Finding Greener Davening, in Georgia

31 Mar 2015

Those considering leaving the concrete jungles of the Greater New York area for greener pastures will certainly have options for observant Jewish communities at this year’s OU Jewish Communities Fair coming up on Sunday, April 26.

Atlanta offers a different style of greener pasture. A greener davening, if you will.

Young Israel of Toco Hills

Within the Torah observant community is the OU member synagogue Young Israel of Toco Hills (YITH), recently awarded “Congregation of the Year” by Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, a local chapter of a national nonprofit organization dedicated to working with and educating congregations of worship on the connection between ecology and faith.

With the completion of a new synagogue dedication this past fall, YITH was honored for being the first Orthodox congregation in the world to build a shul from the ground up according to environmentally sustainable standards.

According to Rabbi Adam Starr, YITH rabbi and spiritual leader, “For me, as community leader, it was critical that our building encompass not only the halakhic requirements of ‘ba’al tashchit,’ that is, of not destroying or wasting, but also that it communicates to our neighbors and to the Jewish community throughout Atlanta the fact that we see ourselves as being fully engaged in a broad community of people and ideas. This meant efficient use of natural resources, smart building technologies, and appreciating the link between environmental and human health. For a Modern Orthodox shul, in particular, I felt that this was a charge worth pursuing vigorously.”

The new building emphasizes the Jewish value of inclusion, with ramps in the beit Knesset designed for easy access to the bimah and a special shulchan with a mechanism that lowers, allowing those in a wheelchair to read from the Torah.  “In most places pertaining to accessibility laws the sanctuary is usually exempt, but we felt this was so important—we approach our sacred space with humility,” Rabbi Starr noted.

Inside YITH
Natural light comes in through the ‘menorah’ windows during the YITH building dedication ceremony.

“The seven windows in the front of the sanctuary are shaped as a menorah to incorporate the natural light of Torah. Also, when worshippers look out these windows, they see God’s creations—trees in bloom, etc. which is very beautiful,” the Rabbi added.

According to YITH Executive Director Eliana Leader, “The building was built with a strong sense of warmth, community, intimacy… the way the chairs are set up, almost like sitting in the round, but at the core is the idea that we weren’t just building a larger space but an expression of our values, who we are and what we stand for. Our building was designed to model our highest values as Jews–our highest hopes in our services of God, and how we treat one another.”

The synagogue website details the numerous ecological friendly incorporations of the building.

As a second time participant at the OU Fair, Atlanta offers a thriving Torah observant community, home to multiple Orthodox synagogues, yeshiva day schools, mikvaot, kosher restaurants and various amenities to live a vibrant traditional Jewish lifestyle. Atlanta is also home to OU member synagogue Congregation Beth Jacob, which under the vision of Rabbi Emanuel Feldman—and now his son, Rabbi Ilan Feldman—has served as a foundation stone of the community.

Come to the OU Fair and get to know Atlanta, and the Young Israel of Toco Hills. To register, visit



The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.