Heritage Sandy Spring’s newest exhibit, “L’Chaim Sandy Springs,” celebrates Jewish participation in the community.

“The Jewish community has been a significant part of the culture of Sandy Springs from its formation to now, and we wanted to highlight that contribution,” said Leslie Walden, an HSS board member.

Melissa Swindell, HSS’s director of historical resources, stands in front of the first panel of the “L’Chaim Sandy Springs” exhibit. (Jaclyn Turner)

The exhibit’s title refers to a common celebratory toast that means “To life!” in Hebrew. The exhibit, consisting of images and comments from local leaders and community members arranged in a timeline, opened at the William-Payne Farmhouse on Sept. 23 during the Sandy Springs Festival and will remain there until Oct. 1. Next, the exhibit is scheduled to be displayed at Temple Sinai and The Weber School in Sandy Springs and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta in Dunwoody.

“The way this exhibit works, is if it travels to a school, the kids are really familiar with Instagram, so they will initially be attracted to it because it’s something they know,” said Melissa Swindell, HSS director of historical resources. “When it travels to a synagogue, the adults will say, ‘I remember when this happened,’ and be attracted to the photos and the art.”

Each panel is themed, and focuses on Sandy Spring’s Jewish schools, synagogues, arts, food, media and the roots of Jewish participation in the city.
Representatives of the Atlanta Jewish Academy, Chaya Mushka Children’s House, The Davis Academy, the Epstein School, and The Weber School explore their approaches to Judaism and education. Members of Congregation Beth Tefillah, Congregation B’nai Torah, Congregation Or Hadash, Temple Emanu-El, Temple Sinai, and The Kehilla discuss their histories and what makes them unique.

HSS collects and manages information and documents related to the history of the community with archives going back to the Civil War, but this is the first time the organization has collected artifacts to document the Jewish community in Sandy Springs. “We wanted to represent the entire population of Sandy Springs, which the Jewish community is a large population, with a complete and thorough archive,” Swindell said.

Swindell and Walden conducted more than 120 interviews and conversations to understand the oral histories of Judaism in Sandy Springs as well as current achievements.

The two started with Temple Sinai congregant and Sandy Springs City Councilmember Andy Bauman and the synagogue’s history committee, who wanted to create an exhibit to commemorate Temple Sinai’s 50th anniversary in 2018. Their explorations spread from there.

“Being able to just network with everybody; there was so much we didn’t know who to contact or how to get in contact with them … but one person would point us to another,” Swindell said.

While the city of Atlanta and the Southeast have the Breman Museum, which holds archives for Temple Sinai, several newer synagogues and schools haven’t processed archives. “Some of the information can be found on websites, but this is the first time [that information related to Sandy Springs] is being pulled together into one space,” Swindell said.

The Dewald family, the first identified Jewish family in Sandy Springs, moved into the area in the 1930s. Robert Ney opened the first pharmacy in Sandy Springs in 1955. In 1968, Temple Sinai was formed in Sandy Springs with the blessing of The Temple in Atlanta, which was overcrowded.

An exhibit panel about area synagogues. (John Ruch)

When metro Atlanta started booming, and people started moving to the suburbs, Sandy Springs gained its Jewish population, crediting medical complexes such as Northside Hospital, as drawing Jewish Atlantans north of the city and helping to create a community feeling. The medical community and especially the hospital chaplains helped initiate the religious integration of the city, according to Walden.

The exhibit also pays tribute to the city’s first mayor, Eva Galambos. Her family, survivors of the Holocaust, helped make the decision to give a home to an exhibit based on the life of Holocaust victim Anne Frank.

In 2016, the city formed a sister city relationship with the Western Galilee Cluster in Israel with the coordination of Mayor Rusty Paul. The Consul General of Israel and Andrea Worthy, economic development director for the city of Sandy Springs, spoke about both cities’ unique and diverse populations and commitment to technology and medicine for the project.

“It’s not just a Jewish community. It’s a place where Jews, Arabs, Druze, and Christians all live together. They take a lot of pride into that,” Worthy said.

Swindell and Walden said the exhibit took more time to pull together than they originally had expected because they kept finding more to include.

“It kept growing,” Walden said. “We first started with questions for schools and synagogues, we didn’t want to leave anything out and to be as thorough as possible.”

For more information, see HeritageSandySprings.org.

–Jaclyn Turner