It’s been 30 years since Rabbi Yossi and Dassie New first arrived in Atlanta from New York. At the time, the rabbi noted that it was “an up-and-coming city” with about 30,000 Jews.

“It was 1984, right at the beginning of the big boom the city was going through,” says New.

Today, that number is four times greater, with some 120,000 Jews in and around the metropolitan area.

From its humble beginnings three decades ago, Chabad has gone from just the New family to nine Chabad Houses, four Chabad on Campus locations, a Kollel, several preschools, a growing day school, summer camps, a Friendship Circle and a burgeoning Jewish elementary school in Sandy Springs in North Fulton County.

In fact, Rabbi New says it sees Chaya Mushka Children’s House (CMCH) Elementary School—a first- through sixth-grade Montessori-style school—as one of its major focuses over the next five years. It will soon expand to serve middle-school-age children as well.

“Jewish education is key to our meeting the needs of the community of Atlanta and beyond,” says New. “Expanding our school and offering local Jewish families another great education option is the next big step in our ongoing journey here.”

CMCH classrooms—complete with computers and a bulletin board on the month of Elul—are ready for incoming students.
CMCH classrooms—complete with computers and a bulletin board on the month of Elul—are ready for incoming students.

Game Plan: Branch Out

A whopping 18 Chabad rabbis now live in and around Atlanta, serving roughly 10,000 Jewish families.

New oversees the expansion of all of Chabad of Georgia’s locations, which offer more than 50 classes a week throughout the Atlanta area and beyond.

Upon arrival, he explains that he originally focused on three things: establishing a synagogue called Beth Tefillah in Sandy Springs, a newer suburban area that first started attracting Jewish families; running Camp Gan Israel for Jewish children in the summer; and offering a host of classes geared to different age groups, including lunch-and-learn sessions. Some classes have been running continuously for more than 20 years, he says.

“At the outset, my game plan was to establish a strong center in Sandy Springs, then to branch out and establish the satellites,” he says.

One of the biggest challenges, New continues, has been balancing “in-reach and outreach” among local Jews. People already involved and committed Jewishly have one set of needs, while the unaffiliated have another set of needs, he explained.

Diane and Jeff Bland moved from New York to Beth Tefillah’s Sandy Springs neighborhood more than 20 years ago. She gushes about the community, and recalls the synagogue and preschool when they were in their early stages in a house, and marvels at how far they’ve come, pointing out the state-of-the-art details within the new preschool building.

Rabbi Yossi and Dassie New
Rabbi Yossi and Dassie New

Bland teaches at the preschool and has children at the elementary school. “I can’t say enough good things about this community,” she says. “It’s Heaven. Every day here is really Heaven.”

In addition to Chabad of Georgia in Sandy Springs, Chabad centers include Chabad of Acworth/Kennesaw, Alpharetta/North Fulton, Augusta, Cobb, Gwinnett, InTown, Peachtree City and the Chabad Israeli Center.

Chabad of Georgia now has a presence at Emory University, Kennesaw State University, Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, as well as the University of Georgia.

Chabad also operates the Atlanta Dayanut Institute, a Kollel that trains an elite group of rabbis to become qualified experts on halachah (Jewish law) and community adjudicators of Torah law.

These rabbis are preparing to serve the general American Jewish community nationwide upon the completion of their three-year course of study and training. And while they are in Atlanta, they offer quality and high-level educational opportunities to the AtlantaJewish community.

Rabbi Michoel Refson and his wife, Chana, serve a different type of community at the University of Georgia in Athens.

“The first week we hosted Shabbat dinner when we arrived in 2005, we had four students around the table,” he said. “Currently, our largest Shabbat is our annual Shabbat 500 with 500 Jewish students participating.”

Chabad Rabbi Michoel Refson at the annual Shabbat 500—with 500 or more participating students—at the University of Georgia in Athens. When he and his wife, Chana, arrived in 2005, only four students sat around their Shabbat table.
Chabad Rabbi Michoel Refson at the annual Shabbat 500—with 500 or more participating students—at the University of Georgia in Athens. When he and his wife, Chana, arrived in 2005, only four students sat around their Shabbat table.

The rabbi notes that his goal is “to engage every Jewish student, and to create for them a Jewish home away from home.”

“The college age is the most important age to impact Jewish youth,” he adds. “It is the first time young people really discover the world on their own. If Judaism doesn’t play a part, they might never give themselves the chance to discover that.”

At Emory University in Atlanta, students are already in class and taking part in Chabad activities.

“Chabad is their home away from,” says Rabbi Zalman Lipskier, co-director of Chabad at Emory with his wife, Miriam. He adds that one of their slogans is: “Where every Jew is family.”

Like many other Chabad on Campus locations, it offers High Holiday services and events, weekly classes and daily programs. The Lipskiers also have a tradition of visiting the sick: bringing chicken soup to the dorms or seeing students who are actually in the hospital.

“Parents and students can look to us to provide whatever may come up,” attests the rabbi. “It can be easy to get lost in a large school. Students have told us Chabad is like an anchor.”

They typically host 100 to 150 students each week for Shabbat dinner. Despite the large crowd, the Lipskiers work to maintain a warm atmosphere complete with home-cooked food. “They come and connect, and it keeps them going the whole week,” says the rabbi.

Miriam Lipskier (center, with apron) leads a cooking class for women at Emory University.
Miriam Lipskier (center, with apron) leads a cooking class for women at Emory University.

‘A Work in Progress’

As for CMCH Elementary School, it is now starting its fifth year, with 52 students. The school expanded from Chaya Mushka Children’s House Preschool at Beth Tefillah, which educates and care for children 18 months to kindergarten age.

“The elementary school developed as a result of parents wanting a Chabad philosophical approach to Jewish education, which focuses on the child’s relationship with G‑d, the world and their neshama [soul], as well as the Montessori approach to secular studies,” explains Rabbi Isser New, who helps run the school. “Seeing this implemented successfully in the preschool brought together a group of parents who wanted to continue it through elementary school.”

Together with the administration, a group of parents has also been overseeing the incremental growths of the school, establishing a board of directors this summer.

Rabbi Zalman Lipskier leading Havdalah at Emory University. He says students can get lost at a large school, and that they have told him: "Chabad is like an anchor."
Rabbi Zalman Lipskier leading Havdalah at Emory University. He says students can get lost at a large school, and that they have told him: "Chabad is like an anchor."

Gail and Harvey Linder’s two children, Leah and Aaron, have been enrolled at the school since its inception; Gail Linder also serves as head of the Parent-Teacher Association.

“The teaching staff is off the charts in secular studies and Judaics,” she says. “We are growing very quickly and plan to be moving next year. It’s a work in progress.

It’s very exciting to be part of that; it’s awesome.”

She says the school has been great for her kids. “Montessori allows them to work at their own pace; that’s the beauty it. If you’re ahead or behind, the work is differentiated. You work at your own pace and still get to work with your peers.”

“It’s exciting to be involved in a school that’s just getting off the ground,” affirms Linder,” and like the trajectory of the Atlanta Jewish community itself, “has been so successful.”

Rabbi Zalman and Miriam Lipskier, co-directors at the Chabad House at Emory University
Rabbi Zalman and Miriam Lipskier, co-directors at the Chabad House at Emory University
Rabbi Yossi and Dassie New, who arrived in Atlanta 30 years ago, and their family, which grew along with their Chabad center.
Rabbi Yossi and Dassie New, who arrived in Atlanta 30 years ago, and their family, which grew along with their Chabad center.
An older photo of one of Atlanta Chabad's children's programs.
An older photo of one of Atlanta Chabad's children's programs.