Forsyth County, as big as it has grown, often boasts its community feel. Schools aim to create a sense of comradery and trust. Cumming residents have known each other for years, often their whole lives.
Residents move to the area because it’s not as bustling as Atlanta. That small-town community feel can still be found.
One group of people has never had a place to call their own, a place to gather their community. Jewish residents have never been able to attend a synagogue in their own county.
“I love Forsyth County. It’s a great place to have a wife, to have kids, to have grandkids,” said Scott Cooper, a neurologist at Northside Hospital-Forsyth, as he stood on the steps of what recently became the first-ever Jewish place of worship in Forsyth County. “One thing that has always been lacking is a place where I can worship.”
Cooper, who is on the building committee for Chabad of Forsyth and Congregation Beth Israel, which had been operating out of a small business park across from South Forsyth High School since launching in 2016 as the 13th Chabad in Georgia, said he and his wife used to have to drive out of the county to cities like Johns Creek, Roswell and Sandy Springs to find a synagogue.
Those are not their communities.
“I chose to be here,” Cooper said. “I could never feel a connection.”
Then the Coopers met Rabbi Levi Mentz.
“This is just a building. It’s a shell. A synagogue is only as good as the rabbi that’s at the top,” Cooper said.
Chabad of Forsyth’s new home currently has a house on the property, which Mentz and his wife, Cha-ya, will run the group – also known as Lubavitch, an Orthodox Jewish, Hasidic movement that is most known for its outreach – from until they are able to build an actual synagogue, a long-term plan that includes expanding into an adjacent property.
State Sen. Michael Williams was among the myriad speakers at a gathering of stakeholders, elected officials and Chabad congregants Friday at the property, saying different groups and religions need to come together instead of let everyone be torn apart.
Forsyth County is becoming increasingly known for its growing diversity, said Commission Chairman Todd Levent, yet until now there had been no Jewish synagogue.
“Now the Jewish community in Forsyth County has a place where they can come together, raise their families together,” he said.
Bob Meier, president of the Brannon Road Homeowners Association, said it was a “historic moment.”
“We never take the time to step back and say, ‘Wow, I’m here,’” he said.
As the first act of bringing the Forsyth County Jewish community together at their new home, a mezu-zah – a rolled up parchment scroll with handwritten Hebrew words of the Shema prayer – was affixed to the doorpost of the house.
The tradition designates a building as Jewish and signifies a connection to God and the Jewish heritage.
The mezuzah now attached to the house on Brannon Road used to be Cooper’s mother’s. The case that holds the scroll, made in Israel.
“It’s a moment of generations connected to the land of Israel,” Mentz said. “Today is a celebration for our future.”
Other speakers included Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt, Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO James McCoy and Chabad of Georgia Chief Rabbi Yossi New. Other elected officials who attended included Commissioners Rick Swope and Cindy Jones Mills and state Rep. Todd Jones.
“God teaches us that what makes great communities is individuals,” Mentz said. “A good community has the ability to change lives.”