Rosenzweig’s, Lake Village, Arkansas c. 1900’s

Sisterhood Bake Sale, Hot Springs, AR. Photo by Bill Aron.

Children in Sumter, SC, celebrate Purim, c. 1913
Courtesy of Special Collections, College of Charleston Libraries

Anshe Sfard, New Orleans, Louisiana

Shalom. Make yourself at home.

The American tapestry is woven of many threads. A nation of immigrants, America’s promise has brought Jews to its shores for almost 400 years. Like others, Jews came seeking religious freedom, economic opportunity, even adventure, in the New World. Most came through and settled in the big northeastern port cities, where they found support and fellowship, their numbers being sufficient to form strong communities.

But what of Jews who came to the South, through Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, New Orleans, Houston? What of the Jews who moved inland, peddling their wares from farm to farm through the Appalachian Piedmont and the Mississippi Delta? What of their children, grandchildren? What challenges did each generation face? And how did each strengthen America’s tapestry while maintaining their Judaism?

Their stories are our stories and serve as powerful reminders of the immigrant experience that has so enriched our past and holds so much possibility for the future.

The Museum’s importance lies not only in the preservation of this unique history, but in its potential to engage current and future generations in an on-going conversation about American values. Through dynamic, interactive exhibits and compelling educational programming, every visitor to the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience will gain new perspectives on how America was built, what makes it strong, and how it might continue to grow, enabling meaningful and secure lives.

Ultimately, we hope to strengthen the bonds among people by using the experience of a people with a distinct culture and history, to demonstrate the splendor of the American Tapestry.

Shalom. Make yourself at home.

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience is the finest reply to the often-heard comment,
“I didn’t know there were Jews in the South!”

 

– Deborah Lamensdorf Jacobs
Cary, MS, and Atlanta, GA

WHAT IS THE SOUTHERN JEWISH EXPERIENCE?

The Southern Jewish experience is 19th century immigrant peddlers traveling unpaved roads, carrying hard-boiled eggs with them as they struggle to keep kosher in the land of pork. It’s small-town merchants keeping their stores open on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, because that’s the day everyone comes to town to shop. The Southern Jewish experience is driving your child from Natchez to Baton Rouge every Sunday for religious school because there is no religious school in Natchez. It’s taking Jewish athletes from across the country competing in the Birmingham Maccabi Games to visit the Civil Rights Museum, cheering for the local high school football team, even though Friday Night Lights has a very different meaning, and debating whether to have a bluegrass band or a klezmer band at your wedding. It’s Vandy, UNC, Texas, and Ole Miss students attending High Holiday services at Hillel, because there are no services held in their hometowns.

Although representing less than 1% of southern states’ population, and only 2.1% of America’s Jewish population, Southern Jews have made a substantial mark on the communities where they lived and the nation as a whole. Southern cities and towns have had Jewish mayors, sheriffs, council members and civic leaders, in highly disproportionate numbers. And this occurred in the nation’s “Bible Belt,” a region steeped in deep Christian faith and a loyal grip on its distinctive ways.

The Southern Jewish Experience shines a light on the experiences of strangers in a strange land—who must adapt, accommodate, conform to their surroundings, and at the same time embrace, sustain, and celebrate their unique history, culture, and religious practices. But it is also a great testament to the soul of the Southerner, who accepted and encouraged their Jewish neighbors as members of the community: leaders, partners, and friends.

The Southern Jewish experience is 19th century immigrant peddlers traveling unpaved roads, carrying hard-boiled eggs with them as they struggle to keep kosher in the land of pork. It’s small-town merchants keeping their stores open on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, because that’s the day everyone comes to town to shop. The Southern Jewish experience is driving your child from Natchez to Baton Rouge every Sunday for religious school because there is no religious school in Natchez. It’s taking Jewish athletes from across the country competing in the Birmingham Maccabi Games to visit the Civil Rights Museum, cheering for the local high school football team, even though Friday Night Lights has a very different meaning, and debating whether to have a bluegrass band or a klezmer band at your wedding. It’s Vandy, UNC, Texas, and Ole Miss students attending High Holiday services at Hillel, because there are no services held in their hometowns.

WHAT IS THE SOUTHERN

Although representing less than 1% of southern states’ population, and only 2.1% of America’s Jewish population, Southern Jews have made a substantial mark on the communities where they lived and the nation as a whole. Southern cities and towns have had Jewish mayors, sheriffs, council members and civic leaders, in highly disproportionate numbers. And this occurred in the nation’s “Bible Belt,” a region steeped in deep Christian faith and a loyal grip on its distinctive ways.

The Southern Jewish Experience shines a light on the experiences of strangers in a strange land—who must adapt, accommodate, conform to their surroundings, and at the same time embrace, sustain, and celebrate their unique history, culture, and religious practices. But it is also a great testament to the soul of the Southerner, who accepted and encouraged their Jewish neighbors as members of the community: leaders, partners, and friends.

JEWISH EXPERIENCE?

Explore our exhibitions when we open in 2020!

What’s your favorite thing
to put on a bagel?

Take our monthly poll and let us know what you think is best!

MSJE NEWS

You don’t have to be Southern and you don’t have to be Jewish to have had a Southern Jewish Experience. We’d like to hear your story.

Do you have a Southern Jewish experience that should be added to the Museum?