are so many issues that need to be dealt with.
What is happiness? Happiness is a state of mind that every person can develop. Every day when you wake up, you can tell yourself that it will be a great day or an awful day regardless of the situation you face. When I wake up, I sit on the edge of my bed for a few minutes to decide what I will do after going to the bathroom. That’s always a good start. I can put a smile on my face, say good morning to my wife and do what I have to do, or I can be upset and miserable about what’s ahead. It’s all up to me, and I can go either way. Your attitude, of course, is partially a result of your situation, whether you are sick or well, whether working or not, whether alone or with someone. Still, you are in charge of your attitude and you can see
How to be Happy your situation in a positive or negative way. When you are happy, it exhibits a feeling of well-being, an acceptance of where you presently are, and a contentment that wherever you are right now is okay. It doesn’t mean that you want to stay there going forward, but it is a deep satisfaction that you accept the reality that you are presently in. It is what it is. But more than that, happiness is a positive attitude about your life, being glad of your life, even though you are aware of the difficult challenges you may face. One way to look at being happy is to be happy right now regardless of what will happen in the next second, next minute, or next hour. There is, of course, an obligation to move forward in whatever you will do next, but right now you are happy with yourself. And then going forward, happiness becomes an obligation to yourself to also act with joy and enthusiasm, and to be a “shining sun” to everyone.
Happiness is an ethical requirement
we are unhappy, it reflects on our own religion. If a Jew is unhappy, then perhaps the Jewish religion has failed and certainly that person cannot be as Jewish as he or she thinks. One person, of course, being unhappy does not reflect on that person’s religion, but if a large group supporting that religion are unhappy, then it does reflect on their beliefs, because that religion is supposed to make people happy, not unhappy. Being in a happy mood and being joyous with others is determined by hard work to control your emotions and by having an attitude that you will not be unhappy. Being happy becomes a daily responsibility.
Happiness is your obligation To address this, the rabbis over the ages, over more than 2,000 years, have studied the Torah carefully and developed the path to being in a state of
happiness and joy. Rabbi Chaim Vital, one of the great kabbalists of the 16th century, said that “One of the four basic character traits essential to acquire is to constantly feel happy.” The other three traits are: appropriate silence, humility and control of desires. It is a great mitzvah to be happy, but people can be miserable because they desire things they don’t have, they worry about the future, they are angry about one thing or another, they are discouraged about their ability, they have a hatred for a person or a thing, they envy what others have, or they are suffering from a loss. Regardless of all these emotions, and there are many more, you can make yourself happy, at least for most of the time. Bottom line: Being happy is an attitude. You are in charge of it every moment in your life. ì Allen H. Lipis is a regular columnist for the AJT and an active member of the Orthodox community who writes about issues of personal and professional development.
A smiling baby exudes happiness.
We owe it to others to work on our happiness. Happiness can be infectious, so other people can catch it. When we’re happy, it can make other people happy. People want to be around people who have a smile on their face and have joy in their heart. People act more decently when they are happy. You can expect to be treated with decency and probably with more respect when the other person is happy. Since we are obligated by God to be happy, if you are an unhappy person, then if reflects not just on you, but on your family and even your religion. After all, God has told the Jews that we should be happy, so if 29 • STYLE MAGAZINE
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Color, Caftans and COVID-Safe Parties
By Chana Shapiro
Jodi Wittenberg is not the passive type. Well known as coowner of kosher food market The Spicy Peach in Toco Hills, she was determined to combat the malaise she was experiencing during the coronavirus pandemic. Using her love of tiedyeing and desire to share fun and hands-on experiences with others, she retrofitted her garage
and recently launched Jo Dyes, an upbeat tie-dyeing studio, with the capacity to accommodate parties and group DIY activities. For years, Wittenberg applied her energy, skills and resourcefulness as an imaginative volunteer for Congregation Beth Jacob and Atlanta Jewish Academy. Exuberance and originality are her calling cards. “I love creating for events, parties, food, new ideas, crafts. I like making
Daphne Strauss in a custom tie-dye onesie.
things happen.” When Wittenberg was a student at the University of Georgia in Athens, she learned to love tie-dyeing. She was a fabric design major, working with batik dyes on silks and other materials. “My studio design teacher used to say that if I put as much effort into my fabric as I did my social life, I would be one heck of an artist! However, even though I had lots of friends and thoroughly enjoyed college life, while other kids were at the Bulldog games, I was tie-dyeing on my apartment deck. I have always had buckets filled with an array of Procion dyes, rubber bands and plastic gloves.” The isolation and uncertainty of COVID-19 and being over 50 caused Wittenberg angst and high blood pressure. She frequently felt that she was experiencing a heart attack. “I was either at my doctor’s office, a cardiologist’s office, or the emergency room. I panicked constantly while being told to relax, assure myself that I was OK, and
take a high blood pressure pill.” Wittenberg knew she needed a foolproof release from her constant anxiety and the monotony caused by the pandemic’s restrictions. That’s when she decided to use her love of tie-dyeing for her own recovery and to offer a hands-on maker venue for others. She originally set up shop in her backyard with buckets of tie-dyes. She invited neighborhood families (with masks) and other groups to join her as she guided them to make creations of their own. Her entrepreneurial and philanthropic skills soon kicked in. She started raising funds for the AJA basketball team by tiedyeing masks and selling them for $12 each at her store, The Spicy Peach. Without advertising, she quickly raised over $500 for the basketball team from shoppers who were drawn to the one-of-a-kind washable cotton masks. The only drawback was the messiness of the activity, so Wittenberg moved the operation
Sara Siegel relaxes in her original tie-dye caftan.
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Jodi Wittenberg leads classes and tie-dye experiences in one of her multi-ply face masks.
into her garage, where she was able to organize materials, expand work space, and maintain a safe and clean environment. Her project expanded into tie-dyeing cotton caftans. Then the caftans became coveted art-clothing among friends and neighbors. Currently Wittenberg is scheduling tie-dyeing parties, as well as fulfilling gift orders. Jo Dyes is advertised mainly by wordof-mouth, and one of the Wittenbergs’ two daughters, Zoie, living in Israel, handles Instagram connections from her apartment. “I live in my caftans,” Jodi Wittenberg said, adding that her friends do too. “I call us the Muumuu Mamas of the Shabbos Caftan Club. We’re mainly women, but my greatest fan is a man who adores his caftan. I also enjoy doing baby onesies, which have become my signature baby gift. “At night I turn on great music or Netflix and do my thing. In addition to my manicures, my hands are usually stained with multi colors. I am excited as I watch the colors bleed and swirl together. I love sharing my space with others during these crazy times, and I run experiential COVIDprotected parties. I have something to look forward to at night. My husband Josh has supported this project all along, and our three kids are grown up, so I have the time to do what I love.” Wittenberg welcomes others to join her in doing what they, too, will surely love! ì
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Michelle Katz Penn started Cloud 9 using her skills to create, package and market professional grade simcha scrapbooks.
The typical cost for a 10-by-10-inch 30-page professional-grade album is about $450. Penn takes away the stress and saves the client money.
Cloud 9 Encapsulates Special Occasions
By Marcia Caller Jaffe
Celebrations and simchas have pivoted and re-engineered crowded houses of worship and hotel ballrooms pre-COVID to more intimate gatherings. Regardless of what that looks like, the moments need to be captured. Atlantan Michelle Katz Penn combined her emotions, creative and technical skills to formalize Cloud 9 Albums. “The process of going ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES
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through hundreds of pictures, choosing favorites, and actually creating the album is time-consuming and overwhelming, and some simply never get it done. I realized how many people put off getting an album from their child’s bar or bat mitzvah, or even their own wedding, and I had the ability to make professional grade albums.” She created a Facebook page to share photos of her work. She now has clients
whose child’s bar mitzvah was anywhere from a few months ago to 10 years ago. In addition to Zoom events, she has done b’nai mitzvah in Israel and Colorado and specialized versions for grandparents. She continued that even if the ceremony is smaller. “That moment is extremely special. You feel so much love as you watch your child on the bimah. You get that surreal cloud nine feeling.”
Her own daughter’s bat mitzvah was in January. Her photographer captured the weekend well, but instead of paying for his album, she decided to do it herself. “I have been making my family’s photo albums for years using the various online consumer resources. I researched professional design software and physical albums and dove in picking backgrounds and capturing feelings.”
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Penn was pleased with the quality of the album, which she felt was comparable to her two previous b’nai mitzvah albums done by “professionals.” “What makes Cloud 9 Albums so valuable is that I take the stress away from them by not requiring them to do anything except forwarding me the link to their photographer’s photos. The process is simple.” Her clients send her their digital photos, often through the photographer’s link or Dropbox. She goes through hundreds of photos and identifies the pictures that best represent the event. Typically, a 30-page album will have about 100 pictures. Michelle creates an initial digital album for proofing, available to the client online. The client then has the opportunity to make changes. They may go back and forth a few times to arrive at the “just so” finished product. There are a variety of covers, from a photo cover with linen or leather, to crystal over the photo cover appropriate for weddings. Once the decisions have been made, she orders the professional grade album with lay-flat, 1½-millimeter-thick pages. For local clients, she hand delivers the albums and ships others. The typical cost for a 10-by-10-inch, 30-page professional grade album is about $450. “Since starting in March, after working on dozens of albums, I couldn’t be happier that I found this new passion and am able to bring a little joy to people during a crazy time.” Robyn Spizman Gerson, nationally known gift expert, shared, “I see so many gifts, and when I was introduced to Michelle’s photo books, I was instantly a fan. Her books are some of the most beautiful and a class act. The time and attention to details she invests transforms photographs and memories into magical moments and lasting keepsakes. Michelle’s photo books are picture-perfect gifts that keep on giving.” ì
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DINING By Flora Rosefsky
Lynn Handmacher Chanin’s 66th birthday on Nov. 10 was fast approaching. A “Dear Friends Dinner Club,” which started in 2010, included Chanin and her husband Butch Fowler, along with five other couples. Before COVID, the friends ate dinner together monthly at each other’s homes. But since the pandemic, they had not been gathering. After seeing Margot Alfie’s Facebook posting about her driveway dinners, Chanin didn’t have to let COVID interfere with celebrating her birthday, discovering a safe way to celebrate it outdoors in her East Cobb neighborhood. Postponing or canceling a joyful birthday or anniversary celebration during the pandemic was not an option for several
1 Marlene and Hyman Sukiennik, sitting at third table, enjoy their October birthdays at a party with 10 friends.
other Jewish Atlantans Neither was staying at home with a spouse sitting across a kitchen table sharing some birthday cake or relying on FaceTime or Zoom to connect with family and friends. Instead, they discovered an intimate setting to hold their milestone events at chef Alfie’s Marietta home on her large concrete driveway.
Sephardic Specialties After finding that Alfie had a Nov. 8 Driveway Dinner Date available, Chanin suggested to her friends through email to incorporate her birthday celebration with dinner on Alfie’s driveway. Friends Kathie and Stevie Alhadeff, Ashley and Peter Lewman, Rosalie and
2 Mexican salad made with spinach
and roasted corn was served at the Vanier and Cohen wedding anniversary parties.
3 A popular food choice is Middle Eastern salad, served at Wolmer and Chanin birthday parties.
ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES
STYLE MAGAZINE • 34
Bart Agrow attended the party, along with Chanin’s parents – Betty and Burt Handmacher. Like Chanin, Alfie brings a Sephardic background to her dishes. Born in Mexico City, Alfie’s four grandparents emigrated to Mexico from Damascus, Syria, in the early 1900s. Alfie grew up in a multicultural family cooking two distinct cuisines. Chanin’s great-grandfather was one of Congregation Or Ve Shalom’s founders; there have been six generations of her Sephardic family living in metro Atlanta. She easily gravitated to Alfie’s Middle Eastern four-course menu. Starters included hummus with garbanzo, eggplant carpaccio, labne spread, Israeli and Arabic olives with pitas. Second course was lentil soup followed by a choice of
two main courses of either beef and lamb keftedes or sumac fish accompanied by harissa-roasted carrots and “celebration rice:” white rice with almonds and golden raisins. Individual dessert triangles of Syrian baklava finished the celebratory meal. Alfie surprised Chanin with one traditional Middle Eastern dessert: a gluten-free tahini large muffin with a side of raspberry sorbet, being mindful of Chanin’s food sensitivity. With a candle lit on the sweet treat, smaller minimuffins surrounded baklava slices on other individual plates. Chanin described her birthday party to the AJT as being both a joyful occasion and “being a blessing, to be surrounded by my husband, both of my parents who are in their 80s in good health, and a few of my very dear friends.”
Leaving the Bubble How did five friends, who have remained close since the days their children attended the same Atlanta Jewish Community preschool, plan a special birthday for the youngest among them? The four friends, already past their mid-60s, could not wait till Mona Wolmer would celebrate her 65th milestone Oct. 2. Since the pandemic, the women and their husbands get together for weekly Shabbat dinners in Wolmer’s large Sandy Springs garage, where they each bring their own meals while sharing a large challah. At one Friday night dinner, Wolmer recalled when the group made it clear that they were not going to let her birthday party celebration get away because of COVID. Wolmer’s friend Rita Chaiken, who with her husband Fred had enjoyed a Driveway Dinner earlier this summer, suggested the party be catered by Alfie on her driveway, which followed CDC guidelines. Wolmer recalls everyone enthusiastically saying yes! “None of us go outside our homes; we live in our little bubbles, but being together as friends, we feel safe,” she said. Wolmer’s birthday dinner party menu Oct. 4 revealed the Middle Eastern side of the chef’s dual Mexican-Syrian heritage. A traditional birthday cake was replaced with a Syrian baklava dessert, with a candle gracefully inserted into Wolmer’s portion. “It seemed like a never-ending 65th birthday celebration,” Wolmer recalled. She told the AJT that the festivities started on erev Sukkot, her actual birthdate, when she joined with her friends in the Chaiken’s sukkah. The next day she met up with her family, including her 3-year-old grandson, to celebrate their shared birthday weekend, followed by the driveway party. “It all felt so special in these times of COVID,” she said. Having her party on Alfie’s driveway “felt like I was sitting in a five-star restaurant.” Wolmer confessed that it had been eight months since she was served a meal, without her doing the
cooking. She added that having the party with her close group of friends, following COVID safety guidelines, was the right choice to celebrate her milestone birthday this year.
Fusing Mexican and Middle Eastern By coincidence, Marlene and Hyman Sukiennik both had October birthdays. They decided to celebrate the two happy occasions as one party with 10 friends on Alfie’s driveway Oct. 25. Marlene selected the international menu, which ended with Malva pudding, a dessert of South African origin. During COVID, in lieu of a restaurant or private home party, the September birthdays of Alfie, Dara Brenner and Karen Senft were celebrated Sept. 2 at Alfie’s home. The eight women, including the birthday honorees, who sat on the driveway, had become good friends after taking a Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trip to Israel nine years ago. JWRP has since changed its name to Momentum. The friends raised their glasses of wine to offer each other good wishes in what became both a birthday party and their annual Israel trip reunion. An international menu fused Syrian and Mexican dishes. Several people who were looking for a party location during COVID heard about Alfie’s Driveway Dinner Dates location and menus through Jewish Moms of Atlanta’s Facebook site or through other recommendations. Cobi and Bennie Cohen and Sophie and Sorin Vainer, who didn’t know each other, reserved the same date for their wedding anniversaries. Allan Regenbaum, a longtime friend of the chef, was also having dinner that evening with his wife. He took out one of Alfie’s tropical beach paintings from her garage and walked it over to all the tables, holding it up as a backdrop for photos. Cobi Cohen said using the art made celebrating her eighth wedding anniversary feel even more special. Alfie observed that “with conversations
4 4 Margot Alfie presents Lynn
Handmacher Chanin a tahini muffin, a surprise gluten-free party dessert with a side of raspberry sorbet.
5 Birthday girl Mona Wolmer with her husband Allen get ready to welcome some friends to celebrate her milestone 65th birthday. between the tables, what started out as an anniversary celebration of a married couple sitting at their own table became a shared festive occasion with newfound friends by the end of the evening.”
Federation Inspires Innovation Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, Alfie said, “I was offering in-home chef services and cooking at people’s homes for their private parties, and now they are allowing me to cook for them in my kitchen.” Jori Mendel, vice president of innovation for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, encouraged Alfie to attend the Federation’s Path by Plywood course last summer. Alfie credits course lead-
5 er Phil Ventimiglia, and Innovation Manager Russell Gottschalk, along with fellow participants, for their guidance. For party amenities, white china, silverware, linen napkins, glass wine goblets and water glasses are set out on small tables for two spaced 6 feet apart. There are party balloons and confetti is sprinkled on the linen tablecloths; flower arrangements and candles are provided. Guests bring their own wine or other alcohol drinks. As COVID still hovers, using a venue with safe distance seating outdoors at Alfie’s driveway is an option for celebrations, as long as the maximum guest list is 14. It also helps if the weather cooperates, but there’s always her heated garage. A 50th birthday party is booked in December and 14 friends already reserved the driveway to celebrate New Year’s Eve. ì 35 • STYLE MAGAZINE
ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES
By Robyn Spizman Gerson
Sweet tooth lovers, brace yourself. If you love cookies, cakes and everything delicious, proceed ahead. The following stories feature two smart cookies and their love of baking, guaranteed to make your mouth water. Lindsay Morrison and Michelle Debowsky work in two different corners of Atlanta. Morrison is in Brookhaven, Zooming how-to cookie classes by demand and making extraordinary cookie cakes. Debowsky lives in Alpharetta and focuses on edible paint-your-cookie kits and creatively themed cakes. While they don’t know each other, they have something delicious in com-
How Sweet It Is
mon and are talented beyond measure. Five years ago, native Atlantan Morrison quit her job in hotel sales to pursue her dreams of becoming a pastry chef at the International Culinary Center in New York City. After graduating at the top of her class, she worked for famous baker Dominique Ansel before moving to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. There, she worked for a company making high end luxury desserts and taught classes at Sur La Table. Morrison and her husband Ben moved back to Atlanta last summer, where she has been a bake-at-home-mom. Now Morrison, also mom of toddler Graham, takes custom orders for
Talented Lindsay Morrison is ready to Zoom for how-to cookie class or party.
Golf birthday cake makes a perfect sweet for a golf lover’s birthday.
her cookie cakes, full of different flavors, toppings and even glitter. They are 1½ inches thick and uniquely customized with marshmallow fondant lettering. “Throughout the pandemic, I also started teaching ‘cookie Zooms’ and virtual baking classes online for corporate events, date nights, birthday parties, and even individually. It’s been so nice to interact with people all over the country throughout these difficult times and help make everyone’s 2020 a little sweeter.” Regarding her style of bak-
Michelle’s tennis cookies are prefect FORE the tennis lover.
ing, she said, “I used to make a funny cookie cake every year for Yom Kippur’s break the fast. I wrote things like: ‘You look hungry,’ ‘Already hangry,’ and it became something I always looked forward to creating. Here we are, a few years later, and my cookie cakes are fun for every celebration and I’m busier than ever. I’ve also done so many Zoom parties ... birthdays, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, and just a Tuesday night for something fun to do such as, ‘It’s 2020 and we’re all desperate.’”
Lindsay Morrison’s cookie cakes are pretty, delicious and creative.
ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES
STYLE MAGAZINE • 36
Michelle Debowsky features cookies with edible paint for kids to enjoy.
She added, “My approach to baking is ‘professionally trained but traditionally inspired,’ elevating my childhood favorites making everything around me sweet, and that will be my life!” For custom cookie cakes or classes, order or call ahead as this bake-at-home mom is in poplar demand, https://www.itslindsmorrison. com Native Atlantan Michelle Debowsky started baking for friends when she was in high school and took cookies into school for classmates and teachers for holidays. Later, she met her husband Bryan at Camp Coleman when she was 19. Now living in Johns Creek, the couple moved often because Bryan was a dentist for the Air Force for five years. Debowsky is the Mom of two, ages 12 and 14, and baking is her passion. “When I had children, I would make their cakes and desserts for all of their birthdays and loved it. Friends would ask me if I would bake for them and reluctantly, I said ‘yes.’ As I started
to make more, I realized how much I loved doing it and how it sparked joy in others to have custom baked goods and their visions come to life.” Having mastered the art, Debowsky uses a sugar-shortbread cookie as a base and royal icing to decorate, loves working with fondant and makes buttercream cakes. A self-taught baker, she watches many how-to videos and gains Pinterest tips, but believes her background having a studio art degree has helped tremendously. “I have loved making cakes and cookies for birthdays for the same families and children over the years. There is something very special knowing you are part of each of these family celebrations in some way.” She added, “My husband Bryan is so patient with me taking over our kitchen with my baking. There is something a little ironic about the fact he is a dentist and I make sweets!” ì You can find Debowsky on Facebook or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 End of school teacher thank you cookies that can have an edible message on them.
2 COVID-themed cookies share an edible message.
3 Wedding-themed date cookies celebrate “I Do,” cookie style.
4 Lindsay Morrison’s larger than life cookie treats are topped with your favorite sweets. 37 • STYLE MAGAZINE
ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES
New General Muir Bets Big on Catering The new General Muir deli is expected to open just before Chanukah in early December.
By Bob Bahr
The General Muir, which brought revived interest in the deli dining experience eight years ago in the Emory University area, is trying to remake itself at its new location in the heart of Sandy Springs. In response to a precipitous dip in restaurant dining because of the pandemic, this addition in the City Springs government offices building will put a strong emphasis on catering of traditional deli items and a grab-and-go business for dining at home. After a delayed opening of nearly a year, the facility is planning to greet its first customers in early December just prior to Chanukah. Although the restaurant will offer seating inside and on a spacious patio outside, chef Todd Ginsberg expects at least half of the location’s business will come from catering for family celebrations during the pandemic. That’s the case whether the event is in a private home or in the rental spaces in the special events facilATLANTA JEWISH TIMES
STYLE MAGAZINE • 38
ity at City Springs that the city has built next door. Flexibility in a business model, Ginsberg believes, is the key to survival in these challenging times. “It’s very much styled to in-
dividual needs. So if they want to simply pick up their catering order or want us to deliver, we can do that. But if they want us to drop it off, set it up and work the serving stations for them, we can
Todd Ginsberg is the award-winning chef at The General Muir.
do that too. So we are, you know, full service here.” Another big change he sees today is a new emphasis on health. There is a free-standing hand washing station outside the restrooms, seating inside the restaurant has been cut in half, and outside tables accommodate social distancing. Largely gone is the heavily salted, greasy fare that characterized the traditional New York deli experience. He hopes to add some upscale fish dishes in the evening, for example, There’s more emphasis on salads and lighter entrees, packaged in a refrigerated case near the front door ready for the quick trip home or packaged in the catering order. “We try to listen to each individual. If somebody asks for lean pastrami or lean corned beef, we want to give them that. They want their order a little-less juicy or fatty because of their health or because that’s the way they prefer it, we’re going to do it.” Still, there are some elements of the deli business that are unchanging. There’s a full-
service bagel bakery on full view up front in the restaurant so that customers are never far from a hot freshly baked assortment that they can add to their carry-out order. According to Ginsberg, tradition is a big part of his success, whether it’s in his pastrami spicing or the fluffiness of the large matzah balls that he serves. “It’s always looking towards the future while remembering the past. You know, one of the things I learned very early on in my career was you take the things that you learn from each person, or in this case, from each restaurant, and you build upon it, and you build on what their failures were, what their successes were, and most importantly, what the community around you wants.“ The opening of The General Muir in Sandy Springs is a substantial commitment in an industry that has seen well-known names in Atlanta close their doors and large national operations retrench by closing hundreds of locations across the country. According to industry statistics, the restaurant industry is the nation’s second- largest private employer and the third largest employer overall. At the start of the pandemic in March, it employed one out of every 10 workers in the country. Also in March, industry analysts were predicting that twothirds of restaurants would not survive and as many as 75 per-
cent of the nation’s independent restaurant locations would disappear, according to The New York Times. But The General Muir has tried hard to keep its workforce busy and employed, in part to maintain the strong sense of teamwork among employees that Ginsberg feels has been an important factor in keeping the operation afloat. He firmly believes that the emphasis on individual service, flexibility and a commitment to the catering business will help the new restaurant weather the storm. The Sandy Springs location is, after all, in the heart of a large and thriving Jewish community. The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival has made the City Springs complex its flagship location during the past two years. There are a half dozen synagogues within a radius of less than three miles, and the offices of several Jewish organizations are just a few minutes drive. Ginsberg believes The General Muir will be welcomed as more than just another restaurant. “I feel we help to make this community more whole, particularly in these difficult times. By having the synagogues close to their homes, by having the food that they like so close to their homes, I think that’s all that matters to a lot to people. They love that.” ì
The General Muir offers a considerable selection of traditional Jewish deli items as part of its catering operation.
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Winter Simcha Announcements
Have something to celebrate? Births, B’nai Mitzvah, Engagements, Weddings, Anniversaries, Special Birthdays and more ... Share it with your community with free AJT simcha announcements. Send info to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bar Mitzvah Jacob Abrams
Jacob Abrams celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah Nov. 21, 2020, at Congregation Beth Shalom. Jacob is the son of Phyllis and Mitchell Abrams and the brother of Rachel Abrams. His grandparents are Mildred and Martin Kwatinetz, and Rosalyn Abrams and the late Leon Abrams. Jacob is in the eighth grade at Peachtree Charter Middle School. In his spare time, he enjoys playing sports, Fortnite and Minecraft. His mitzvah project is on hold because of COVID, but he plans on volunteering with pet shelters.
ART CONTEST 2020
We’re looking for a creative, colorful Chanukah illustration to be featured in Atlanta Jewish Times’ Dec. 15 issue. Deadline to submit is December 1st atlantajewishtimes.com/chanukah-art-contest-2020 GRAND PRIZE $50 Gift certificate to Binders. Winner’s art may be the cover of the AJT.
ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES
FIRST PRIZES $25 Gift certificate to Binders
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for each category (total of 4)
FIRST 10 ENTRANTS $5 Gift certificate to Binders for first ten participants. Show copy of entry form at store to receive gift.
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Cathy and Ronny Miller of Marietta, Ga., announce the engagement of their son Stuart Brett Miller to Deena Shayna Shabat, daughter of Julia and David Shabat of Los Angeles, Calif. Deena is the granddaughter of Mark Babchenko, Marina Ravin and Olga Babchenko, and of Elza Savranskaya and Vladimir Shabat, all of Los Angeles. Stuart is the grandson of Sheila Herman and the late Al Herman of Greensboro, N.C., and Harriet Miller and the late Alvin Miller of Atlanta. Deena obtained a bachelor of science in kinesiology from California State University, Northridge and a doctorate in occupational therapy from Nova Southeastern University. Stuart graduated from the University of Georgia Terry School of Business with a bachelor of science in marketing and a juris doctor degree from the University of Georgia School of Law. The couple met while living in Tampa, Fla. They work in Atlanta and live in Vinings. They were engaged COVID-style with their families on Zoom and are planning a COVID-style wedding for March 2021. Additional information on their story can be found on their website, www.zola.com/wedding/mazelstothemillers.
ONLY $65 per Year Subscribe at www.atlantajewishtimes.com/ subscribe-to-home-delivery Subscribe to home delivery of the Atlanta Jewish Times. You will love knowing whatâ€™s going on in the community and beyond! 41 â€˘ STYLE MAGAZINE
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Wedding Announcements Mao-Saidman
Fourth attempt is a charm! Suzan and Gary Saidman of Atlanta announce the marriage of their son David Michael Saidman to Natasha Mao, daughter of Ching-Sheng Mao and Sonia (Huey Ching) Lu of Taipei, Taiwan. David is the grandson of Mildred Kinbar, currently of Atlanta, and the late Milton Kinbar, and the late Rose and Harry Saidman of Washington, D.C. The couple was married in a virtual Zoom ceremony in their living room in Framingham, Mass., Oct. 8, 2020 by Rabbi Cherina Eisenberg. The virtual ceremony followed three previously scheduled ceremonies at two different venues in Rhode Island and Massachusetts that had to be cancelled due to those states’ pandemic restrictions. David graduated with a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Rice University and a master of science in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech. He is an aerospace systems engineer at Raytheon Technologies. Natasha graduated with a bachelor of art in history from Northwestern University and a master of fine arts and doctorate in Italian Renaissance Art History from Rice University. She is curatorial interpretive fellow, Arms and Armor, at the Worcester Art Museum. Natasha is also an international salsa competitor.
Donna and Joel Freedman of Atlanta announce the wedding of their son Adam Freedman to Sarah Smith Oct. 18, 2020. Sarah is the daughter of Judie and Dr. Eric Smith of Buffalo Grove, Ill. Sarah is the granddaughter of Carol and Alvin Smith of Hilton Head, S.C., and Bobbie and Bernard Lipsitz of Boca Raton, Fla. Adam is the grandson of Shelly Weiner and the late Frank Weiner of Greensboro, N.C., and the late Paul and Estelle Freedman. The wedding took place at Twin Orchard Country Club in Long Grove, Ill. Due to COVID only immediate family and a few local friends were physically in attendance, but hundreds of friends and family were able to join in celebration via Zoom. The couple met seven years ago while working as counselors at Beber Camp in Mukwonago, Wisc., the same camp where the bride’s older sister met her husband and the groom’s older sister met her husband! Adam is a graduate of The Epstein School, The Weber School and Tulane University. Sarah is a graduate of Ohio State University and holds a graduate degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. The couple live in Salt Lake City, Utah, where Adam is an accountant for Denton House Design Studio, and Sarah is an occupational therapist at Primary Children’s Hospital. ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES
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Have something to celebrate? Share your simchas with the
Harvey and Eadie Berliner
The children of Harvey L. and Eadie (Goldberg) Berliner happily announce their parents’ 55th wedding anniversary. Harvey and Eadie were married on Oct. 24, 1965, in Chicago, Ill. They have been blessed with three children David Berliner, Michelle Berliner and Shayna (Berliner) Schwartz; son-in-law Matthew Schwartz; and five grandchildren Max, Brendan, Emma, Lily and Mia. The celebrating couple currently lives in Hoschton, Ga. They moved to Atlanta in 1976. Harvey worked for an engineering company that helped build MARTA. Beginning in 1989, he traveled around the world to work on transit systems in Taiwan, New Jersey, New York, Hawaii, San Diego and Israel before retiring in 2018. Eadie was a self-employed calligrapher and worked at her family’s restaurant Goldberg & Son. Harvey and Eadie enjoy traveling and spending time with family and friends.
Births, B’nai Mitzvah, Engagements, Weddings, Anniversaries, Special Birthdays and more ... Share your news with the community with free AJT simcha announcements. Send info to email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org.. 43 • STYLE MAGAZINE
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