Francine (Fran) Planer Kirsh and her husband, Alan, moved to Macon in July of 1976. Alan is a radiologist and he and Jewish Federation President David Frolich were in a radiological residency at Emory university and Grady hospitals together. The Kirshes became friends with the Frolichs in Atlanta in 1970 and still remain close friends today. Both Alan and David would come down to Macon and work for Radiology Associates when one of the partners were on vacation, so they knew that Macon was a very desirable medical community and radiology practice. The big question in their minds was "How is the Jewish community in Macon?" After the residency in Atlanta was over, Alan went into the Air Force for two years to complete a residency obligation and David and his wife Terri moved to Macon. The Frolichs' experiences in the Jewish community gave the Kirshes very positive feedback and Alan already knew that the medical practice was one that he would like to be associated with. Both Fran and Aland found Macon to be welcoming.
At that time there were lots of Jewish couples their age at both Temple Beth Israel as well as Congregation Sha'arey Israel Synagogue. Fran grew up in a very small Jewish community in Gastonia N.C. with few Jewish children her age. When Fran wanted more Jewish friends, she was off to Charlotte for Young Judea or BBYO or summers spent in Savannah, a veritable Jewish paradise, she says.
Alan’s family was the only Jewish family in Clover S.C. and the closest contact that he had to Jewish tradition, were "corn beef sandwiches and salami," although he did join a Jewish fraternity while attending Emory University. Fran was raised in the reform movement while Alan had no background or interest in going to synagogue. When they were in the Air Force in Texas, they were stationed in a very small town, Wichita Falls, but they had a remarkably active Jewish Conservate community that depended largely on outside Air Force families for financial support and the Kirshes joined their synagogue as dues paying members. This began their connection with conservative Judaism. They had two little boys and became fast friends with another family who had four children their kids' age. So on Shabbat it was off to Shul and then back to one or the others home for hearts or bridge, Fran recalls.
When the Kirshes came to Macon it was natural progression to join Congregation Sha’arey Israel. Alan was familiar with the services by then and there were many couples their age with children there. "Carpools to Hebrew school often held up to ten kids hanging out of the back of a station wagon on the way to Hebrew school or Sunday school!" Fran says. The Kirshes found Macon extremely unique in that there were no age barriers or cliques. Macon families entertained in their homes royally every weekend and the Frolichs made sure that the Kirshes were always included. Fran says they will be eternally grateful for that as those friends in Macon have become family whom they love dearly.
Fran served as president of Congregation Sha’arey Israel from 1993 until 1995, having been Vice President for the two years preceding that term. Previous to that, Fran was the president of the Shul’s Sisterhood. Fran recalls that during her term in office, they were fortunate enough to hire Rabbi Aaron Rubinstein and with him came the treasure of his wife, Sharona. Together the Rubinsteins brought fresh ideas and breathed new life into our community. Projects that were begun included Macon’s first ecumenical Thanksgiving service that still continues until this day moving from temple to synagogue and churches throughout Macon. A new youth group was formed including children from both synagogue and the temple. A chèvra kaddisha was established that offered services to the Temple as well.
Fran's primary Jewish hero is her paternal grandmother. She and Fran's grandfather lived four doors down from Fran and she still remembers as far back as memory will allow lighting the Shabbat candles with her each Friday night, the smell of the challah baking, learning to cook in her kitchen and still savoring the wonderful flavors that came out of those ovens. Fran still has her grandmother's aprons and she loves to wear them, though they are almost threadbare.
Fran's uncle Nate, another of her heroes, would lay tefillin twice daily and cover himself with his Tallis when he would visit, Fran recalls, Fran says husband Alan is also one of her heroes. Even though he didn’t enjoy participating in services, he was a member of the chèvra kaddisha for as many years as his back would allow. Fran admires this selfless quality in him. It was his way of participating on his terms and doing something very special with no expectation of recognition. Both of her sons are her heroes, as well. Her older son had a massive heart attack at 49 and died. This was nearly unbearable but he left the gift of two amazing children that are totally immersed in Judaism. Fran says her younger son has a goodness and sweetness that is beyond compare. He and his wife have adopted two special needs children from Siberia and are raising them with "all the love that a parent hopes that their child will somehow absorb from their upbringing." His wife is not Jewish, but she was the one who gave the children their Jewish names in synagogue and together they provide a Jewish home for these fortunate, beautiful children.
When asked, "What is special about Macon?" Fran says some years ago, a newcomer to Macon, much younger than her, noted that Macon's “crowd” has such a close connection and he didn’t see that within his age group. When he asked how that happened, Fran's remark to him was that these things just don’t “happen”. It takes years of nurturing, putting Jewish priorities ahead of all others. Fran adds that she has always been happy jewishly in Macon and never felt the need to seek elsewhere for her closest friends. She feels more comfortable in her own skin Jewishly. "Some may say that makes me a narrow personality. I think it gives me immense satisfaction," she says. "I have loved our life in Macon and have always known it was the right choice for us."
Fran has many hobbies. She travels and was able to pursue her career as a very successful pro-am ballroom dance competitor for a number of years. Fran concluded her interview with Jewish Federation by saying, "As Dorothy once said, 'There’s no place like home,' and that will always be Macon, Georgia for me."