Newcomer Matthew Caplan made the move from Washington DC to Nashville in 2020
By Eitan Snyder, Newcomer Engagement Associate
In my work as the Federation's Newcomer Engagement Associate, I meet so many Jews who are moving or want to be moving to Nashville. They come from all sorts of places for all sorts of reasons, and we bring them into Nashville’s Jewish community through our monthly Newcomer Shabbat Dinners, our quarterly Newcomer Welcome Receptions, and by connecting them with community members and organizations who can help them find what they are looking for. One of my favorite parts of this job is getting to hear these newcomers’ dynamic, engaging stories, so we are starting this new monthly feature in the Observer so you can get to know some of them and their stories too. We hope you enjoy reading these and hope you will give every newcomer you meet a smile and a warm Nashville welcome!
Introducing: Matthew Caplan
Tell us your story. Where are you from? How did you end up in Nashville?
I am a twin, the son of a twin, and once attended the International Twins Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio. I grew up in Pittsburgh (go Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins!), went to both college and law school at Georgetown University, and currently work as a lawyer for the Federal government. Like everyone else, it seems, my job brought me to Nashville in December 2020. Although this is my first time living in “the South,” I’m actually no stranger to town: my uncle, aunt, and cousins coincidentally moved here more than 40 years ago, well before it was a trendy (or Jewish) thing to do! They made moving to a new city, where I didn’t know anyone else, much more manageable — particularly during a pandemic.
What has your Jewish story been like up to this point? How did you get involved with Nashville’s Jewish community?
Since childhood, I’ve always been very proud to be Jewish. That pride often compels me to explore the Jewish community in any city that I live in or visit. So, when I first moved to Nashville, reaching out to the Federation to find Jewish young professional groups was an instinct. From there, I was put in touch with all the great people in NowGen. They’ve helped me make friends, forge professional connections, and explore the city — especially the local brewery scene!
How has your experience been in Nashville so far? Any notable memories or experiences?
I actually moved to Nashville the day after the Christmas Day bombing, less than a mile from where it happened. Phone and Internet service were heavily interrupted, and I was not able to access or move into my apartment building for quite some time. Needless to say, it made for a dramatic first night in town. However, amidst that tragedy and adversity, I quickly saw the remarkable loyalty and resilience in the community. This has remained a constant and has made living here both rewarding and fun. The city is beautiful, there are countless places to explore (shout out to McCabe Park, Percy Warner Park, Cornelia Fort Airpark, and Centennial Park), and the people could not be nicer (even many of the roving visitor Bachelorette parties Broadway)!
What do you love about being Jewish?
What’s not to love about being Jewish? I especially love that, despite how diverse the community can be spiritually, culturally, and traditionally, I could walk into any synagogue in the world and feel like I belong. When I travel, I always make it a point to visit synagogues and/or Jewish organizations in order to meet fellow Jews. Among the places I’ve been welcomed are: Ireland, Cuba, Turkey, Hungary, Moldova, and Romania. In every one of these places, the Jewish community has made me feel at home — even when I didn’t speak the language. How special is that?
What do you love about being Jewish in Nashville?
On paper, Nashville has the smallest Jewish community of any city I’ve lived in. Before moving here, I assumed that meant there would be fewer ways to get involved with Jewish life. But I could not have been more wrong. It is precisely because of the community’s size, not in spite of it, that the community is as welcoming, robust, enthusiastic, and engaged as it is. I went from being a complete stranger to now even helping to welcome new Jews to town on behalf of NowGen and the Federation. This would not have happened but for the incredible people I’ve met in the community along the way. Other cities’ Jewish communities could learn a thing or two from Nashville about how to welcome newcomers.
What does the next year look like for you? Is there anything that you are still looking to do or experience in Nashville?
The next year will include a lot more exploring Nashville. There’s no better way to feel at home in a city than to get out and occasionally pretend you’re a tourist. My list of restaurants to visit grows by the day and it feels impossible to keep up. (Sean Brock’s new restaurant, Audrey, is at the top of my list). I’m also, of course, eager to continue meeting all of the great people in Nashville’s Jewish community. So, if you see me, don’t be a stranger!