I grew up in Nashville, attended a Conservative religious afternoon and Sunday school. I attended a public high school (a very good one), an excellent university for undergrad and received a master’s degree at Vanderbilt University. Educationally speaking, i would probably be considered among the more educated people in the world. And yet, in spite of that, I found that, although I was Jewish, I could not carry on an intelligent conversation about Judaism. Sure, I knew what the holidays were, I could recite a few prayers, knew some songs and dances, knew about things like keeping kosher, eating matzo, Israel, the holocaust, and antisemitism. I learned that you did stuff because that is what jews did and it mattered not that you knew why.
As I got out into the real world, I learned for the first time that Judaism was an intellectual pursuit; one in which I was a big fat zero. I didn’t even know the terminology, never had heard the words; hashem, halacha, neshama, zohar, or midrash. Even with 10 years of religious school behind me, my Hebrew skills only gave me the ability to know the alphabet and read on a very low level, not understanding the words I was reading. I was not taught any conversational Hebrew and spiritually, God was rarely mentioned.
I recognize, happily, that our present congregational religious schools are far more savvy and do a much better job. At the same time, they are limited in depth and Judaism is a very deep religion.
The dark clouds of antisemitism are gathering, and we are sending our young people out into the fray armed with pea shooters. They are lacking, for the most part, a firm foundation on what it really means to be Jewish. It makes them defenseless.
Our world is very confusing, very difficult to navigate. According to sources at Vanderbilt medical center, one in every three children today suffers from anxiety disorder; not just occasional anxiety, but actual anxiety disorder. The ramifications of this are enormous. More and more our young people are engaging in self harm, and we are now waking up to the fact that they are harming others as well. Consequently, we seek out safe environments for them as their emotional and physical well-being is of utmost importance to us.
We are very fortunate to have excellent Jewish day schools in our Nashville community; Akiva, grades k-6 with an all-Jewish student body of over 100 children has grown by 47% in the last 6 years and is nationally renowned. The Jewish Upper School is made up of the Jewish Middle School grades 5-8 and Kehillah High School grades 9-12, both including Jewish and non-Jewish students.
The middle school has been designed specifically to address the needs of this turbulent age group. Further, it intentionally strives to build the self-esteem of each child and fosters close contact with parents to monitor progress. Spiritual awareness is addressed via two tracts of study: a Jewish studies curriculum for the Jewish students and soulful world curriculum for the non-Jewish students. The middle school is housed at Sherith Israel synagogue.Kehillah High School has just begun its inaugural year with grade 9 and is housed at The Temple. Kehilla emphasizes the personal development of each child and excellence in academics.
Nashville has become a major American city with many new families arriving daily. It is also home to some amazing clergy, teachers, and Jewish community professionals, who would not be here without Jewish schools for their children.
I continue to be proud of this community which always steps up to need. I am especially proud of its citizens, who have supported these schools in amazing ways. We have some precious jewels in our community whose lights will help insure a bright Jewish future.