Galanty's (Image courtesy of ISJL)

A Southern Jewish… Prosthetic Leg?

As a history intern for the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life this summer, one of my responsibilities was to accession items donated to the ISJL. One such group of items I worked on came from a store in Lake Providence, Louisiana. Once owned by a Jewish man named Mr. Galanty, this store has long since closed. Among the donated artifacts were typical items, the sort you would expect to find in a dry goods store — like adding machines and shirt racks. But there was one item in particular that I will remember for a long time.

It was a human leg.

Mr. Galanty's prosthetic leg
Mr. Galanty’s prosthetic leg

Okay, it wasn’t a flesh-and-bone human leg. But it was a leg, worn daily by a human. You see, after being run over by cart on the street, Mr. Galanty lost his leg, and forever after wore a prosthetic leg. Somehow, his leg was included in the donation of his artifacts.

It’s remarkably intact. At the end of the leg, attached to the foot, there is still a sock and a leather shoe. Measuring at three feet long, this prosthetic limb supported Mr. Galanty as he supplied the residents of Lake Providence with the dry goods they needed. It is a physical remnant of an era and a person from days gone by, and it’s a unique conversation starter to discuss the work ethic, trials, and triumphs of Jewish people living in the South generations ago.

While this leg was a little creepy to have around the office, the story it tells was one of the many fascinating stories I learned about this summer.

Before traveling down to Jackson for the summer, I only knew a little about Judaism in the South. Since I have family that lives in Mississippi, I knew that there was a small Jewish community in Jackson. I knew about Beth Israel Congregation, and the bombings that occurred there in the 1960s. But I did not know about the beautiful synagogues that exist throughout Mississippi, such as those in Natchez and Vicksburg. I did not know that Jews had settled in the South even before our country was founded, and that Southern cities once had some of the largest Jewish populations in the country.

Through this internship I have learned about a facet of the Jewish experience that many Jews never get to know. I was able to meet with representatives of Jewish communities spanning from Texas to Virginia. Despite the humid summer days, I was able to visit synagogues in the Mississippi cities of Port Gibson, Greenville, Greenwood, Natchez, Brookhaven, and Vicksburg. In conjunction with the museum department, I have worked on an Alabama Jewish history traveling trunk that will be used to teach students about the struggles and triumphs Jews had when they settled in the South. These are just a few example of the great experiences I have had as a history intern.

It has been a privilege to work with the ISJL, to explore the history of Jews in the South. Many of my friends spent their summers in the big cities on the East Coast. When I told them that I was heading down to Mississippi for the summer, they were very surprised. Now I cannot wait to tell them about all my experiences down here. From traveling the sunken roads in Natchez to touring the Mississippi Delta, I am sure my stories down here will keep any lunch discussion very occupied.

And of course, I will never miss an opportunity to mention the leg.

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