The year is 1969, and a young Ron Eichel has decided to make his way South to Atlanta after finishing a pediatric dental residency in Indiana. Little did he know that the city he would learn to call home and the Jewish community he came to adore would look up to him as an incredible role model for decades to come. As his life in Atlanta unfolds, Ron becomes a successful pediatric dentist and a strong supporter of Jewish organizations like Temple Sinai, The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, AIPAC, and of course, Birthright Israel Foundation.
For those close to him, it’s no surprise he is excited about his involvement in Birthright Israel Foundation and that he immensely cherishes the Atlanta Jewish community. To understand why he feels great pride in his community and is proud to be a key stakeholder in Birthright Israel, we must go back to his childhood.
Ron was born in New York, and his family eventually made their way to Nashville, TN, where they were part of the area’s small Jewish community. It was here that he continued to seek out his Jewish identity despite living amidst segregation and antisemitism. “I was such a minority. There were maybe half a dozen Jewish kids in my high school.” Being from a liberal family, he was sensitive to his surroundings. Ron himself was even a target of hate. “I did encounter on different levels, antisemitism. I didn’t let it darken me. I kept going. I know what it feels like – it’s not a good feeling.”
To stay connected to his Jewish identity throughout childhood, Ron participated in a Jewish summer camp, had his Bar Mitzvah, and eventually made his way back to camp as a counselor. Despite his community involvement growing up, he never felt the warmth or inclusiveness that he feels being part of the Atlanta Jewish community.
“I did not have that sense of Jewish identity until I finished all of my training and came to Atlanta to set up my practice. The welcoming of the Jewish professional community in Atlanta in 1969, was really awesome. I know that the success I’ve achieved is because of these relationships. The kinship here in Atlanta is different.” This is a feeling he and many Birthright Israel alumni share regarding their Jewish identity and community. Take Atlanta alumna, Jordan Shipowitz, who, like Ron, moved to Atlanta to begin her professional career.
“… I’ll have to admit that it was purely for career opportunities that I moved here [Atlanta]. However, I soon learned that I am also here for the Jewish community through my Birthright Israel family.”
Another thing he has in common with Jordan is they are both members of our Birthright Israel family in one way or another. Sure, Jordan found her family through participating in a trip while Ron found his through philanthropy. A few years ago, he met with Doug Ross, National Board Member of Birthright Israel Foundation, Dr. Zohar Raviv, International VP of Educational Strategy, and Carole-Ann Levine, VP of the Southeast Region at Birthright Israel Foundation. What began as a casual conversation about their desire to support the State of Israel and connect others to their Jewish identity turned into a blossoming relationship of friendship and respect.
Ron tells us, “I have always identified strongly as being a Jew and with the State of Israel. So, when they approached me a few years ago to get involved, the answer was easy. I knew I wanted to do something that was tangible. I thought I could participate and enjoy the result.”
And, this is exactly what he did. During Birthright Israel Foundation’s 18th Anniversary Mission, he met with 40 participants whose trip he made a reality. “It was an amazing experience for me when I was able to meet with one of the groups in Tel Aviv. I knew I did the right thing. The awareness that seemed to be kindled from this initial trip was impressive. The gratitude they expressed to me was really rewarding. I haven’t looked back since.”
Ron also had another surprise while he was on the Mission. The group of philanthropists visited Independence Hall in Tel Aviv to get an inside look at what Birthright Israel participants learn there. As many can recall, everyone heard a shriek. As Ron walked into Independence Hall, so did his grandson, Matt Howard, who was currently on his Birthright Israel trip. This was totally unplanned.
“I didn’t know my grandson was going to be at Independence Hall. The love and affection that my grandson and I had with each other was so special.”
Yes, he and his grandson did plan their trips to overlap, but they had no clue they’d be at the same place simultaneously. This was truly beshert. When both of their Birthright Israel journeys ended, the two spent the next few days exploring Israel before returning to the States.
Since Ron’s time with Birthright Israel Foundation on the Mission, he has made it a point to recruit as many friends as possible to get involved. He knows the impact Birthright Israel has on his local Atlanta community and the impact the trip has had on his grandson, especially during times when anti-Israel sentiment is high.
“I worry about antisemitism a lot. Every time we turn around, there is another voice popping up that is anti-Israel or antisemitic. We have a vehicle here to reverse what is happening, and the vehicle is Birthright Israel, and it’s needed. This is how we can show the beauty and vibrancy of Israel to our young people.”
Ron has been a driver in that vehicle as well. Since becoming a committed supporter of Birthright Israel Foundation, he has done something incredible – he has gifted over 400 young Jewish adults the opportunity to claim their birthright. To this day, his philanthropy has left a lasting mark on Atlanta’s Jewish community and young Jewish adults worldwide. More than anything else, he cannot wait for the pandemic to cease so he can get back to hosting events for Birthright Israel Foundation and ensure the next generation of young Jews has pride in their Jewish identity, just like him.
“I am more than ready to do my share once this virus is over, and the world opens up. We are in difficult times, and our message may be difficult to get out. But it’s a great message backed up by statistics and research that proves our program is life-changing. This will pass, and we’ll be ready.”