Despite having no film-making experience, the Buckhead resident and lawyer decided to create a documentary on its history. After discussing ideas with Executive Director Barry Herman, Ezor came up with the plan.
“He said, ‘What can we do?’ I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to go around and talk to people about their remembrances and come up with a video. Go out and put some feelers out, and one thing led to another,” Ezor said.
That movie, titled “Reunion. Renewal. Rauch! … the Documentary,” will be shown Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at the synagogue, where he hopes to have a capacity crowd of about 2,000. Both Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, Ezor’s former law practice partner, filling in for Gov. Nathan Deal, are expected to present proclamations to the synagogue at the event.
Ezor, who produced and directed the film, started interviewing people for the movie in late April and soon realized he was in over his head. So he called upon friends to help.
Smyrna resident Vince Coppola, a journalist and author who has worked for magazines including Newsweek, Men’s Journal and Esquire, wrote the script. Professional videographers Paul and Donna Grady, with Dewitt Smith Video Productions in Cumming, helped tape the interviews. In their research, they discovered tidbits of history on the synagogue. The group also got award-winning actress Tovah Feldshuh, of New York, to narrate the film.
Ezor interviewed more than 100 people for the documentary and has more than 60 hours of raw footage. In an interview last week, he said he was “frantically” trying to edit the movie from 78 minutes to about an hour.
The synagogue started as one room in a building on Gilmer Street in downtown Atlanta and was chartered Sept. 17, 1887. Aug. 9, 1900, Ahavath Achim leaders broke ground on a building down Gilmer Street at the corner of Piedmont Avenue, and moved in the following year. Twenty years later, Ahavath Achim relocated to the corner of Washington and Woodward streets, where Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was later built. In 1958 it moved to its current location at the corner of Peachtree Battle Avenue and Northside Drive.
Ahavath Achim shares its anniversary with another revered Atlanta house of worship, Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. was a member and leader.
“Any institution that’s been around 125 years has stood the test of time,” Ezor said of the synagogue. “It’s been a mother ship to the Jewish community and the secular community as well. The people educated there and trained there have gone on to become community leaders. [Former DeKalb County CEO] Leanne Levitan and [ex-U.S. Rep.] Elliott Levitas, people instrumental in starting the [Atlanta Community] Food Bank, [its] hunger walk, the Civil Rights Movement.”
Other past and current synagogue members and leaders, all interviewed by Ezor, include Buckhead commercial real estate developer Steve Selig, former Senior Rabbi Arnold Goodman, who served as president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the national organization of conservative rabbis, and Stuart Eizenstat, an ambassador during both the Carter and Clinton administrations who now has a lecture series at the synagogue bearing his name. It has brought in top speakers such as Hillary Clinton.
The synagogue’s two previous senior rabbis, Goodman and Harry Epstein, served for 20 and 54 years, respectively.
“There’s a number of things,” Senior Rabbi Neil Sandler, now in his ninth year at the helm, said of the synagogue’s milestone. “First off, age is an important piece because there’s a certain amount of respect the congregation gains for the venerable age of it. Another important piece, which is particularly important to the Jewish community, but also to those outside the congregation, is the building. We have the largest Jewish worship space in the entire community. So what has happened over the course of years, when the community is brought together, when there is concern in the state of Israel and the Jewish community is [alerted], this is where we gather.”
About 10 years ago, right before Sandler took the reins from Goodman, membership at Ahavath Achim had gotten so low that leaders considered moving it to property it owned in Alpharetta, to follow the younger generations of Jews moving north of the Perimeter. But they decided to stay and adjusted or added programs to attract younger members, some of which came back to the area during the intown population movement. Today the synagogue has about 3,000 members, Sandler said.
Doris Goldstein, a member of the synagogue since 1963, wrote a book on Ahavath Achim’s history, “From Generation to Generation,” in 1987, to celebrate its centennial anniversary.
“You have to put an institution in the context of the times, so you could almost say the evolution of the synagogue is a reflection of that evolution of Atlanta, the changing of the demographics and the social currents, civil rights, the women’s movement, all of those things,” Goldstein said. “To survive, it has to respond. Sometimes it’s like a moving target to meet the needs of a different generation, to respond to what’s happening in the Jewish community, with intermarriage, gay rights, women’s rights, etc. It’s a big pot. To navigate all of that for 125 years, I think it’s OK.”
Coppola added, “The congregation went from impoverished immigrants to some of the most successful and affluent citizens in Atlanta. Now that Atlanta is being reborn, the synagogue is paralleling this.”
Ezor, who was married to his wife Elisa at the synagogue 34 years ago and has been a member ever since, said the documentary is his way of giving back. He said he hopes the entire Atlanta community, including all religions, attends the film showing. DVDs of the documentary will be on sale following the event, and Ezor said he hopes Georgia Public Broadcasting will one day air it.
If you go:
o What: “Reunion. Renewal. Ruach! … the Documentary,” to celebrate Ahavath Achim Synagogue’s 125th anniversary
o When: Sunday, doors open at 5 p.m.; film starts at 6:30 p.m.
o Where: Ahavath Achim Synagogue, 600 Peachtree Battle Ave., Buckhead
o Cost: $18 per person; donations to synagogue also accepted
o Information: www.aasynagogue.org