The Jewish Observer
News from Middle Tennessee's Jewish Community | Saturday, April 13, 2024
The Jewish Observer

Just Jewish: Federation CEO Rabbi Dan Horwitz to Discuss His New Book

When it comes to knowing something about engaging millennials in Jewish life, Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville CEO Rabbi Dan Horwitz knows a thing or two. After all, he is both a member of the millennial generation and for five years he was the creator and driving force behind The Well, a community focused organization in his native Detroit aimed at meeting millennials where they are. His years with The Well proved to be transformative for Horwitz, both personally and professionally.  

Eventually, Horwitz felt it was time to move on and so armed with his experiences from The Well, he headed to Miami to become the CEO of the Alper Jewish Community Center. He says, “It was the definition of a legacy organization, and I really wanted to see what would happen if we actually implemented some of the things and models we had built at The Well in the context of a legacy organization.”  

No matter that it was in the early days of the Covid19 pandemic, Horwitz says he was still able to apply many of the lessons learned. “In my mind that was the moment when it was ‘aha, this isn’t just unique to the Detroit ecosystem, unique to me, unique to the startup world,’ There’s value here from what we’ve learned from being research informed practitioners on the ground that is applicable to many Jewish organizations.” That “aha” moment led Horwitz to write his first book, Just Jewish: How to engage millennials and build a vibrant Jewish future. 

The book is lively and conversational, filled with both footnotes and discussion questions at the end of each chapter. It is fast becoming a must read for Jewish organizations and professionals because it touches on some key concerns, namely, how to maintain continuity in the generation famous for eschewing labels and paying hefty synagogue memberships. “I wanted the read to be something that is smooth, enjoyable, narrative in form, that had balcony, that had ground and then had potential for how you can potentially apply this in your community.” 

It is through the book, and his work that Horwitz hopes to make his mark on the Jewish future. “The purpose behind the book was not just to document the work we had done, but specifically to try to have broader impact and ripples from that work and to structure the book in a way that would be most useful for folks across the Jewish world to make that happen.” 

Horwitz’ profile as a young Jewish leader has led him to build relationships with many other similarly focused leaders. Among those is Sarah Hurwitz, former Obama speechwriter, and author of Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life - in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There) which details her own spiritual journey. Hurwitz will be in Nashville for a speaking engagement at Vanderbilt Hillel and will follow it up by interviewing Horwitz in person at a book launch at the Gordon Jewish Community Center this month.  

Like Horwitz, Hurwitz speaks intergenerationally but has a uniquely millennial approach. “I’ll be speaking with students about my Jewish journey – how I reconnected to Jewish tradition as an adult and fell so deeply in love with it that I decided to write a book sharing the radical, transformational, life-changing wisdom I’ve found in it.”  

Hurwitz’ story resonates deeply with an even younger generation known today as GenZ. In fact, it is thanks to Hillel assistant director, Veronica Grady that she will be speaking to Vanderbilt students. After hearing Hurwitz speak at Hillel’s Global Assembly in Atlanta, Grady was inspired. “I heard her speak about how she came into her religious identity as an adult. I thought about how we can work as educators to help students reclaim that part of their identity,” she says, “There is so much about our faith tradition that is so vibrant. How can we give that to learners and young adults to take into adulthood.” 

And there are even bigger challenges facing college students since October 7. Ari Dubin, Executive Director of Hillel, says, “We’re seeing a lot of students struggling, growing, changing, and finding their identity in adulthood.” Hurwitz plans to address those hard questions, too. “I’ll also speak about the rising antisemitism we’re seeing in our country, particularly on college campuses, to help students understand and respond to it.” 

Hurwitz’ spiritual journey is rooted in some of the exploration Horwitz describes as being specifically millennial, and yet as she describes it, wholly traditional. “Jewish tradition has 4,000 years of wisdom about the human condition and however you choose to engage with and practice it, it’s critical to learn – to connect with Jewish wisdom, spirituality, history, culture.” It is where tradition and choice intersect that both authors find relevance to pretty much any audience. Hurwitz says, “I think strong Jewish institutions are critical to Jewish life in America and I actually think they’re doing a lot of important work to support programs that millennials are taking advantage of.” 

According to Horwitz, there is much work to be done to engage young people in organized Jewish life both inside and outside synagogue walls. “It’s like the joke in the book. There’s the person who goes to shul to talk to God and the person who goes to talk to the person who talks to God.” He adds that while synagogues, for example, have spent time addressing the needs of those who are seeking traditional worship, that experience is clearly not for everyone. He says it is there that exists opportunity to engage those who are looking for spirituality and meaning but who do not find it in the main sanctuary. 

Building strong Jewish institutions is precisely one of Horwitz’ goals as he settles into his role as CEO of The Jewish Federation, and he plans to practice what he preaches in his book. “I’m excited to start implementing some of these things in our Nashville Jewish community. I’m always here to be a partner to all of our local Jewish organizations. I’m incredibly grateful for my friend Sarah Hurwitz for coming in order to be part of the event.”  

The book event is scheduled for March 28 at 7:30pm at the Gordon Jewish Community Center. To register to attend and hear more of the conversation between Rabbi Dan Horwitz and Sarah Hurwitz, visit https://www.jewishnashville.org/justjewish.

Support The Observer

The Jewish Observer is published by The Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville and made possible by funds raised in the Jewish Federation Annual Campaign. Become a supporter today.