TENNESSEE DIVIDED: Jewish community perspective

Feb 16, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  The Temple is Nashville’s oldest Jewish Synagogue.

The congregation first met in the home of a prominent Nashville family in the 1840s and began building a synagogue on Vine Street in 1851.

Senior Rabbi Mark Schiftan says the Jewish community has enjoyed a mostly positive relationship with Nashville’s majority Christian population in the decades since. He believes that bond has only grown stronger in recent years.

THE CALL OF THE SHOFAR By Ben Shan hangs in The Temple in Nashville. The basic theme of this exquisite mosaic is taken from the Book of Malachi (2:10), “Have we not all one Father? Hath not one God created us all?”
Credit The Temple

But Rabbi Schiftan also says that he has for some time now been warning his members about a rising tide of anger in America. He says seeing Nazi’s marching and chanting anti-Semitic slogans this past summer in Charlottesville suggests that Jews are, once again, becoming a focus for that anger.

“For many of my members, that was a signal moment that said to them ‘Do not kid yourselves. It will come to us. It has come to our door.’ At that point it becomes an unavoidable reality,” Schiftan said.

Mark Friedman says that Jews all over the mid-state feel that same unease. Friedman is the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

He pointed to several incidents in recent years. A bullet was fired at the West End Synagogue in 2015. That same year swastikas were painted on a fraternity house wall at Vanderbilt.

“People are concerned,” Friedman said. “I would not say that they are fearful, but I would say that they are concerned about a rising tide of anti-Semitism.”

Friedman said the Jewish community is especially troubled by the impact that trend is having on the mid-state’s few remaining holocaust survivors.

Rabbi Schiftan shares that concern.

“They are among the most alarmed, because they recognize, from their own experiences and from hindsight, these very similar trend lines,” he said.

Both men say that, if there’s a silver lining to the Jewish community’s distress, it is that the need to act is clear, and the impulse to band with other persecuted minorities is strong.

“There’s no place for apathy in all of this,” Friedman said. “If you’re apathetic or if you ignore it, you’re by default letting it happen.”

Rabbi Schiftan adds, “Personally and communally stand up - and stand against - all forms of bigotry, bullying, intimidation, and I  0nsult to the human dignity of other human beings.”

This story is part of the WMOT series entitled Tennessee Divided: An exploration of the cultural, racial and political discord across Middle Tennessee and the nation. Use the links included here to explore other stories in the series.