Intown Jewish youth programs thrive as families return to city

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After decades of suburban Atlanta population growth, young, Jewish professionals are once again choosing to live in the city, bringing their skills and talents to the city’s economic and social scenes. They’re also bringing their families, creating the need for resources for Jewish children. Educational programs have sprung up that not only provide instruction in Jewish culture and faith, but also help build a firm foundation of community.

A large Jewish community flourished Intown from the middle of the 19th century to the mid 1900s. During some of that time, the Atlanta Jewish Community Center, less than a 10-minute walk down Peachtree Street from The Temple, offered recreation and activities for the neighborhood. It was just one of the many institutions that helped to keep the Atlanta Jewish community strong.

Changes began as early as 1946 when, according to the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, Jews began moving to the northern Atlanta suburbs. By 1984, 70 percent of Atlanta’s Jewish population lived outside the city limits.

While a group of more religious Jews remained in the Toco Hills area, huge swathes of the population headed north to newly developed areas like Dunwoody and Sandy Springs. The Jewish organizations and resources followed them.

In the past decade, however, things have shifted. Many young Jewish families are now seeking an Intown lifestyle. Jewish families are putting down roots in Virginia-Highland, Candler Park, Inman Park, Brookhaven and Decatur—and these families want to connect with a Jewish community they can access without getting on the highway.

Resources are popping up to support the resurgence of an active Jewish community. Two programs to offer that connection are In the City Camp and Jewish Kids Groups (JKG). Both are family-focused, independent Jewish organizations that have developed within the past three years with the express purpose of offering the city’s Jewish kids a way to build friendships and connect with their heritage.

In the City Camp was created in 2011 by Atlanta native Eileen Snow Price, after years of schlepping her kids to the suburbs for summer camp. More than 100 kids attended the camp each week last summer. This year, Snow and her staff are planning for even more weekly campers. As of May 1, more than 250 total campers had signed up to attend at least one week of camp.

Jewish Kids Groups was also founded in 2011 by another Atlanta native, Ana Fuchs Robbins. As one of the only independent Hebrew schools in the country, JKG provides afterschool and Sunday Jewish programming for preschoolers through sixth graders.

AHeLfsDLihKQAufKKKhvyP0AZCbBRKRMQU0IKItcAIMRobbins said that while JKG’s Sunday morning Hebrew school is very popular, the afterschool program is probably the most innovative contribution to the area. It offers intensive educational experiences in Judaism, Hebrew and Jewish culture up to five days a week, all in a “ridiculously cool” environment.

“We’re ridiculously cool because we hire and retain young, energetic, dedicated Jewish counselors, we focus on experiential learning that engages kids and we’re all about building relationships,” explained Robbins, JKG Executive Director. “But most of all, we’re ridiculously cool because we’re located in the heart of Intown, an area that encompasses a young, vibrant population of upcoming professionals who are becoming influential in their fields and raising families.”

Robbins stated that she and Price, Executive Director of In the City Camp, both share a strong commitment to Atlanta and to the Jewish community there – and especially to the kids who are growing up Intown.

Price’s In the City Camp has become wildly popular. “We’re at the start of our third summer and we’ve already doubled our numbers from last year,” Price said. Of the 250 campers registered as of May 1 to attend In the City Camp this summer, 85 percent live inside the perimeter.

Kid Camp begins June 9 and runs for eight weeks. Tween Camp begins June 16 and runs for seven weeks. Campers can attend one week, all eight weeks or anything in between. “Though we encourage early signups, registration will still be open in June,” she added.

Located on the campus of Emory University, In the City Camp is the only co-ed Intown Jewish day camp for kids ages 5 to 14. The camp takes an approach similar to that of Jewish overnight camps – providing exciting activities, facilitating lifelong friendships and creating character-building experiences – but lets kids sleep at home.

Both of these programs have been embraced by the Jewish community and will no doubt play a role in more Jewish families choosing to live Intown.

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