While Mississippi’s 9,000 Jews make up just three-tenths of 1 percent of the state’s three million citizens, the state is an incredibly strong source of support for Israel and understands the potential mutual benefit that can be gained from increasing the economic activity between the two states.
Led by two-term Governor Phil Bryant, the state recently completed its third business mission in 24 months, each time encouraged and led by the governor. For those not familiar with the frequency of state governor’s visits to Israel, never before in the history of the country has a US state governor visited Israel three times in 24 months.
But that’s only half the story. There is, among the political leadership of the state, an incredibly strong identification with the Jewish people that finds its roots in Bible stories that locals there learned in their youth. State Representative Donnie Bell, who hails from a small community of 2,200 in rural northern Mississippi, said during this visit that visiting Israel has been on his bucket list for as long as he can remember. He related that his mother taught him from an early age that Jews are special to God and that he must always respect the Jewish people.
In the governor’s case, as an early student of the Bible, he has a very well defined affinity for both the land and the people of Israel. Given that, Pardes took advantage of the fact that on Tuesday, November 29th Pardes planned a Lunch & Learn session hosted by a law firm located in Tel Aviv’s Azrielli Center and invited the governor and his senior staff to participate, if his schedule permitted. Of course, it did not hurt that when I am not wearing my Pardes Chairperson’s kippah, I head an economic development consulting firm in Jerusalem, which, among other activities, formally represents the trade and investment promotion interests of Mississippi in Israel and the region.
Well, the fates were on our side and, indeed, Gov Bryant along with his aide-de-camp and the Executive Director of the Mississippi Development Authority as well as Lior Haiat, Israel’s Consul General in Miami who accompanied the mission all participated in Daniel Roth’s session on “Can Advocates of Justice also be Pursuers of Peace?” The reaction? The governor absolutely loved being there and even participated in the hevruta portion of the session and the discussion that followed.
In his words:
- I am amazed that people here take time out of their work day to study. This is something all of us could learn from.
- I was in awe of the fact that topics that were discussed and debated centuries ago are still being debated, analyzed and evaluated. Very impressive.
- To me, it reminded me of my days in church school and I miss that.
- All of us were happy to be invited and enjoyed being with the participants.
In many ways this was a real Kiddush haShem. I can just imagine the look on the face of Rabbi Jeffrey-Kurtz Lendner of Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson, the state capital, the next time he sees the Governor and this experience is related to him as I am sure it will be. We at Pardes who so often think of North America in terms of the major cities known to everyone. Sometimes don’t realize the visceral support our country has in smaller and more isolated Jewish communities. The event of November 29th brought that lesson home to many of us.