President's Award Celebration honoring Shirley Zeitlin
Over 175 of Nashville's Jewish community gathered in the Pargh Auditorium at the Gordon JCC to honor President's Award recipient, Shirley Zeitlin.
In addition to celebrating Shirley's many contributions to Nashville, new Executive Director, Eric Stillman, addressed the community for the first time.
Below, you will find the transcribed version of Eric's moving address to the community, as well as photo albums from the evening, and a video tribute to Shirley Zeitlin that was played during the celebration.
Remarks of Eric Stillman on 11-18-2018:
Thank you, Karen, and it is a pleasure to be with y’all this evening as we honor Shirley with such well-deserved recognition. If you saw the #AskEric note cards when you arrived, please take a moment to write down a question for me.
In light of significant recent events occurring in the Jewish world, allow me to start my remarks by first reflecting on just the past 3 weeks:
Responding to the worst anti-Semitic attack in united states history with 11 Jews murdered at tree of life congregation in Pittsburgh, we came together as a community through our memorial service and then solidarity shabbat.
We saw Jews, Christians, Muslims, Baha'i, and people of different races and backgrounds come out to support and embrace us. Our state and local law enforcement stepped up immediately to work with us on security, and our national relationship with the Secure Communities Network and the FBI focused instantly on this anti-Semitic attack.
Just this past week, we also acted, together with all of the federations across the state, when anti-Semitic graffiti was painted on the rock at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Meanwhile, we responded to destructive wildfires happening in southern California, with emergency grants for those in need both in Pittsburgh and the Los Angeles area through the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee's Board of Directors Discretionary Fund.
Simultaneously, we are focused on the situation in the south of Israel where intense rocket fire was coming from Gaza so recently.
Our partners, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Joint Distribution Committee, and the Israel Trauma Coalition are providing direct assistance to those traumatized and in need on the ground in southern Israel. This is made possible because of the core funding that our Federation provides through our overseas grants.
The situation remains very fluid, and we know that terrorist rocket attacks can resume even if there is an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire in place.
All four of these examples - from Pittsburgh, Knoxville, Los Angeles, and Israel - show the power of collective action that occurs in rapid time as we act on your behalf, because of your continued support.
Now, in reflecting on the past four and a half months since I arrived in Nashville, I want to express my gratitude for the warm welcome which I received from you, the stakeholders of our Jewish community. There have been many Welcoming Ambassadors who have gone out of their way to make me feel at home here.
In recognition of my being a newcomer in a unique position, it was important for me to lead by example from the very start, and I have become a major donor to the Federation Annual Campaign and signed a Letter of Intent for the Life & Legacy program, as I cannot ask anyone else to do what I have not done.
When I arrived in Nashville, I came with the intention that our Jewish community will be a big tent that is open and inclusive.
I recognize that our greatest resource is the people who make up our Jewish community, and that is why I believe that we need to strengthen our emphasis on outreach and engagement.
Whether people are newcomers or not-so-new newcomers, it is really important that we reach out and engage the broadest cross-section possible, along the continuum of both age and geography, throughout Nashville and Middle Tennessee.
From people coming straight out of college, taking their first job, to retirees who are moving here to live close to their grandchildren, and everyone in between, Nashville is a growing community. We know that there are businesses relocating jobs here, and Nashville attracts people who have discovered what we already know: that this is a great place to live.
A very recent example of how our outreach and engagement efforts are working effectively happened one week ago today at the Global Day of Jewish Learning. Actually, the launching point for this example started soon after I arrived in Nashville during the summer. There was the confluence of two events.
The first event was my attending shabbat dinner with more than a dozen NowGen participants who made up the first cohort of our LEADS program. As I learned, LEADS stands for the Leadership Education and Development Series.
The second event that occurred was a discussion about whether to hold the Global Day of Jewish Learning this year, and a desire to see more young people participate.
By asking the chair of the first cohort of the LEADS program to be the chair of this year's Global Day of Jewish Learning, the planning committee was comprised mostly of NowGen folks, and the participants in the Global Day of Jewish Learning drew heavily from NowGen.
We handed them the reins, with some guidance, and they showed that their NowGen peers would participate actively, alongside other community members of varying ages. While we may want to tweak the program next year, I think we see an example of a model of outreach and engagement that works.
To broaden this idea, let me draw upon the work of Avraham Infeld. Some of you may know who he is from the years when he was President of Hillel International and before that as a longtime Jewish educator.
Avraham Infeld has written widely that being Jewish is defined by membership in the people, rather than by our religion or form of religious practice. He explains that Peoplehood is the oldest phrase in Jewish history and that even Pharaoh in Egypt spoke about the Jews as a people.
For instance, right in this room, many of us probably have heard and sung the words, "Am Yisrael Chai" which translates to the Jewish people lives! It is an affirmation of our Peoplehood, which is another way of describing an extended family.
Some of us even use the term "mishpacha" or "mishpoocha" to describe our extended family including distant relatives. I think we need to help all the members of our Jewish community see themselves as part of our extended family.
Admittedly, we know that people may have different perspectives from each other based on whether someone is a native Nashvillian or coming from another part of the country. We also know that people have different ways to express their Jewish identity, their political beliefs, views about Israel, and that they will come from different social circles and economic circumstances.
The goal is not to make everyone think, look, or act the same. Rather, the goal is to help everyone feel a part of our people, because that feeling leads to action. When people participate and belong, then we can act together from shared common values.
When people feel a part of something, they are much more likely to provide their time and financial support. We also have to be prepared to consider ways in which these expressions of support will be different from how we are accustomed to people joining and giving.
We need to adapt to this changing reality while we are in the midst of the generation shift that is occurring in our community. For instance, financial support can come in many forms, whether people give individually or as a family, give through their businesses, and give outright or planned gifts.
By diversifying our approach this way, through total financial resource development, we can be both strategic and creative in how we fund the programs, services, and operations of what we do.
As your Federation Executive Director, I am very fortunate to work with a great team of professionals and volunteer leaders who are dedicated to the strength and success of our Jewish community.
I am grateful for our community's 5 wonderful congregations led by Rabbis, Cantors, Educators, and volunteer leaders and our 4 remarkable agencies led by Executive Directors and volunteer leaders, as well as our many other Jewish organizations.
Working together, through cooperation and collaboration, we are testing new concepts and finding innovative ways to reach out and engage the people of our Jewish community, while still reaching in so that currently affiliated people remain active and energized.
This welcoming for all the members of our community specifically needs to include Interfaith families, LGBTQ individuals and families, and inclusion for people with differing abilities.
Our community is not so large that we can afford the luxury of deciding who fits a certain image or criteria. Our embrace needs to be broad and inclusive. To cite one statistic, as we learned from the most recent demographic study, there are about 8,000 Jewish people living in the households that make up our Jewish community.
Additionally, approximately 3,000 non-Jewish people, both adults and children, for a total of 11,000 people, live in our Jewish households. Simply put, everyone counts. We are stronger together, and we are more vibrant from our diversity when we embrace all the members of our community.
As the Jewish people, we are faced with many challenges and opportunities which simultaneously are local, national, and international. When a crisis occurs, we focus on that area. Meanwhile, the work that we need to do everywhere else continues, uninterrupted.
Whether we are right here in Nashville or overseas, as I was last month with members of our Jewish community on a mission to Morocco and Israel, we remain connected.
That is the power of technology because our emails, text messages, and cell phone calls can reach us just about everywhere in the world. Let us use that connectivity, and our ever-present social media platforms, to help us bridge differences and enhance the sense of our peoplehood. This applies locally, nationally, in Israel, and throughout the world, especially when we have differences to overcome.
To put all this in perspective, allow me to share a quote from the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who wrote, “If you want to know the strength of the Jewish people, ask them to give, and then count the contribution. To win the Jewish battle, the battle of the spirit, the victory of heart, mind and soul, you do not need numbers. You need dedication, commitment, study, prayer, vision, courage, ideals and hope. You need to offer people tough challenges through which to grow.”
I believe those are the tasks before us, and we can accomplish them together, with each of us doing our part.
With that in mind, I believe that we will have time for a couple of questions, which is why we distributed the #AskEric note cards.
Before I give the honor to Shirley to ask the first question, let me assure y'all of one thing in advance.
Even if we do not have time to get to everyone's questions, I would like to meet you for coffee, a meal, or a drink, just as I have done in getting to know many people during my first few months. Here is my email address for you to reach me: email@example.com.
Tribute to President's Award winner, Shirley Zeitlin