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Embracing Change, the New Year, and the New Nashville

Embracing Change, the New Year, and the New Nashville

By Rabbi Shana Mackler

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At this time of the year, the Jewish community is poised to celebrate Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year. Far from being a time for fireworks and champagne toasts, it is rather a time for reflection upon the year that has passed, examining our actions, and looking ahead to our aspirations for the new year.

The Hebrew word for year, shanah, is grammatically linked to the word for change, shinui. We know that change is embedded in what it means to live, to experience year after year; it is inevitable. As we hold fast to tradition, we know that stasis ultimately denies growth and survivability. And yet, by its very nature, change can be discomfiting.

Whether change is pursued or foisted upon us, we can choose to embrace it, or rail against it. We can search for meaning and discover unseen gifts, or only pay attention to what has been lost. Moments of change can be destabilizing, or a deeply reflective time, intended to give shape and intention to the future. 

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From its roots more than 170 years ago, the Nashville Jewish community has experienced significant changes. Over the 18 years I have had the honor of serving as a rabbi at The Temple, I have experienced quite a few myself. The changing landscape and skyline reflect deeper and more significant changes, with growing pains and exciting opportunities. 

With change comes a process of balancing newness and familiarity, embracing innovation while maintaining a sense of authenticity and integrity. We live in tension with new ideas, experiences, and the richness, or depth, or wisdom of tradition.

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Some changes have been difficult. As Nashvillians, our community has been a part of responding to the challenges of our growing city. We grapple with necessary social reckoning, issues of inequality and inequity, and more overt aggression toward minorities or newcomers, including rising antisemitism. In the microcosm of our own community, as well, we are not immune to the divisiveness experienced across our country, even as we strive to model respect, civil dialogue, and inclusion. 

Some changes, however, reflect a true desire to create a more welcoming and inclusive Nashville, as business leaders across the city seek opportunities to learn more about minority culture, inviting us in to share about our traditions, holidays, and customs to better serve their diverse clienteles and support their own employees. Even more, we have seen a growing desire among the larger Nashville community to learn more about and with the Jewish community. 

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Overall, our community has benefitted from people moving to Nashville, and newcomers have found community within our congregations. The diversity of our own Jewish community has grown, reflecting the beautiful mosaic of our people, welcoming more Jews of color, LGBTQ Jews, and interfaith and multi-faith families. We are indeed beneficiaries of these changes.

Celebrating our diverse community extends beyond our walls as well. We have deeper and stronger connections to differing immigrant and African American communities, more intentional and substantial relationships with many of Nashville’s Muslim communities, and partnership with many other Christian denominations, extending beyond shared service projects and collegiality among clergy, to real and meaningful partnerships among our laity. 

We have shown up for each other in moments of crisis and change, and celebrated achievements together. As our city has changed and grown, we celebrate the deeper interfaith cooperation and collaboration, as well as greater intrafaith connection among the Jewish community itself. 

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Over these years, with all of the changes and uncertainty in our world, within our walls and even virtually, we have welcomed more people searching for community and connection, a place of comfort or challenge. Each year we reflect on the changes and work to be a community for people coming together from all walks of life, for a sense of belonging, of deeper understanding and search for spirituality, and of purpose in this world. 

Shana Mackler is Rabbi and Senior Scholar
of The Temple, Congregation Ohabai Sholom

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