Over the last few months, I had the pleasure of working to put together a Southern Jewish Heritage tour for a group of Prozdor high school students from the Boston area. Using our resources and contacts in the region, we were able to create an itinerary through Atlanta, Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham that introduced these students not only to the South, but also to the role that Jewish communities played in this region’s history, particularly during the Civil Rights Movement. Below is a story written by one of the trip participants, re-posted from Prozdor Heads South, a blog that the students collaboratively maintained during their trip.
Yesterday we visited Auburn, Alabama, and Beth Shalom – the only temple in east Alabama. We were greeted by Mike Friedman, who immediately offered us food, and lots of it. He then began to speak to us about the history of the temple, his life, and the Auburn Jewish community.
Mike repeatedly mentioned that his story was also the synagogue’s story. He is originally from New York, but throughout his life, he and his wife moved around a lot, eventually ending up in Alabama.
My favorite part of the visit was hearing about his leadership skills. The Auburn Jewish community consists of about 35 families. He was the one that got the synagogue started, but more importantly, he was the one who kept it going. He is not a “certified” rabbi, but he explained that in the sense of teaching a community, he is a rabbi.
Beth Shalom is a Reform temple, which runs services weekly. The fact that he has kept the synagogue going for years is inspirational. They hold high holiday services, Passover Seders, Purim parties, and much more.
This experience left me with a new sense of profound appreciation for the Jewish community I am surrounded by in Needham. I find that often it is easy to take advantage of the fact that we all have close knit and supportive Jewish communities back in Boston. Mike had the courage to get one going and recruit others to keep the sense of community alive.
Just before leaving, he said, and I quote, “Someone has got to lead.”
This resonated strongly with me. I often feel this way about different aspects of my life, especially USY. My chapter started out small, but we have grown into a strong and great chapter with great leaders. There is still room to grow, but the fact that we have come so far is amazing.
Personally, this was the highlight of my trip and I am grateful that Prozdor has given me this opportunity.
We are so glad that this group was able to receive true Southern hospitality from a variety of hosts along the way, and we hope they will value their experiences here for years to come. If your group is interested in creating a similar trip, you can find more information on the ISJL website.
I was working on an activity for the Texas Jewish Immigrant Experience Traveling Trunk when I came across a gem on the internet.
I needed information on early Jewish-owned retail businesses to add real life facts to some cards for a board game called Peddler’s Travels, a journey where players learn the trials and tribulations of a Jewish immigrant peddler at the turn of the 20th century.
“Starting in Millican, Texas, the German-born brothers followed the progress of the Houston & Texas Central Railroad, opening new dry goods stores in each town as the tracks moved northward. In 1872, they opened a branch in Dallas, with Alex Sanger coming to manage it. Brother Philip Sanger soon came to help Alex with the business; the two opened a wholesale operation, which supplied small town stores and peddlers throughout the area. In 1879, traveling journalist Charles Wessolowsky called the Sanger Brothers store “an establishment of grandeur, taste, and elegance equal to any in the South,” and likened it to the leading stores in New York City. By 1890, the business employed 250 people and later moved into an 8-story building at Main & Lamar streets.”
Perfect! The Sanger store would serve as a helpful hand for a fictitious peddler trying to earn enough money to open their own store, the end goal to win Peddler’s Travels. But is the name something that Texas students would recognize? Is it still around?
I turned to Google only to find a wonderful treasure trove of data on not just the Sanger stores, but department stores, many Jewish, all over the country. The Department Store Museum is a fantastic site dedicated to the history of these retail stores. On the Sanger/Harris page it lists each of the stores, what was sold in its departments and even provides images of each location.
Ok, it’s a cool site. But why blog post worthy? What amazed me the most were the comments. As a new blogger myself, I was envious of the dozens of responses to these post. People happy to recount childhood memories of the large Christmas display, shopping with their parents or being trusted with their first charge card at Sanger’s. Recollections of when they used to work at the shops as a teenager, or younger people who have been gifted fur coats with Sanger/Harris in the labels curious about it’s history and worth. People bragging about the couch they bought 30 years ago that’s still in great shape! They really don’t make them like they used to.
People have an amazing nostalgic connection to these massive stores and the services they provided. I encourage you to hop on over to the site to look for your favorite store and connect with other former shoppers.
You may have noticed we’ve had a few B’nai Mitzvah-related posts lately. We are at the start of celebrating our 13th year and in that spirit we’re launching an occasional series of B’nai Mitzvah reflections.
Explaining the idea behind a bar/bat mitzvah isn’t terribly difficult. When talking to someone about this Jewish life cycle moment, most people can relate to a coming of age ceremony, whether it’s a Quinceañera, debutante ball, or in this neck of the woods, the time you killed your first deer. They understand that, at a certain age, a young person comes to be seen as an adult in his or her community, and begins to take on adult responsibilities.
People don’t immediately understand, however, what David Duchovny has to do with it.
At thirteen I was devoted to Special Agents Mulder and Scully, dedicated to searching for the truth and committed to trusting no one. So much so that I knew these ideals had to be included in this important life event. And that’s how, while I was stuck studying Haftorah, my totally cool mother ended up planning my elaborate X-Files themed Bat Mitzvah party.
My favorite elements of the theme, to this day, are probably the life size cardboard cutouts of Special Agents Mulder and Scully that stood beside me as I sang a medley of show tunes to family and friends. They lived in my room for about three years after the party.
Explaining this circus of a bat mitzvah to non-Jewish friends, I often encounter a cultural divide. I have to backtrack and explain that, even though having a thoroughly themed party is pretty common where I grew up, it’s certainly not the rule. These celebrations come in all shapes and sizes, much like Jews themselves! While a lot about this Jewish rite of passage is mysterious to to the general public, I know my thirteen year old self is awfully glad that after this post, the truth is finally out there.