The Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee was incorporated in 1936. But the concept is much, much older. The idea of a Jewish communal response to the needs of Jewish individuals, particularly the poor and sick, dates back to medieval Europe. It began when secular states declared Jews outside their authority and gave the responsibility for educating the young, nursing the sick feeding the hungry, caring for the aged and burying the dead to local Jewish “councils” to finance and administer. Out of necessity grew the kehila, the local Jewish community, which saw to it that the welfare of the human souls living within its geographical borders were met, no matter how limited the resources.
In Nashville, this long tradition of caring for the needs of fellow Jews showed itself as early as 1851 when the first immigrants to settle here established the Hebrew Benevolent Burial Society, purchased land for a communal, Jewish cemetery and became an umbrella “relief” society. That tradition of commitment to Jewish communal welfare continues unbroken today.