In this inaugural feature, the Forward interviewed Rabbi Aaron Finkelstein, 31, and his wife, Julie Sugar, 30, at their home in Nashville, Tennessee. They moved there from New York so that Aaron could work at Congregation Sherith Israel and the Akiva School. Julie is a scriptwriter for an educational online program called YiddishPOP and also a freelance writer. She answered most of our questions.
Forward: How did you come to live together?Julie: We moved in together after we got married. Almost a year ago! We got married last May.
How did you find your home?
We were very lucky. After Aaron accepted the job here, we planned a weekend in June to go “house hunting” (in quotes because we knew we were probably hunting for an apartment). A lovely board member at Sherith Israel helped us line up viewings of apartments for the weekend, and we had about a day and a half. One broker that she found was particularly pleased about the idea of having “a man of the cloth” as one of his renters. He told us about an apartment that wasn’t on the market yet, and that we couldn’t look at yet, but that sounded perfect.
Our friend, the board member, was able to look at the apartment not long after we flew back to New York. She and her husband sent us photos along with the message “take it” — and we did. We signed the lease before ever stepping foot in the apartment!
Who takes out the garbage?
We live on the third floor, which makes taking out the garbage an extra hassle. We share, but Aaron is often the one who ends up taking it downstairs — partly, in my defense, because he’s usually the first one to leave in the morning.
How are other household chores divided?
Aaron loves to cook, and is an excellent cook, so he pulls a lot of that weight. We both put in a lot of effort to cook and host Shabbat dinner. Dishes go in waves, but I think we’re both pretty good about it; same with laundry, though Aaron is better about folding it. I usually am the one who sweeps the floors and gets the guest room ready for people staying over. And we’re equally terrible about cleaning our bathroom.
Update: I read this passage to Aaron, and he says he does the dishes more often than I do.
Who makes breakfast?
We rarely have breakfast together, but when we do, Aaron makes it. He makes fantastic Israeli salad.
What’s the most unusual thing we’d see on your household budget?
We would need a line for cereal. We always have Peanut Butter Puffins on hand, as well as this Quaker-brand granola cereal that has cherries, almonds and pecans in it.
What do you love the most about the space you live in?
It’s just beautiful. It feels like a house, and because we’re on the third floor and have so many windows, we sometimes call it our tree house. We love the light and the space — especially after so many years in New York.
What’s the one anecdote that gets told again and again at family gatherings?
Not sure about family gatherings, but now that we’ve moved to a new city, we tell and retell the story of how we met. People like to ask about that. We met in Brooklyn, at a start-up synagogue that Aaron founded, called The Prospect Heights Shul. I had a huge crush on him for over a year—and he had no idea—before we started dating.
What would you serve at your ideal Sunday brunch?
Aaron: Eggs, hash brown potatoes, toast. Fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Julie: Tex-Mex breakfast burrito bar and mimosas.
Do you have an ideal Sabbath dinner?
Our ideal Shabbat dinner is a combination of spending time with dear friends as well as with those we want to know better. When we host, we try to invite an intergenerational crowd. Also, homemade challah doesn’t hurt.
Who’s your favorite Jewish comedian?
Aaron: Larry David.
Julie: I just Googled, “Is Louis CK Jewish?”
Have you ever experienced anti-Semitism in your life?
Aaron: Thankfully not.
Julie: Never, thank God. But my parents grew up in Communist Hungary, and my grandparents were all Holocaust survivors.
What is your favorite room in your home?
I say the dining room, and Aaron says the living room.
What is your favorite piece of art or favorite photograph in your home?
We have a lot of photographs and art that we still need to frame and hang. Our favorite photograph that is already up is one that my father took of me and Aaron from the wedding. He gave it to us right before we moved to Nashville.
What is your happiest and/or saddest memory in your home?
One of our happiest memories is finding our furniture — mostly at consignment stores — and setting up the apartment, bit by bit.
Describe your family life in three words.
“What’s for dinner?”
If you could change one thing about where you live, what would it be?
We wish we had a balcony, or that we lived on the first floor, with a porch or patio. A nice runner-up would be windows that all open easily and have screens.
If you could change one thing about your Jewish practice, what would it be?
Julie: I’m working on not gossiping.
Aaron: I would love more time for regular learning, for pleasure.
Is there an active Jewish community near you? If not, how do you create your own?
Yes, we live very close to Sherith Israel, and the Conservative synagogue is in the same neighborhood, too. The larger Nashville Jewish community is vibrant and warm. We love it.
Does being Jewish distinguish you from others around you? If so, how?
Yes and no. We’re very involved in the Jewish community in Nashville, and so being Jewish is something we share with many of the folks we’ve met since we moved here. At the same time, and unsurprisingly, living a religiously observant Jewish life is far less common here than it is in New York.
This interview has been edited for style and length.
HomeLands: Nesting in Nashville