A Brief History of the Nashville Jewish Community
Nashville dates its beginning from 1780, and by the 1840s there were enough Jewish men to meet for services. In 1851, the group established a Hebrew Benevolent Burial Society, and purchased property for a cemetery. This marks the founding date of The Temple, Ohabai Shalom, which celebrated their 150th anniversary in 2001. This congregation, the first in Nashville and in the State of Tennessee, took the name Mogen David, in honor of Davidson County, and was chartered in 1854. A second congregation, Ohava Emes, was chartered in 1860.
In 1864, B’nai Yeshurun, a Reform congregation, began. Mogen David and Ohava Emes united in 1867, and the merged congregation was called Ohavai Shalom. The Vine Street Temple, now The Temple, was dedicated in 1876, and became one of the first members of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
Congregation Adath Israel, which became West End Synagogue, Nashville’s Conservative synagogue, was chartered in 1876, and built a synagogue on Gay Street in 1902. The Orthodox Sherith Israel congregation began in the early 1870s as the Hungarian Benevolent Society, constructing a shul on Fifth Avenue, next to the Ryman Auditorium in 1920. All three of these congregations moved to their present locations in the 1940s and 1950s.
Congregation Micah, a Reform congregation, began in 1992, and celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2002.
The YMHA was founded in 1902, and is celebrating its centennial as the Gordon Jewish Community Center. The Jewish Community Council began in 1936 and became the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, the central voluntary communal organization of the Nashville Jewish community.
Akiva School, the Jewish community day school for elementary and middle school students, began in 1954 and moved to its present location on the campus of the Gordon Jewish Community Center in 1999.
Jewish Family Service in 2003 will celebrate its 150th year of social service to the Jewish and general communities of Nashville. The Nashville Section of National Council of Jewish Women in 2001 observed its 100th year of volunteer community service to the Jewish and general communities. Hadassah was founded in 1926 and continues its support of the State of Israel today. B’nai B’rith began in 1863.
Congregation Beit Tefilah, based on the ideology of Chabad, was founded in 2001. In 2002, a new Hillel center, the Ben Schulman Center for Jewish Life was opened on Vanderbilt campus.
These organizations and institutions help to make a vibrant Jewish life for the eight thousand Jews comprising the Nashville Jewish community.