I recently joined Atlanta Jewish Foundation’s NextGen cohort to learn more about Federation’s role in the community through the lens of Jewish values. NextGen is a three-year initiative that brings together young adults who have been blessed with abundant family resources. It has been a catalyst in clarifying my philanthropic interests and also in deepening personal relationships with an emerging group of future leaders in our Jewish community.

Our cohort spent an amazing weekend traveling across Georgia and Alabama, immersing ourselves in the places and stories of the Civil Rights Movement. Our journey began in Montgomery, Alabama, at the Rosa Parks Museum. There, we learned about the Alabama Bus Boycott—a foundational event in the Civil Rights Movement protesting racial segregation in Montgomery’s public transit system. From there, we traveled to Selma to hear Lynda Blackmon Lowery, the youngest person on record to march from Selma to Montgomery, share her story of Bloody Sunday. As we walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge together, I was overcome with emotion, imagining the deadly risks and sacrifices she and others bore to overcome their oppression.

In the days that followed, we visited museums and Montgomery’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice, where the names of the lynching victims are carved in stone. It was frightening to confront how broadly and quickly hatred could spread and how such horrific acts could somehow become socially acceptable.

In Birmingham, we met with Bishop Calvin Woods who lifted our spirit with his positive life story of strength and endurance, mixed with lessons on not being content with our broken world and how to change it for the better.

Fittingly, our journey ended in Atlanta at the King Center, where we paid our respects to Dr. Martin Luther King, who epitomized the ancient Jewish value of loving your neighbor as yourself.

History can often become lost in textbooks, but experiencing it through personal stories and firsthand accounts made it come to life for me. We’ve come so far since the unthinkable tragedies of the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. But continuing to educate ourselves and confront and preserve individual accounts of the struggle is critical. While I firmly believe there is more that unites us than divides us, I can’t ignore that hatred, antisemitism, and bigotry based solely on color, religion, sexual preference, or gender identity are once again becoming more commonplace.

Having recently celebrated Passover and recalling the Jewish journey to freedom over 5,000 years ago, I am grateful to Federation and our NextGen group’s intentional commitment to be inspired by lessons of the past. The Jewish values of tikkun olam, respectful debate, and thoughtful inclusion are tools I will use to engage with and support the Jewish organizations in our Atlanta ecosystem that will help us build a better tomorrow.

If you’re interested in getting involved with our NextGen group, contact Ghila Sanders.