How Some Tennesseans See It

This morning, Jeffrey attended services at Heska Amuna synagogue in Knoxville. He got a warm welcome, enjoyed the services (four adult women who had been denied the privilege as children due to circumstances or custom, became bat mitzvah), and was given a few minutes to address the crowd during lunch. He picked up a point made in the day’s D’var Torah (sermon) – that Jewish law forbids bullying. To nods all around the room, he likened state and national immigration policies to bullying. This Jewish crowd is sympathetic to refugees and unauthorized immigrants – no surprise, given the vehemence of the Bible’s commands and the reality of Jewish history.

Because it was the Sabbath, we have no photos of the event.

One congregant said that Tennessee legislators are rivaling Florida’s lawmakers for “flakiness”. He referred to a newspaper chart listing crazy laws passed, and sensible laws not passed, in the latest legislative session. Another congregant said that Tennessee just enacted a law limiting the number of “foreign teachers” who can be hired by charter schools. Almost 90 years after the Scopes “Monkey Trial”, Tennessee now has a law obliquely encouraging “creation science” and attacks on scientific findings regarding global warming. (Science should be questioned, of course, but in scientific, not religious, terms.) Another congregant decried the small minority of lawyers in the Tennessee legislature; while lawyers shouldn’t run things entirely, it might help keep the legislature grounded if it had more broadly educated members who understand the state and federal constitutions.

We don’t live here, we’re not judging. We just tell it as we heard it.

In the afternoon, we hit the road for half a day’s ride. I sat with the cargo, as usual.

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We took a broad highway, U.S. 70, that soon became narrow as it wound up and down steep hillsides. We called it a day in Kingston, seat of Roane County

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and near a small lake.

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It being the 5th of May, the anniversary of a Mexican victory over French invaders, there was a celebration at a Mexican restaurant. Jeffrey ordered a delicious vegetarian dinner

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and learned from the server that she had no Tennessee accent because she is from Miami and ended up in Kingston for family reasons. She has Cuban ancestry and misses hearing Spanish, so for her, working at this restaurant is fun.

Antonio, another server, asked Jeffrey in Spanish how he liked his dinner. Jeffrey answered in Spanish, then apologized for not being able to hold a decent conversation, having taken only 1 year of high school Spanish decades ago. He offered to chat in French or Hebrew. At hearing “Hebreo”, Antonio’s face lit up. He reads the Bible daily and wanted confirmation of the words Jesus used to revive a dead woman. Antonio said “arise” correctly, or nearly so, allowing for a Spanish accent and the fact that Jesus spoke Aramaic; when Jeffrey understood the word, Antonio was delighted. Then Antonio asked some other questions. To a Hebraist, Jeffrey is no expert, but he was an expert to Antonio. They parted as friends.

Kingston. Mexicans and a Cuban serving Mexican food on a Mexican holiday to happy Tennesseans. Who’d have thought it?

One thought on “How Some Tennesseans See It

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