The Jewish Observer
News from Middle Tennessee's Jewish Community | Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Jewish Observer

Growing Our Jewish Roots

First, thank you to all those who gave to the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville in 2023, whether it was to the Annual Campaign or the Israel Crisis Fund. Your gift ensures that our Jewish community has the means to tackle all challenges that we may face in 2024. Thank you for continuing to trust us with your donations, and we hope to continue to earn your trust with our work this year.

To borrow a term used by Libby Werthan at a recent Herzlian Dinner, what makes the Nashville Jewish community special is the sense of rootedness that all sorts of Jews feel here. From what I understand, this tradition of rootedness began with a handful of families who settled here generations ago. Successive generations of families have joined them to create the vibrant and tight-knit community that we see today.

Part of the tradition of rootedness in Nashville is an almost obligatory sense of giving to Jewish institutions. It seems to be something you just do as a member of this community. One long-time Jewish Nashvillian summed up a version of the community ethic of Jewish philanthropy: “You give to your synagogue, the Federation, and to something for the soul like the arts.” Our community just knows how to give, and they do so on a regular basis.

This is a Jewish tradition that goes back a long way. Maimonides, the 12th century authority on Jewish practice and thought, distinguished between the sort of compulsory annual giving that is part of the Nashville tradition of rootedness, and the impromptu gifts made from a place of concern and compassion. Obligatory contributions were made to the kupah, or communal fund. These contributions were mandatory and gathered in proportion to the family’s means. Spontaneous gifts were given to a different fund, called the tamchui, or communal platter. These were the non-mandatory and spontaneous donations of concern and compassion. Together, donations to the kupah and the tamchui served to care for those in need in these Jewish communities.

A large percentage of our Annual Campaign comes from what could be designated as gifts to the kupah. Many members of our community who give to the kupah have formalized their gifts in the form of Donor Advised Funds, Annual Campaign Endowment Funds, and Life & Legacy endowments for after-lifetime giving, all housed at the Jewish Foundation of Greater Nashville. These financial technologies create another layer of obligation as they are set up specifically for charitable giving.

While our community relies equally on contributions to the tamchui and the kupah, we are at a critical moment of transition, where the next generation of Jewish Nashville is beginning to set down its roots. Nashville has become a hotbed for younger folks seeking professional and interpersonal opportunity. Many of the newer members of our community are just beginning to establish themselves financially.

In our current moment of uncertainty in the Jewish world, we saw many spontaneous donations from new Jews in Nashville this past year, both to the Federation’s Annual Campaign and particularly to our Israel Crisis Fund. Clearly, Jews of all stripes see the need to support each other and our community during this time. As new Jewishroots in Nashville are strengthened in the crucible of tragedy, we also need to be transparent about our needs as a community to continue giving for posterity. It is my hope (and my job) that the incredible, spontaneous giving to the tamchui that our community saw this year can be stewarded into routine contributions to the kupah. In that way, our community can grow its roots into the next generations.

How does this occur? That is the primary question that Jewish communities are facing everywhere. My first inclination is to say that if our community continues to show up for each other, wherever we are at in our Jewish journeys, then the genuine impact will translate into financial support. We also need more intergenerational conversation, where we can share our roots and help each other grow together.

Whatever the solution, in Jewish fashion it will surely raise more questions. Perhaps the more questions we generate together, the deeper our roots will grow.

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