Tennessee’s Jewish Federation Join Together for a Day on the Hill

Barbara Dab, The Jewish Observer; Steven Hirsch, The Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville, Rep. John Ray Clemmon, Leslie Kirby, The Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville, Austin Center; The Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga; Steven Remer, JewishFederation of Greater Nashville

Representatives from Tennessee’s Jewish Federations joined together at capitol hill to meet with state lawmakers, urging them to support measures aimed at combatting antisemitism in the state, and beefing up security at houses of worship. The overall goal, according to Leslie Kirby president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville, is to continue building relationships and raising awareness of the community’s concerns. “A study by The American Jewish Committee found that people outside the Jewish community don’t know about the rising antisemitism. But there are 30,000 Jews in Tennessee, and we are feeling afraid.”

The day began with Rabbi Joshua Kullock of West End Synagogue delivering the opening invocation for the legislative session. He says he is honored to be asked. “I felt deeply honored by the possibility to share an invocation at the State legislature. It’s not every day we get the opportunity to talk about some of our core Jewish values in front of our elected officials. I'm grateful to the Federation for organizing this day at the Hill, as Jewish representatives from all over the State came to Nashville hoping to make our voices and concerns heard.”

Austin Center, Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga, Sen. Bo Watson, Michael Dzik, Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga

Among the lawmakers the group of approximately a dozen met, was state Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixon), who is chair of the finance, ways and means committee. He was a key supporter of last year’s efforts to provide security funds, as well as co-sponsoring a bill aimed at combatting the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement. “I understand the challenges getting this legislation passed. I was happy to lend my support last year. This year, we’ll have to figure out a way to continue.”

Michael Dzik, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga, stressed the urgency facing members of his community. “I represent about 2,500 Jews in Chattanooga. Antisemitism and racism exist. We see it in New York, and other parts of the country, and we need to be proactive.”

A key factor to addressing antisemitism and racism, according to Representative Harold Love (D-Nashville), is ensuring everyone in the state is focused on the problem. “This threat has statewide implications. My church also spends thousands of dollars on security,” he said. Love is also pastor of the Lee Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. “What happened in Charleston could have happened here. It could have been me. Some people’s minds and souls are so sick they see no problem bringing pain and destruction to houses of worship. We have to come together more often.”

Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) agreed with Love’s statement regarding unity. “Every session I’ve tried to do something to publicly say Tennessee is a friend of Israel,” he says, “This is a principal stand for me. I want to be standing right there in front with all of you.” Pody supported last year’s bills that provided for security funding, and addressed the definitions of antisemitism, and says he plans to do so again.

Steve Buttry, The Capital Group; Lt. Gov. Randy McNally; Stephanie Kodish, Knoxville Jewish Alliance; Bryan Goldberg, Knoxville Jewish Alliance

At the end of the whirlwind day, one thing was made clear. The Jewish communities of Tennessee are united in their efforts to engage and urge lawmakers to continue their support to keep the Jewish people in the state safe from those who wish to do them harm. Dzik says, “It was a great opportunity to connect with our colleagues across the state as well as meet with legislators. We’re looking to build personal relationships with our elected officials. Going to the hill is a great step in this direction. We also can and will meet with them in our districts.”

Delegates with Speaker Cameron Sexton

Steven Hirsch, past president of the Jewish Federation, says the most important thing was speaking up. “The Jewish community is standing up and speaking out about our concerns around the recent rise in antisemitism and the more individual legislators hear about this, it is bound to stick with them at some point. We cannot remain silent and hope that antisemitism will go away with no action on our part.”

Rabbi Joshua Kullock with Rep Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville)

Efforts like the day on the hill also go a long way toward raising awareness of the work of the Jewish Federation. Steve Remer is chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee. He says, “Any time we can do something constructive for the Jewish community and not just be seen as a money collection organization for overseas Jews, it’s a win. Anytime we can be out in the community working together with non-Jews, it’s a win. Any time our neighbors stand up for us without being asked, it’s a win for us and for them.”


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