The Jewish Observer
News from Middle Tennessee's Jewish Community | Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Jewish Observer

Jewish Men’s Group Creates Connection and Unity in Difficult Times

What began as a friendly game of pickup basketball nearly two years ago has evolved into a tight knit group of local Jewish men looking for comfort and connection following October 7th. The original core group, led by Daniel Abromowitz and a few other Akiva fathers, started out playing ball at the Gordon Jewish Community Center after hours. “What we all had in common was that we were all Akiva dads,” says Abromowitz, “But we tended to hang with the same group of guys.”  

The group approached Michal Becker, Director of Impact and Planning for the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville, for a grant to help with expenses like security and rent for the facility. “When I asked them why basketball, they said they didn’t just play ball, they talked,” says Becker. She said Abromowitz shared that the men found themselves connecting in ways they normally don’t. “Michal challenged us to think outside the box,” says Abromowitz. “I told them if they really want to be a group then they should think more intentionally about being a group,” says Becker.  

Abromowitz joined with the other core group members, Sean Ross, Scott Shillington, and Shalom Cohen, to determine next steps. “We had been playing basketball, but what about those who don’t play? Can we come up with something else?” says Abromowitz. The group created plans for monthly “men’s night out” events and weekend events every other month. “We wanted to build a community with Jewish men in Nashville and include as many people as possible,” says Shillington.  

One of the important goals set by the group was to be as broad as possible. Ross believes that after October 7th it is critical to create safe spaces for people to connect. “This is a platform where you can be a secular or religious Jew and come together across a divide,” he says, “It wouldn’t have resonated before October 7th, but a lot of people are searching for community and people they can trust.” 

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These types of personal connections often are made by women, but men do not typically seek out organized opportunities for socializing. Rabbi Dan Horwitz, CEO of The Jewish Federation, cites a recent article in the Los Angeles Times that explored men’s friendships. The article reported that over the last 30 years men’s friendships have dwindled by half, and 15% of men reported having no close friendships.  

“In an era of digital hyper-connection coupled with rampant loneliness, helping people find friends to do Jewish and life with is essential. This is particularly true in a community like Nashville, where the majority of the Jewish community is comprised of transplants,” says Horwitz.  

In addition to creating a safe space for men to be together, the group in its current iteration has been successful at engaging men in the local Israeli community, a group not typically involved with the Federation. Avishay Aroas has lived in the Nashville area for 11 years. After October 7 he found himself wanting to connect with the broader Jewish community. He reached out to Horwitz to discuss ideas. “I wanted to join the Israelis and the rest of the Jewish community together, it’s better for everybody,” he says. Horwitz introduced Aroas to Abromowitz and the others, and Israeli involvement with the Federation has grown from there. 

Last month the men’s group began what is planned to be a regular poker game. The first event, held at Ross’s home, brought together approximately 50 Jewish men. According to Aroas, 40% of them were Israeli.  

The group was also intergenerational, with people from all five of Nashville’s local synagogues as well as many who are unaffiliated. Horwitz says, “This is beyond a synagogue men's club (which also hold tremendous value for many) as it's creating a space to connect across spiritual homes and with those who have not and may not affiliate with a congregation.” 

This type of program is one example of how the Federation supports a variety of interests and needs and empowers people to build a community that works for them. Becker says it shows how even a small idea can grow into something sustainable. “The foundation of this group was through small conversations between basketball games and connections through a WhatsApp group and it has slowly matured and was ready to grow. This is how real communities are built,” she says.  

And in the midst of a challenging time for the Jewish people, Ross believes these types of relationships will help heal. “It’s a necessity after what we’ve experienced here and on college campuses. We need unity.”  

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