Congregants at The Temple were eager to welcome their new senior Rabbi, Michael Danziger, to town. They had to wait a couple of weeks, though, because Danziger and his entire family all tested positive for Covid19 soon after their arrival. Despite the rocky beginning, Danziger reports they are all healthy and he was present at his first Lunch with the Rabbi last month and is conducting regular Shabbat services. “It was a bit rough at first, but we’re doing fine and I’m happy to be here,” he says. Danziger’s first few weeks are being met with excitement. Judy Lefkovitz, President of the Board, says, “. As president, sitting on the Bima and looking out at the congregation, it is enlightening to see so many smiling and engaged faces and then hearing so many complimentary remarks about Rabbi Danziger and from people of all ages and segments of our congregation.” She says the rabbi is a welcoming presence, “As much as our congregants are smiling, just as important is Rabbi Danziger smiling at them during the entire service. He welcomes everyone and Shabbat in such an uplifting way. Already we have new faces at Temple who have chosen to join The Temple.”
Danziger is a native of Memphis where his father was also a rabbi. “It’s been fun to meet people who knew my dad,” he says. Most recently, he was an assistant and associate rabbi at Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati. When the position at The Temple became available, he jumped at the chance to return to Tennessee. “It was a good combination of being closer to my family, and Nashville itself. The community here is growing, and we really like it here.” He says a right now he is focused is getting to know his staff and working to build strong relationships with them, as well as the rest of the congregation. Lefkovitz says that is something the Board is also eager to see, “The Board's main priority is that Rabbi Danziger be a strong leader for the Temple clergy, staff, and members in the transition from Rabbi Schiftan to him and that he puts forth every effort to get to know our congregants and help us get to know him.”
Transition can often be difficult, particularly for a religious community. Danziger’s philosophy starts with the awareness that he needs to meet the congregation where it is right now. “I serve the congregation,” he says, “My goal is for us to live our Jewish life together in a vibrant way.” He says he wants to make sure The Temple remains a warm and inviting place. “I want to continue to be a place that inspires goodness and mercy. And I want us to make a big impact in the greater community to address social justice issues.” He is aware of The Temple’s long relationship with its neighbors, namely Belmont University, and is looking forward to continuing that involvement. “This is a great moment for Belmont. I want us to be fully integrated in the community with our partners of other faiths. It is important for the Jewish community to have friends in our neighbors.”
Rabbi Danziger’s path to the rabbinate is somewhat unusual. After college, he spent several years working in the Jewish camping business, including at URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Mississippi. He also worked under Rabbi Micah Greenstein at Temple Israel of Memphis as Youth and Family Director and continued to develop professionally working in the field of Real Estate and Property Management. And it is this non-traditional path that made him an appealing candidate, and the ultimate choice to lead The Temple in a new direction. Lefkovitz says, “He has an extraordinary, almost supernatural sense of relatability, I think partially because he has come from an unconventional path that included working with children, families, and people of all ages. His prior management work in commercial real estate taught him business skills that will help him with the administrative and leadership side of his role. His time at Wise Temple in Cincinnati and at Temple Israel at Memphis gives him the opportunity to bring with him experiences and training from top-notch strong large Temples.”
A lesser-known fact about Rabbi Danziger is that he also has performed as a stand-up comedian. He credits his older brothers with giving him a humorous perspective on life. “Being the younger brother, I was exposed to things at a younger age than most.” He says performing comedy was a natural outgrowth of his personality. “I was the guy people always said was just funny. So, in my twenties, I wrote comedy and performed in clubs. In Memphis, it was easier to get noticed.” He says that since he became a rabbi, most of his gigs are in the Jewish realm, but he admits he does have another, more adult, side to his comedy. He hopes to someday find time to return to occasional performing but remains wholly dedicated to his rabbinic career.
In in limited spare time, Danziger plays basketball and guitar, enjoys going to the movies, and rooting for his Texas Longhorns. His wife, Lindsay, is also a rabbi and currently works for the Union of Reform Congregations. Together they are raising three small children, something that surely provides a lot of comedy material. As for the congregation, Lefkovitz says, “Having co-chaired the Search Committee with Ralph Levy, I can honestly say that we feel grateful to Rabbi Danziger for his having chosen us and for us having chosen him. Rarely a day goes by when I don't hear from someone how much they like him. Many of the compliments I hear from our members are the same ones I heard from his references during the search process. On behalf of the Temple, I am proud of not only how our Temple family has begun to embrace him and his family, but how much the wider Jewish community in Nashville has welcomed him and his family.”