Eric Stillman is CEO of The Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee
In the recently released study "Jewish Americans in 2020," from the Pew Research Center, we learn that American Jews are engaged culturally, increasingly diverse, polarized politically, and concerned about antisemitism, among other key findings. These results emphasize the need for outreach and engagement efforts which have been a key focus of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee over the past several years.
In addition to grants made to our congregations and agencies, the Federation is providing grant funding for a broad range of approaches. We seek to meet the varied interests among Jewish Nashvillians who might answer “none,” to the Pew study's question about religious identity. Whether someone is a cultural or spiritual Jew, offerings from Jewsic City Shabbat, East Side Tribe, Moishe House, NowGen, Interfaith Cohorts, and a mindfulness Shabbaton are available because the Federation has recognized the importance of reaching out to both unaffiliated Jewish community members and those who are seeking new ways to connect Jewishly.
These initiatives are in keeping with the emphasis which the Federation places on outreach and engagement to interfaith couples and families, LGBTQ individuals and couples, and inclusion of people with differing abilities in our Nashville Jewish community. We need to continue this work to help make sure everyone feels a part of our extended Jewish family.
Reaching out and welcoming those Jewish Nashvillians who might answer “none,” about their religious identity is an important part of our big tent approach. As our Nashville Jewish community works together to strengthen and grow Jewish life, we need to explore innovative and grass-roots alternative models developed by and for the participants who create them. At the same time, we can examine whether lowering or removing financial barriers to participation in existing offerings from our congregations and agencies would make the difference for currently unaffiliated Jewish Nashvillians to take that next step.
As we have seen in just the past two years, our Nashville Jewish community has responded to meet pressing urgent needs with increased support so that Federation could give $200,000 in security grants to our congregations and agencies and to provide more than $150,000 in COVID emergency response to assist Jewish individuals and families faced with the economic impact of the pandemic here. If we present a compelling case for giving, our Nashville Jewish community will respond so that we can expand our outreach and engagement efforts while also maintaining our commitment to provide vitally needed programs and services both locally and in Israel and overseas.