Heart of the Matter June 2023

I spent my early childhood in California where Jewish culture is part of everyday life. It is all around you wherever you go. Jewish delis and bagel stores are common fixtures. I remember in December store windows would be decorated with menorahs next to Christmas trees. I was confident and supported in my religion and never felt out of place.

My family moved to Nashville during my tween years. One of the first things I noticed, besides all the cows, was churches, practically every street corner had a church. It was a difficult adjustment, and I felt like an outsider. I eventually met other Jewish kids and joined BBYO. I finally felt like I belonged. The thing I learned then was that Nashville has an amazing Jewish community. It may not be everywhere you turn, but it is here, it is strong and united. You just have to make a little bit of effort to seek it out.

I left Nashville after high school and returned eight years ago with my husband and two kids. I knew that I would need to seek out support for my kids for their Judaism, and I knew right where to look. I was so excited to get a job last June with Jewish Family Service as the Helping Hands Program Coordinator. I have the privilege of connecting older adults with numerous JFS volunteer programs.

One of my personal favorite JFS programs is volunteers bringing Shabbat services to assisted living facilities. Once a month, they bring challah, wine, and candles, and lead these older adults through an abbreviated, large print Shabbat service. JFS recognized the need to bring Shabbat to seniors who cannot attend synagogue, valued their ability to participate in their religion and recognized the benefit of socializing with other Jewish residents.

Although my personal experience required me to seek out ways to get involved in the Nashville Jewish community, the Jewish Family Service Shabbat Service program showed me that the Jewish community will find those who are in need and will support them, embrace them, and make them feel like a part of the Jewish community.

In addition to offering Shabbat services, the JFS Helping Hands programs provide friendly visitors, telephone reassurance, and pen pals for isolated seniors, music and art programs for older adults with dementia, tech assistance for seniors, and assistance with changing lightbulbs and batteries in smoke detectors as a means of fall prevention. For more information about our Helping Hands Programs or to volunteer, contact Jamie Maresca at jamie@jfsnashville.org or 615-354-1686.


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