Atlanta Advocacy Day 2014

By Matthew Weiss, ACCESS Atlanta Co-Chair

On February 23rd and 24th 2014, ACCESS Atlanta hosted the third ACCESS Advocacy Day, a two-day whirlwind tour of the city in which 24 ACCESS members from Atlanta, Boston, Washington DC, and Cleveland met Atlanta community leaders, engaged in diplomacy with foreign consulates, and learned about the important work that AJC and ACCESS are doing in Atlanta and throughout the Southeast.ACCESS, AJC’s New Generation Program, was founded to empower Jewish young professionals to engage with today’s critical domestic and international issues, and Advocacy Days further that mission by allowing ACCESS members to become intimately familiar with the issues of significance to different communities throughout the United States in a short time period.While previous Advocacy Days focused on immigration and Latino-Jewish relations, the Atlanta Advocacy Day placed a particular focus on the civil rights movement and Black-Jewish relations.

The Atlanta Advocacy Day began on Sunday afternoon with a briefing from ACCESS Atlanta lay-leaders Joel Feldman and Gabby Leon as well as AJC Regional Director Dov Wilker and Assistant Regional Director Lindsay Hirsch.Following the opening briefing, all of the Advocacy Day participants hopped on a bus for a guided tour of the city which culminated in stops at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historical Center, the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s childhood home.The tour continued through downtown Atlanta with a stop at Centennial Olympic Park, the centerpiece of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

That Sunday evening, the civil rights theme of the weekend was prominent in ACCESS’s Community Dinner, which was held at the Temple, the oldest synagogue in Atlanta and the center of the historic relationship between the city’s black and Jewish communities.At the Community Dinner, Advocacy Day participants mixed and mingled with various ACCESS community partners as well as members of the local ACCESS and AJC Boards.Attendees enjoyed a fine southern cuisine from Mary Mac’s Tea Room, including fried chicken, sweet tea, and peach cobbler.The formal program included speeches by Community Dinner co-chairs Lindsey Fenton and Scott Struletz, ACCESS Atlanta Co-Chairs Matt Weiss and Joel Feldman, and Global ACCESS Steering Committee Co-Chair Ben Siegel. Ron Brummer, the Deputy Consul General of Israel, also addressed the crowd. The high point of the evening was a conversation between Sherry Frank, the former Regional Director of AJC Atlanta and the founder of the Black-Jewish Coalition and ACCESS, and Stacey Abrams, the Minority Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives and the first female leader of either party in the history of the Georgia General Assembly.The evening concluded with conversations among dinner participants about how to confront the civil rights struggles of the 21st Century.

Following the dinner, Advocacy Day participants returned to their hotels briefly before enjoying Buckhead Atlanta’s famous nightlife.

The following morning, over a true southern breakfast of biscuits, grits, and eggs, the Advocacy Day Participants prepared for their meetings with Consuls General.Dividing into two groups, the participants met with Consuls General from El Salvador, Argentina, Mexico, and Turkey.During these diplomatic meetings, ACCESS members had the opportunity to discuss important issues like Iran, Israel’s efforts to become a rotating member of the United Nations Security Council, rising Anti-Semitism in Europe, and domestic immigration issues.

Following their diplomatic meetings, Advocacy Day participants enjoyed lunch and had the opportunity to observe a panel discussion on AJC’s inter-religious work in Atlanta.The panel was led by Rabbi Scott Colbert, a member of AJC Atlanta’s Board of Directors, and included Wayne Martin, Chair of the Interfaith Taskforce of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia; Soumaya Khalifa, the founder and Executive Director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta; and Ani Agnihotri, Program Chair for the U.S. India Business Summit.

Following the inter-faith panel discussion, Ben Siegel and Dov Wilker wrapped up the whirlwind two-day program with an assessment of the takeaways that participants had from the program.Following a brief discussion, the Advocacy Day concluded and the participants returned to their respective cities with great new friends and a newfound appreciation for the work that AJC and ACCESS are doing in different cities throughout the United States.

The Atlanta Advocacy Day was a great success thanks to the hard work of the AJC staff, including Dov Wilker, Lindsay Hirsch, Erica Rabhan, Brenda Mitchell, Alexis Frankel and Sara Aeder, and the ACCESS Atlanta leadership, including Co-Chairs Joel Feldman and Matt Weiss, Vice Chair Gabby Leon, and Community Dinner Co-Chairs Lindsey Fenton and Scott Struletz.

The Advocacy Day Participants look forward to continuing the dialogue they started in Atlanta at the ACCESS Summit on May 11-12 in Washington, DC.