By most accounts Nashville is continuing its upward growth, sailing past the one million mark last year. Anecdotally, growth in the Jewish community runs parallel to that upward trend. The Facebook group for NowGen, the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville’s program for young adults boasts 1,300 members. Those seeking connection do not have to look very hard to find some type of organized Jewish community. East Nashville’s Moishe House is one of those communal groups seeking to engage and connect young adults with Jewish life.
Rabbi Dan Horwitz, incoming CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville, was one of the original 10 employees of Moishe House nationally. He says Moishe House provides a critical step helping keep young adults connected to their Jewish identity. “Moishe House helps fill the gap between college and the next steps in adulthood.” And Leslie Kirby, president of the Federation says Moishe House is one of the most impactful programs the Federation sponsors. “In the past 18 months, they’ve hosted almost 100 events with over 1300 participants. Moishe House is serving a vital role in our ecosystem here in Jewish Nashville.”
The word “ecosystem” comes up regularly in the context of Moishe House, and it is part of what keeps the program vibrant. Horwitz says, “What’s beautiful about the Moishe House model is that transitions are built in.” The latest proof of the evolving nature of the program is the upcoming move out by two of the current Moishe House residents and the welcoming of new ones. Rose Capin, one of the founding residents says her time in Nashville has been one of personal growth and solidifying her adult Jewish identity. “I have become a better communicator” she says, “And I have found a deeper understanding of the ways people can show up in community.”
Becca Groner, one of the founding residents of Moishe House Nashville, is the recipient of the 2023 Sandy Averbuch Young Leader Award from the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville. In her acceptance remarks she also spoke about Moishe House as part of the Jewish Nashville ecosystem. Groner has been at the forefront of Moishe House’s development in Nashville. She arrived in town more than five years ago looking for Jewish peers. At the time, the young adult landscape looked very different, with fewer people in the demographic. Enter Moishe House Without Walls, MHWOW, a scaled back program that provides Jewish programming in a smaller, more intimate setting in an apartment, the park, or a local bar. “I wanted to live in a place where I could bring people in and get to know each other in a Jewish space,” says Groner. And so, she became a MHWOW host.
Liza Moskowitz, who lives in Nashville but worked for Moishe House previously in Chicago, says it was clear MHWOW would be successful in Nashville. “We knew it was growing and it was a way to support a community that did not have a Moishe House.” Moskowitz says programs like MHWOW can have a big impact in smaller communities. “The work in smaller Jewish communities is almost more important because it has to be an actual choice to become involved. In larger cities, Judaism can be in your life more passively.”
Moskowitz says it was Groner who paved the way for Moishe House Nashville. “This is a vibrant community that loves Moishe House,” she says. Groner reached out to the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville for help building a full-fledged Moishe House. The group applied for and received some funding through a Federation Innovation Grant. The first residents moved in during the summer of 2021, in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic. Nevertheless, the first three residents, Groner, Capin, and Shea Northfield, were able to create programming that offered a little something for everyone from feminist book groups, to swap meets, to Shabbat dinners.
As the remaining founding resident, Northfield says the transition, while expected, is bittersweet. “I’m grateful to be part of the founding group, and grateful for all the moments we shared.” And she is looking forward to some new ideas and is focused on helping meet the community’s needs. “The community changes when the residents change, which is why there are limits on the number of years someone can live in Moishe House. This is a living ecosystem, and the next great idea [for a program] might not have been thought of yet.”
There is that word again, “ecosystem.” As Moishe House Nashville has developed and grown, it has become a visible presence, partnering with other organized Jewish groups on programs and events. Moskowitz says it is perhaps an unintentional consequence of being a smaller Jewish community. “Moishe House is interconnected with the rest of the community. There is a sense of ownership. We have a stake here.” And Moishe House residents and participants can often be seen at synagogue services, Federation events, and fundraisers.
Sometimes evolving means circling back to explore earlier goals. According to Dave Press, senior director of advancement for Moishe House, Moishe House is no longer just about houses. “That will always be at the core, but it has evolved into a global platform for young adult engagement, leadership development and Jewish enrichment,” he says, “Nashville, like many other cities, has experienced rapid growth - particularly among young adults in the 21-32 age range - in recent years. This demographic plays a crucial role in shaping the future of the Jewish community. As Nashville's young Jewish population expands, the presence of Moishe House becomes increasingly vital.” Locally, Moskowitz says the next logical step is to focus on being relevant for participants who are getting older. “It’s important to look at the role Moishe House wants to play for the older end of the demographic. The regular programming isn’t always the right fit.”
Groner herself moved out of the house last summer to travel and engage in personal growth, is once again a MHWOW host. This time around, though, she is focused on that slightly older, 28-32 demographic. “I wanted to revisit the program, but I am older now, so I wanted to focus on
my friends who are approaching their 30s,” she says. For the past six months, Groner has hosted smaller, more intimate gatherings, and one seder in partnership with East Side Tribe.
When asked if Nashville’s young adult Jewish community can sustain both MHWOW and Moishe House, Northfied says some coordination might be needed. “We are still navigating that. We want to complement each other,” she says.
Proof that Moishe House’s presence in Nashville has struck a chord could be found in the number of applicants the current group received from potential new residents. “It was great that we had so many applicants, but it was challenging,” says Northfield. She says the goal is to find creative ways to include and involve those who were not chosen. “There could only be two, which means most of the applicants were not picked.”
Moishe House’s funding comes from a combination of support from the national organization, grants from the Federation, and private donations. Press says, “The mission is to attract investment from the local community. We expect 75-80% of the funding to come locally.” The value of the program is not lost on Horwitz who, in addition to finding a satisfying career path through Moishe House, also met his wife at a Moishe House learning retreat more than 10 years ago. “Nashville is growing, Moishe House is growing, I hope our community can find meaningful ways to support it.” For her part, Kirby says Moishe House is a valuable tool to not only develop young adult connections, but in securing the future of the Jewish community. “I’ve been working closely with Moishe House International to build up local support for the program in the broader Nashville Jewish community, and I look forward to talking about Moishe House with our donors who are interested in building future leaders.”