By Vivi Abrams
The Atlanta Jewish Times
After a decade of work with college-age and young adult Jews in, Atlanta YAD's board has voted to affiliate with its former parent.
On Sept. 19, YAD officials decided to join Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Life, an umbrella group for Jewish programs at more than 150 colleges in the United States and Canada.
"It's extremely positive," said Stan Sonenshine, president of Atlanta YAD, of the choice to affiliate. "It really raises our name recognition.
"Most people who have been in college are familiar with Hillels," he said. "YAD just does not mean anything to them. Although we've run an organization that I think is equal to any Hillel in the country, the connection isn't there."
The decision was driven by Executive Director Jacob Schreiber, who wanted to open YAD to Hillel's networking, programming and fund-raising resources, Sonenshine said. YAD will retain its staff and control over its programs. The YAD board will vote on whether to change the organization's name.
"We will still have a local board. The local board absolutely has control," Sonenshine said. "If that ever becomes an issue, we will break off the relationship."
Financially, YAD - which serves Emory University, University of Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University - had been having a tough year, as the Jewish Federation of Atlanta reduced its funding by two percent and donations are lagging in a tired economy.
The Emory campus rabbi left two years ago and YAD has yet to fill his shoes or build a planned $1.5 million endowment for the position of campus rabbi. It also has not finished plans to build a new center for Jewish life at Emory.
Hillel will help do that, Sonenshine said.
Years ago, Atlanta's colleges belonged to the Hillel system. But in 1992, those who worked with the young adults felt the need for a change and created Atlanta YAD.
"Hillel was just not getting the job done locally and the federation in its wisdom said this has just been tolerable, we are too active and too big a community not to have good Jewish campus programs," Sonenshine said. "We basically pushed Hillel out the door."
That door -- which has been slightly open, "is going to be wide open now," Sonenshine said, pointing to Atlanta YAD's abilities to participate in Hillel programming, training and conferences.
Rob Goldberg, Hillel vice president for campus strategic services, said YAD can make use of Hillel's human resources department to help find a rabbi. It is also eligible for grant programs, such as the Weinberg Tzedek Hillel program, which provides funds for programs that focus on social justice.
"We are very excited and enthusiastic about the boards decision last week," Goldberg said.
In the past, staff members from YAD have attended some Hillel conferences, Goldberg said.
"There's been a relationship. There just has not been a formal affiliation."
He said that Atlanta, with its multi-campus setup, will resemble Hillel organizations in Baltimore and Cleveland.
The Hillel board must still ratify the affiliation at its board meeting in late October, said Goldberg, who visited Atlanta to discuss the affiliation with YAD's executive committee in April.
Phil Schlossberg, director of the Campus Center for Jewish Life at the University of Georgia, said he is excited about the merger.
"I think it is great," Schlossberg said. "The national Hillel has a lot to offer us and we have a lot to offer them. We have a successful model at Atlanta YAD. We've revived Jewish campus life at Emory, UGA, getting going at Georgia Tech and State. We have a model of total community involvement."
To Sonenshine, a senior vice president in a real estate investment organization and a member of B'nai Torah, reviving YAD by joining Hillel benefits the whole Jewish community.
"There is anti-Israel sentiment on campus, anti-Semitic sentiment on the campus," he said. "How many people go to college and marry non-Jewish people because there was nowhere for them to go and meet someone Jewish? That's what we do, and I don't think the community understands the seriousness of that, but we do. And I think this affiliation is going to help us do that better."