By Charles Bernsen
The board of the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee approved a blueprint last month that will guide the community’s planning and funding priorities over the next five years.
Dubbed Best Jewish Nashville 2.0, the blueprint was developed by a special committee that spent six months studying the Federation-funded 2015 demographic survey of the Middle Tennessee Jewish community, identifying 10 key communal needs or objectives, and making recommendations to address each of them.
Each objective or need – increasing the number of people who participate in Jewish communal life, for example, and improving outreach to poor and nearly poor members of the Jewish community – falls within one or more of four broad priorities: building and strengthening Jewish community, promoting a culture of philanthropy and volunteering, responding to the community’s unmet needs, and fostering relationship with the broader, non-Jewish community.
The Best Jewish Nashville Demographic Study Impact and Innovation Committee was chaired by the Steve Hirsch, the Federation’s vice president, and Carol Hyatt, its immediate past president. The planning process involved more than 45 other volunteers, including representatives from most local Jewish institutions and agencies.
In that sense, Best Jewish Nashville 2.0 (BJN 2.0) represents a communitywide strategy, said Harriet Schiftan, the Federation’s associate director and liaison to the committee. Many of the initiatives that come out of it will be spearheaded by synagogues, agencies, and organizations with support from the Federation, she said.
“With the completion of the BJN 2.0 committee process, we have made good on one of the two challenges the Federation board issued regarding our demographic study. One was to take the specific data from the study and create a data driven action plan. The second was to engage our community partners in meeting newly identified needs,” Schiftan said. “Thankfully the approach Carol and Steve took was to engage our professional and volunteer partners at every step along the way so everyone is poised and ready to tackle these 10 recommendations.”
Best Jewish Nashville is a collaborative planning process instituted by the Federation in 2010. It uses broad feedback from the local Jewish community to identify communal needs and establish funding priorities, and to regularly re-evaluate those needs and priorities.
In coming up with the newest iteration of Best Jewish Nashville, the committee relied heavily on the results of a demographic study conducted in the summer of 2015 by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute, which is part of Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, and released early in 2016, Hirsch said.
“The demographic study had a profound impact on BJN 2.0, as we used the results of a ‘deep dive’ into the study results to identify areas for immediate and future actions, either for the Federation or for other community institutions with an assist from the Federation,” said Hirsch.
The first demographic profile of Jewish Nashville since 2002, the study describes a local Jewish community of about 8,000 Jews and 3,000 non-Jewish family members who are older and more intermarried than the national average, yet still highly engaged in communal life and strongly connected to Israel.
It also found, however, that a growing number of Jewish households are located far from the community’s geographic core and institutions, making it hard for them to participate in communal life. In addition, newcomers, who account for about 25 percent of the Jewish population, tend to be less engaged and “can find it difficult to integrate, make connections and become involved in institution,” the study’s authors said. •