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Jewish community future unveiled at inaugural ‘We Are Pioneers’ gala
We Are Pioneers gala
Rabbi Levi Mentz speaks during the inaugural “We Are Pioneers” gala Sunday at the Forsyth Conference Center. - photo by Alexander Popp

For years Chabad of Forsyth has made a name for themselves in the community as pioneers in uncharted territory, a bastion of Jewish life in a place that had never before had a place for Jews to worship. 

This weekend, that pioneer spirit was celebrated by the north Georgia community at a star-studded gala event held to unveil the next step for the Jewish Community of Forsyth County and to celebrate the men and women that made it possible. 

On Sunday, hundreds of local residents and community leaders gathered at the Lanier Forsyth Conference Center for the “We Are Pioneers” inaugural gala, sharing food and wine, hearing from speakers including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman, and raising more than $100,000 for a future Jewish Community Center that Chabad of Forsyth has spent the last years developing plans for.

Some of the first speakers to take the stage, Molly Cooper, the sole candidate for Board of Commissioners District 1 seat and her husband, Scott Cooper, stood and spoke about their time in the county and how they have seen the Jewish Community grow over the years.

“This community means so much, this is our heart, our home, this is where our children are and for us this community it a very spiritual community filled with faith,” Molly Cooper said. “We’ve got 67 Christian churches, we have two Hindu temples, we have a mosque, but for the Jews until Rabbi Levi (Mentz) and his lovely wife came to Forsyth County, the Jews had to leave town to worship. 

“We now have the beginning and the roots of our own place of worship.”

During the gala, Chabad of Forsyth Rabbi Levi Mentz said that several years ago he was told by a prospective donor that there would never be a Jewish future in Forsyth County, and in spite of that they had built a community and watched as that community grew. 

“Twenty-nine months ago the dream began and look at what we, us, together, me and every one of you have accomplished,” Mentz said. “Together we have changed the face of lives, living in a place that a man once said it could never happen.”

Mentz said that the proposed community center is the next step for building a vibrant Jewish community in Forsyth County and until then, they had not publicly spoken about their dream for the center.

“Our next stage is to build baby build, our next stage is to move forward and break ground,” Mentz said. “We want to be able to break ground at this time next year.”

To make that happen, Mentz said they will need to secure about $1 million in funding. 

The proposed center, according to Mentz, would be built on the 10-acre plot of land on Brannon Road where Chabad of Forsyth is currently located and would include things like a social hall, sports fields, a rec space, playgrounds and a pre-school. 

“It would be a synagogue campus, the way it’s meant to be. Where Jewish life can thrive,” Mentz said. 

Several people were recognized at the gala including U.S. Rep. Doug Collins and Rob Woodall who both received the Friend of Israel Award, Girsh Kuklya who received the L’dor V’dor Award, Emory & Jeanie Lipscomb who received the Friendship Award and Nadyne Siegel Brown who received the Pioneer Award. 

Mentz said that the support they have seen from the community as a whole has been overwhelming, with both Jewish and non-Jewish residents supporting their efforts. Sunday was just a small taste of that, he said.  

“What happened Sunday night is going to change the layout of Forsyth County forever,” Mentz said. “To have this community center in the heart of Forsyth County reflects the message of community unity ... that unity is critical for our growth.”