By Charles Bernsen
Hilary Mirowitz described her participation in an interfaith couples trip to Israel last winter as “transformational” – and not just because she and her Jewish husband, Eric Mirowitz, were able to share a deeply spiritual experience together in a land holy to both of them.
The trip, led by clergy from The Temple and Congregation Micah and underwritten by the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, also helped her feel more comfortable and accepted as a non-Jewish member of Nashville’s Jewish community, introduced her to a cohort of couples grappling with the kind of issues that arise in interfaith marriages, and gave her the confidence that, as a Christian, she can play an important role in raising her future children as Jews.
“I can’t thank the Federation enough for providing this opportunity,” Mirowitz said.
Her remarks were part of the program at the annual meeting of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee on June 14. About 150 people attended the meeting at the Gordon Jewish Community Center, where the Federation elected the 2017-2018 officers for its board of trustees: President Lisa Perlen, Vice President Lori Fishel, Secretary Steve Hirsch and Treasurer Michael Doochin.
In addition to the officers, Aron Karabel, David Levy, David Steine Jr., and Janet Weismark were elected to three-year terms as board members, and Rabbi Saul Strosberg joined the board for one year as the representative of the local Board of Rabbis. (Continuing terms on the board are Tara Axelroth, Didi Biesman, Mark Cohen, Adam Dretler, Mindy Hirt, Leslie Newman, David Schwartz and Jeremy Werthan.)
Aside from a presentation on the interfaith couples trip by Mirowitz and two other participants, Diana Landa and Amy Friedman, the meeting also featured a number of reports about important ongoing and upcoming Federation initiatives:
• Hirsch and former Federation President Carol Hyatt outlined the five-year planning and spending blueprint dubbed Best Jewish Nashville 2.0 that is based on the 2015 demographic study of the local Jewish community funded by the Federation. The pair chaired a committee of 47 community volunteers that identified five communal priorities — engaging young adults and developing the next generation of leaders, providing services for seniors, Israel advocacy and education, expanding services beyond the demographic core, and outreach to newcomers, those who are unengaged or marginally engaged and interfaith couples.
• Steine and Adam Landa, chair of the Nashville Jewish Foundation’s development committee, gave an update on Jewish Nashville’s participation in Life & Legacy, an initiative of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation to help Jewish communities across North America boost endowment giving. Thirteen local Jewish agencies are participating in the effort, including the Nashville Federation and Foundation. Life & Legacy has already secured commitments of more than $3 million, said Landa, who expects the local effort to reach its first-year goal of 234 commitments.
• Perlen, in her president’s report, described the upcoming year as one of the Federation’s most exciting. Among the initiatives she cited is the Federation’s participation in Violins of Hope Nashville, a collaborative effort that will bring a collection of restored Holocaust violins to the city in March for a weekend of concerts by the Nashville Symphony and a 10-week exhibition at the Nashville Public Library.
The meeting also included the presentation of the Federation’s Young Leadership Award to Ben Russ, a former Federation board member who last month became board president of Jewish Family Service, as well as recognition of volunteers leaders Robin Cohen, Faith Haber Galbraith and Frank Boehm, who are stepping down as chairs of the Federation’s Grants Committee, Partnership2Gether Committee and 2017 Annual Campaign Committee.
Russ was the first recipient of the young leadership award since it was named in honor of longtime communal leader Sandy Averbuch after her death last year. Though he was out of town and unable to attend the annual meeting, the award was presented earlier by Averbuch’s husband and son, Larry and Sam Averbuch, and a videotape of the ceremony was played at the meeting.
Recalling his wife’s lifelong dedication to the Federation, Akiva School and the Jewish community, Larry Averbuch said she “would be unbelievably honored that this award has been named for her.”
For his part, Russ said he was particularly honored to receive an award named for Averbuch. “If anything I’ve done is seen as emulating her, then I guess I’ve done okay,” he said. “I’m proud to follow in Sandy’s footsteps.”
The meeting concluded with a brief and personal report from Mark S. Freedman, who will be retiring next June after seven years as executive director of the Nashville Federation and more than 35 serving various Jewish communities in a number of capacities. Stepping away from the demands of communal service will allow him to focus his attention on family, especially his wife, Leslie Klein, he said.
But Freedman said he was grateful for his career in Jewish communal service, particularly in Nashville.
“This is a remarkable Jewish community,” he said. “For the past six years you have been my family … You will always be my family.” •