The Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville has launched an emergency campaign to raise two million dollars to provide for critical needs on the ground in Israel in the wake of the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack. Jewish Federation CEO, Rabbi Dan Horwitz, says the unprecedented terror attack required an unprecedented response from the community. “We set a communal goal of raising two million dollars to go towards immediate relief efforts on the ground, caring for Israelis in need now, as well as ensuring they have the ability to rebuild their homes and lives. These efforts are part of a broader North American movement spearheaded by the Jewish Federations of North America to raise $500 million dollars in support of Israel."
Local leaders join solidarity mission in nation’s capital
Following the attacks, Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville board chair Dr Leslie Kirby, board vice president Aron Karabel, and Federation CEO Rabbi Dan Horwitz joined leaders from Jewish federations across North America in Washington DC for an emergency solidarity mission to support Israel. Speakers included Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA). Kirby, Karabel, and Horwitz also met with Tennessee Senators Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn. Karabel says the mission made clear that bi-partisan support is critical now and in the future, “The mission reaffirmed the commitment to support Israel and it gave me confidence that the support is unwavering.” During the emergency meeting, JFNA leaders announced that so far, they received over $388 million towards the movement-wide goal of $500 million.
Support for Israel in Nashville is strong. Just two days after the attacks, the Federation held a solidarity rally with an overflow crowd of over 900 people attending. Kirby, who gave opening remarks and was the emcee for the event, says she is grateful for the outpouring of support, and that the show of unity should remain the top priority. “It was heartwarming to see people from a diverse array of Nashville’s population. It’s important that we stand together as one community in these difficult times. The attacks from Hamas were devastating on their own. The subsequent dramatic rise in antisemitism - not only blaming Israel for the vicious attacks but extending that to blaming and attacking Jews all over the world - is appalling.” In attendance were partners and allies from the greater Nashville community, city council members, representatives from the state legislature, and various other civic groups and leaders.
“We are heartbroken”
The rally included remarks from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee who said both he and his wife, Maria, are heartbroken over the atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists. “We, the people of
Tennessee stand with Israel in unity. There is no place for division or partisanship but only a place for words of support and unity for the nation of Israel and for Jewish people around the world.”
The unprecedented turnout included many from Nashville’s Israeli community, most of whom have immediate family and close friends who remain in Israel. Michal Eskenazi Becker, Director of Planning and Impact for the Federation says it is hard being so far from her home country during this time and being in community was a great comfort. “Having such huge support at the rally, and in the days that followed, created a comforting space for me, which I shared with people who felt the same, more, or some loss. It felt good for people to see me and the other Israelis as a community.”
“The survivors of kibbutz Nahal Oz are displaced and suffering terribly”
Nashville’s Jewish community includes those who have friends and family members in Israel. There are also local families with loved ones serving in the Israel Defense Force (IDF). Dov Gelman has two children currently serving. Son Silas is an infantry squad machine gunner and daughter Alitzah is serving in the field artillery. They are deployed on both borders, Lebanon and Gaza. Dov himself is serving as aid to the northwest Galilee Lebanon border county’s director of security. “My first mission was to bring my son a ballistic vest and my daughter other supplies. Now that that mission is completed our organization My Brother’s Keeper International is raising funds for blood warmer machines for IDF tier one units. These machines will enable unit paramedics to do battlefield transfusions. We have already sent $25 thousand to them. We are also focusing on the survivors of kibbutz Nahal Oz who are now displaced and suffering terribly.”
Susan Pankowsky has two children, both raised in Nashville, currently living in Israel. Her daughter is serving in the IDF after being called back for reserve duty. “She’s been telling me all along when it’s time to worry she’d tell me. And she called to tell me it was time to worry,” says Pankowsky. The family keeps in touch with regular phone calls, texts, and the occasional video chat, but the worry never leaves. “It’s a day to day, up and down thing. I’ve had a lot of support from around the world.” Pankowsky’s son, who lives in Israel with his wife and toddler, is expecting another baby in the winter. “I am planning to go to see the new baby and hope I can get there.”
We are counting on people to share the opportunity to donate
As the days and weeks drag on, the needs on the ground are mounting. These include food and basic necessities for affected families, housing for the displaced and frontline communities, cash grants to victims of terror, trauma relief and support for the injured and those who lost family members. The Jewish Federation of North America is closing in on its goal. The Federation’s Horwitz says, "We've made tremendous progress towards the goal and are counting on folks to participate however they can, and to share the opportunity far and wide in their networks.”
To donate to the Israel Crisis Fund visit www.jewishnashville.org/israelfund