The Jewish Observer
News from Middle Tennessee's Jewish Community | Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Jewish Observer

The Challenge of the Eight Decade

We in the Jewish community of Nashville are blessed with a wide array of options for Jewish holiday observance and celebration. Our local congregations represent different branches of Judaism, from strictly observant to more modern interpretations and practice, with diverse viewpoints from clergy leaders.  In addition to our local riches, a simple You Tube search results in access to online services and sermons from around the country, allowing us to learn from Rabbinic and Jewish thought leaders from even broader perspectives. 

This year, on Rosh Hashana 5784, many of the sermons delivered, both locally and in other parts of the country, related to concerns about the current situation in Israel, from protests, to extremist politicians, to concern for how many of us as American Jews are viewed by some in the current Israeli government. Several of these sermons included deep concern about the growing tension not only among and between Israeli citizens, but perhaps more concerning, the growing tension between Israelis and Jews in the United States. Of the current population of roughly 15 million Jews in the world, the vast majority live in either the US or Israel, approximately seven million each, with the remaining one million throughout the rest of the world.  

Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of Central Synagogue in New York, in her sermon erev Rosh Hashana, added a historic perspective to the growing divide between Jews, speaking of the curse of the eighth decade. She described the miracle of the modern State of Israel as only the third time in Jewish history in which we had Jewish sovereignty, the first being the Jewish state established by King David 3000 years ago, and the second being the Hasmonean dynasty of the Second Temple Era.  “In both instances, internal strife in the eighth decade — Jew against Jew — precipitated our downfall and destruction,” Rabbi Buchdahl warned. We are entering the eighth decade for the third time as the State of Israel, established May 14, 1948, turned 75 in May 2023.  

The challenge of the eighth decade is not unique to Jewish history. The United States Civil War was also within the eighth decade of the country’s founding. Historians theorize that the vulnerability that emerges in the eighth decade relates to the emergence of the third generation within the country. The theory is that by the third generation, citizens are no longer acutely aware of the sacrifice and responsibility required to protect the foundational values, and take the existence of the nation for granted, turning toward individual interests rather than steadfast focus on the common good. 

As we enter the eighth decade of the modern State of Israel, we should reflect upon and learn from the lessons of the past. Will we as Jews step toward one another or turn away from one another?  With so many Jews too young to remember the establishment of Israel, too young to remember the unification of Jerusalem in 1967, with their entire lifetimes within the context of an Israel which includes disputed land, can we find a way to engage in a respectful dialogue rather than animosity toward the “other side” or worse, disengage completely? Most of us have never known a world without Israel. How would we feel if Israel was to no longer exist? Have we become so complacent that we take for granted the messy miracle of modern Israel, forgetting our responsibility to the generations yet to come? 

In Rosh Hashana sermons, Rabbi Kullock of West End Synagogue in Nashville, along with other Rabbis across the country, offered ways to engage as Jews in the challenge to avoid the curse of Jew against Jew. The advice from many of the Rabbis included a call to listen to each other, specifically for US Jews to listen to Israeli Jews, and try to broaden our individual perspectives to find places of commonality rather than division. Many encourage us to learn more about the protest movement, who is protesting and why, by listening to podcasts and reading coverage from Israeli news sources, not only US sources. Many expressed grave concerns about how some extremist religious and political leaders in Israel seek to define who is and is not a Jew, and regulate what form of Jewish practice is acceptable, and call upon us as the US Jewish community to push back on the extreme views and reclaim our own sense of value and purpose in religious practice. They urge us to seek to avoid the pitfalls of extremism, both in Israel and here at home, to promote democratic values of inclusion and pluralism, and to cultivate a “heart of many rooms.”  

Below are some very local ways to be engaged in the conversation about the future of Israel and ultimately the Jewish people: 

  1. Learn about and participate in our P2G (Partnership Together) programs with Israeli partners in the Hadera Eiron region. This is the region that hosts our local high school students when they are in Israel for Get Connected, and the families that send us their high school students who come as part of the Israel Summer Experience. This past summer, we hosted seven amazing Israeli students, home hosted by an equally amazing group of local Nashville Jewish families. Participating in P2G is even easier now that the Domestic Coordinator, Eitan Snyder, is based right here in Nashville (Yes, the same fantastic Eitan Snyder who coordinates our remarkable NowGen programming for young Jewish professionals.) 
  1. Join us for an educational program with journalist, Yaron Deckel in November as he updates us from the ground in Israel and helps contextualize and better understand the existential crisis of our Jewish time. His presentation will be followed by a local community conversation and what we want to see in our relationship with Israel. 
  1. Have a coffee meeting with our community Shaliach, Israeli Emissary, Omer Shabat.  Omer has rebounded from significant health challenges last year and is back in Nashville for his second year and eager and ready to meet as many community members as possible. Omer will meet us one on one, face to face, to share about his personal perspective as an Israeli citizen and assist in finding resources to learn more. 

 

So how will you face the challenge of the eighth decade? Will you step away or step up? Will you reach out to our Israeli brothers and sisters, or will you turn your back on them and the future of Israel? Will you be part of the solution, or part of the problem? 

Pirke Avot teaches us that it is not our duty to complete the task, but we are obligated not to abandon it. We are here to assist you to learn, engage, listen, and live up to our obligation to ourselves and the future of the Jewish people. 

Upcoming JCRC Programs: 

October 30: Standing Together: Recognizing and Responding to Hate Crime  

November 30:  Abortion is Healthcare: How the Tennessee abortion ban is impacting women’s health and well being 

January 25: Celebrating the Rosenwald Schools Legacy: Tennessee State Museum Exhibit 

To learn more about all JCRC programs and activities contact Deborah Oleshansky, deborah@jewishnashville.org 

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