Above: Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Israeli Consul General Judith Varnai Shorer and Sen. Mark Pody are joined by Nashville rabbis at the signing ceremony for a proclamation of support for Israel on March 7
With Israeli Consul General Judith Varnai Shorer seated by his side, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a proclamation to “honor and commend the Nation of Israel, and extend Tennessee’s friendship and esteem as we remain steadfast in our support of the Nation of Israel.”
The ceremony took place in the Old Supreme Court Chambers on March 7, organized by the office of Sen. Mark Pody, who introduced a pro-Israel resolution in the state Senate.
The resolution passed the Senate, 28-0, on Feb. 21, and was working its way through the House when the ceremony took place.
The proclamation on March 7 was signed by Lee, Pody, speaker of the Senate Randy McNally, and Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, who is navigating the resolution through the House.
Weaver said she is honored to be sponsoring the bill in the House, as “we are best buddies across the pond.”
Lee said he was honored to be part of “a historical moment in Tennessee.”
“It’s more than just a historical moment, It’s a spiritual moment,” he said, citing Genesis 12:3, where God tells Abraham that He will bless those who bless him, and curse those who curse him.
Lee said he has first-hand knowledge from a powerful experience visiting Israel. “Not only is there a friendship” between Tennessee and Israel, “there is a bond deeper than friendship.”
Shorer thanked Tennessee for “your strong, continued support of Israel.” She noted that Tennessee is “in the heart of America’s largest evangelical community,” which is strongly pro-Israel.
Saying that Israel will “continue to prosper,” Shorer concluded, “please come to visit us… it is so beautiful.”
Eric Stillman, executive director of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, expressed thanks for the event, saying “on behalf of the 23,500 members of the Jewish community of the state of Tennessee, it is an amazing occurrence today… we are very proud of the string relationship between the state of Tennessee and the state of Israel.”
In addition to Nashville, there were officials from the Jewish Federations of Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga in attendance.
Rabbi Saul Strosberg led the singing of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, followed by Irlene Mandrell singing the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Pody said he became friends with her as she has a “heart for standing up for what is right, for the troops, for Israel, for America.”
Pody said he learned that Israel is the only nation in the world that has a deed given to them, “when God created the world and he spelled out the exact location of this nation.”
He said “the heavens are recording this moment. I believe in the Bible, and I believe what God wrote, he meant.”
Pody reiterated that Israel is “not a Democratic issue, it’s not a Republican issue, this is a world issue, this is a Tennessee issue, and we are together” in standing with Israel.
While many of the speakers referenced the spiritual connection to Israel, there was also frequent mention of Israel as a technology and research powerhouse, the importance of military collaboration between the U.S. and Israel, and Israel as a trade partner for Tennessee businesses.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett said in the past, he hosted Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, and “we discussed our unique bond and shared interests.”
The ceremony “shows a lot of what we’re about, when there are people in Washington who can’t decide who our friends are. Here in Tennessee, we know who our friend is.”
Rabbi Joshua Kullock gave the opening prayer, praying “on behalf of the state of Israel, and we pray on behalf of the state of Tennessee.”
He said “we are grateful to the state of Tennessee for standing strong with Israel.”
Kullock emphasized Israel’s diversity as a “country of immigrants, that beacon of light, that nation that is proud of its multicultural society.”
He noted that there is a divine spark in every person, so “may we always treat each other with dignity and respect.”
Rabbi Yitzchok Tiechtel of Chabad in Nashville said “I have been a proud Jew all my life, and I have been a proud Tennessean for the past 21 years. Today, standing here I feel like the proudest Jewish Tennessean that there has ever been.”
He said one of the most “remarkable insights” of Jewish survival over the last 3,300 years is that when enemies arose, “we always had those who were there to support us, to hold our hands, to embrace us, to encourage us, and to ensure that we continue to survive and thrive.
“This is what this moment is all about,” Tiechtel said. “Today we are witnessing how the people of Tennessee, led by the honorable governor and state legislators, how people from across the aisle have put their differences to gather together for one purpose, to be there for the Jewish people, and to be there for the Land of Israel.”
After Strosberg recited a few paragraphs from Israel’s Decaration of Independence, the closing prayer was given by country music legend Ricky Skaggs, a passionate supporter of Israel. “I’m really overwhelmed at the goodness of the Lord” in witnessing the event, he said, reciting verses from Psalm 93.
He gave thanks “that we as Christians in humility started to understand that we are grafted onto the olive tree” of God’s covenant with Israel, and that they are to “lift up and honor our brethren.”
He concluded, “May Tennessee be blessed beyond measure.”
A reception was held after the event, where Shorer commented that “no one could leave this event without being touched personally.”
Solidarity events like this tell Israel “there is support. You’re not alone,” which, from her perspective as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, is very important to hear.
She was formally presented with a Tennessee state flag as a remembrance of the event.
The proclamation states that Israel “has long been, and remains, America’s most reliable partner in the Middle East, with both nations bound closely by historic and cultural ties as well as by mutual interests.”
It recognizes the “high number of exchanges with Israel” for the U.S., including “joint military exercises, military research, and weapons development,” and cooperation in fighting terrorism.
“At this time of continued uncertainty in the world, Tennessee again desires to reaffirm its friendship with the Nation of Israel by expressing its unequivocal support for the Nation of Israel,” the proclamation adds.
In April 2015, Tennessee became the first state to pass legislation condemning the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement that targets Israel. Many other states have followed suit, and in March, legislation passed to make Mississippi the 27th anti-BDS state.