The Arty Semite

Historic Mississippi Synagogue Now a Museum

By Samuel D. Gruber

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Crossposted from Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art & Monuments

Samuel D. Gruber

Twenty years ago I had the pleasure of visiting the small but lovely Temple B’nai Sholom in Brookhaven, Mississippi. Even then there were few Jews left in the town to use the synagogue, built in 1896. Still, it was well maintained, and could still serve the community on holidays. But even in 1991 it was clear something would have to be done to save this building and its history for another generation. I wrote about the building in June 2009, and shortly afterward the synagogue was deconsecrated.

With just two Jews in town, B’nai Sholom was too much to care for. But the tiny congregation had planned ahead and when the doors closed for worship it was announced that the building was being donated to the Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Society to be used as a county history museum, which would include a B’nai Sholom Jewish heritage exhibit, organized by the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. The new museum and exhibition opened March 11, 2011.

According to an article by Rachel Jarman in the summer 2011 issue of Circa: The Newsletter of the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, “On the bimah, panels describe the original use of the Temple and explain the various Judaic items still in the sanctuary including the ner tamid, Ten Commandments and menorahs.” The exhibit also empahsizes the role Jews played in the town’s history. Jews came to Brookhaven in the mid-18th century and played an important role in the commerical life of the town. Three Jews have served as mayor of Brookhaven.

The situation in Brookhaven is not unique. In June 2007 I wrote about the synagogue of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and its restoration as a local history museum. You can read about that synagogue here.


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