The Jewish year is a magical combination of lively celebrations, feasts of traditional foods, glistening candlelight, sacred wine, raucous dancing and noisy parades, committing to the triumph of freedom, personal and communal mourning, fasting, and opportunities to reflect, atone, and renew.
We are currently in the Jewish month of Elul which will lead us to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year on the first of the month of Tishrei. One of the best-known teachings about Elul is that the four letters of the name of the month are an acronym from the verse in Song of Songs, Ani l’dodi v’dodi li (“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine”). Most of us know this phrase as the words spoken during a Jewish wedding ceremony, but the origin of the phrase in Song of Songs refers to the love between us and God, making this the time of year to reflect on our relationship with the universal life force that connects us all through our humanity.
As we prepare for the Days of Awe, the days from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur, it is a time to reflect on the past year, recommit to our spiritual and personal relationships, and prepare for the coming year.
The year ending, 5783, as with most years, was a time of blessings and challenges. For the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville, this past year was also a time of transition in leadership, as we welcome Rabbi Dan Horwitz as CEO of the Federation. If you have not yet had a chance to meet Dan, stay tuned. There are several upcoming opportunities to get to know him.
One of the greatest blessings for the Federation is the leadership of Board President, Dr. Leslie Kirby. The past year is not quite what Leslie originally expected, as it became necessary for her to serve not only as President, but also as informal interim CEO. Leslie attended staff meetings, signed checks, remembered birthdays, encouraged boosts for morale, and listening and responding to suggestions, concerns, and complaints. Through it all she showed up in every possible way and achieved numerous successes through unflinching dedication, consistent determination, remarkable strength, resilience, and focused sense of purpose.
Lesli’s leadership extended beyond our community, as she facilitated a statewide effort of the primary Jewish communities in Tennessee, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Memphis, in a successful endeavor to secure additional state funds to be used for security for houses of worship, and a successful legislative initiative to amend the state hate crime statute to assist law enforcement in addressing those crimes. We, and all the Jewish community members in our state, owe her a true debt of gratitude, and we are fortunate that her leadership extends into the new year.
As we embark on the coming weeks of reflection, renewal, and both asking for and granting forgiveness, may we be reminded of the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,
"Forgiveness means that we are not destined endlessly to replay the grievances of yesterday. It is the ability to live with the past without being held captive by the past. It would not be an exaggeration to say that forgiveness is the most compelling testimony to human freedom. It is about the action that is not reaction. It is the refusal to be defined by circumstance. It represents our ability to change course, reframe the narrative of the past and create an unexpected set of possibilities for the future... In the face of tragedy, forgiveness is the counter-narrative of hope. It is not a moral luxury, an option for saints. At times it is the only path through the thickets of hate to the open spaces of coexistence."
As we move into Jewish year, 5784, JCRC recommits to the primary priority of addressing antisemitism and other forms of hate which damage us all. We commit to the work of moving through the thickets of hate into the open spaces of coexistence. May we stay focused on our soul nourishing relationships with each other, and may we be blessed on the journey.
To learn more about how Jews in the diaspora can support the people of Israel, consider reading this article from Times of Israel and registering for this webinar September 4: Diaspora Jews: Time to take a stand | The Times of Israel
Wishing you and your families a sweet and healthy Rosh Hashana, and a meaningful Yom Kippur.