Averyell A. Kessler
He brought me forth into a place of liberty.*
My friend, Jessie drove down from Ruleville to visit her son and join him for the observance of Rosh Hashanah at the temple in Jackson. Although she was a generation older, she was a delightful acquaintance. A stylish lady, blessed with wit, grace, and an ebullient personality, Jessie was an authentic Delta girl. Always would be. The day before the holiday, her son called to tell me that he had an important business dinner that evening, and Jessie would be alone.
“Great,” I said. “I’ll take her out to dinner.” Jessie avoided boredom like a cat eyeing a bath and told stories like a professional comedian. My husband and I never missed an opportunity to hear her version of the latest goings-on in the Delta, who’d tossed the most butter pats up to Lusco’s decorated ceiling, how the cotton crop looked, or if the sheriff of Sunflower County had been arrested anyone she knew. And alas, Cousin Jake was still finishing up his months as Parchman Farm, but he of and had learned to plow straight row.
That night we settled on The Silver Platter, a once thriving restaurant in downtown Jackson. We knew Ed, the owner. He led us to a good table away from the busy entrance and the hubbub of the swinging kitchen door. Jessie was in a happy mood, ready to relax and celebrate. Our waiter was an amiable young man with a heavy accent. Jessie, who never met a stranger, attempted to engage him in conversation, but he avoided raising his eyes, kept his head down, and said as little as possible. When Jessie’s Jack Daniels arrived, she changed course and began explaining Rosh Hashanah to us, a pair of fascinated Christians.
“It’s the Jewish new year,” she said. “ A time for reflection and making a new start. Lasts for two days.**
She launched into her family’s history of the observance, the importance of apples and honey, and her mother’s exceptional lemon chicken recipe. Also, her late husband’s seasonal cocktail, a whiskey smash. She was explaining the shofar, when she noticed our waiter leaning against a service counter listening to her vivid descriptions and expressions of love for her faith. His eyes brightened; he nodded as she spoke. Jessie smiled and waved him over.
“Are you Jewish?” she asked.
“No ma’am,” he muttered. Short, curt words.
“I’m Jewish,” Jessie answered. “And you seem to know what I’m talking about.” The young man’s face flushed red, and he fled into the kitchen.”
“Oh, dear,” Jessie said. “Now I’ve done it.” The next moment, the owner Ed was standing at our table.
“You’ll have to forgive him,” he said. “He’s a recent immigrant from Russia. He’s a good guy. Works hard, never misses a day, but he spent years concealing his identity and doesn’t know who to trust. His name is Alek.”
“But he’s safe now,” she said. “This is America.”
I’ve tried to explain that he’s free to say anything he wants and worship as he pleases. I’m not sure he believes me.” Ed shrugged his shoulders.
“Maybe I could explain things,” Jessie replied.
“Might do the trick,” Ed replied.
‘When he’s ready to talk, ask him to give me a call.’ Jessie wrote her phone number on the back of a menu and handed it to Ed. “In the meantime,” she added, “ “Please send him my greetings for the new year and say Shana Tovah.”
“I will,” Ed said. “Count on it.”
As we were leaving the restaurant, Jessie gripped my elbow and said, “Shana Tovah to you too.”
**This year, Rosh Hashanah is September 6-8.