Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
Ruleville is a small town in the Mississippi Delta. Most famously known as the birthplace of legendary organizer of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Fannie Lou Hamer, or more recently as the home to the new Bayless’ Hollywood Movie Costume Museum, I usually don’t associate it with its Jewish heritage.
Not until I got the call from Richard Brenner.
Mr. Brenner was on a road trip through the South and wanted to stop by the ISJL to learn more about his family history in the Mississippi Delta. We love hosting visitors on their way through the region, especially when they come with stories and great photographs! As such visits often do, Mr. Brenner’s visit shed even more light on the story of Jewish life in rural Ruleville.
Ruleville was like many small towns in the region: Home to a group of Jewish merchants serving the community, living and working alongside their neighbors day by day.
Although Ruleville never had a formal congregation, the Jewish community organized in other meaningful ways. For instance, in the 1920s they established a Sunday school for the handful of Jewish children living in Ruleville and nearby Drew, Mississippi Jewish children. After Cleveland, Mississippi, a slightly-bigger Delta town, established a congregation in 1929, the school disbanded and students attended the school in Cleveland.
Richard Brenner told me the story of his grandfather, Hyman Pinsky, who came from a town called Dworec on the border of Lithuania and Poland. Like other Jewish immigrants in the region, he peddled and then opened a store in Ruleville named Pinsky’s. We are in the process of completing an entry for Ruleville in the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, so I was happy to meet Richard and learn more about his family and his connection to Jewish life in Mississippi.
His family photos make great new additions not only to the Ruleville collection, but also to my file of “Jewish store images” that I use when giving presentations about the Southern Jewish Experience and how merchants were staples in their communities. He indicated that his grandfather, Hyman, was the one “always closest to the register in every picture.” The photos he shared are so lively.
I think my favorite one is the one from 1920, of several men on the store floor. It captures a moment in time in a way both posed and candid, which just might also be a contender for a good early example of the “photo bomb.” Can you spot the little guy making a face at the camera? See if you can find the small photobomber! And of course, in this picture, Hyman is easy to spot — always by the register, running his Ruleville shop, just as his grandson told us he would be.
If you have Jewish history in our region, or happen to be traveling through Jackson anytime soon, please reach out! Our collection of stories continues to grow with help from folks like Richard—and maybe you, too.