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August 17, 1984 - Image 15

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-08-17

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

man's voice warning, "Tell your
mama to quit writing articles." A
Klansman was arrested for the inci-
dent. He was convicted of a mis-
deameanor.

Despite all this, Mississippi
Jews regard their history in the state
as one of rarely interrupted peace
and prosperity. Their "notquite-
whiteness" rarely affects their casual
dealngs. A Jew in Mississippi will
probably be greeted with the same
"How are ya, darlin'?" as a white
Baptist. And the Mississippi Jew will
easily point out the difference be-
tween southern hospitality and
northern surliness and paranoia.
Jews have done well for themselves
in Mississippi, although some, such
as Alex Loeb, suspect they "could
have made a lot more money if I had
been a Baptist."
Many Mississippi Jews actually
cherish their minority status: It
creates an• extremely close Jewish
community. To dramatize this point
Ellis Hart, head of the only Jewish
family in Winona (population:
5,000), spread out a map and pin-
pointed every Jew within a 50-mile
radius:
"Now, we've got the Kaplans in
Batesville — dear friends. And
there's Arnie Turner in Webb, and

another family here in Coffeeville.
We don't mind driving 120 miles
roundtrip to have dinner with each
other. What's more, you, another
Jew, would be welcome to spend the •
night with any of them. That's the
way we live down here."
Just how much of this cohesion
stems from choice and how much
from compulsion is difficult to assess.
Marvin Reuben, for instance, denied
the existence of social barriers
against Jews. Reuben grew up in
Tuscaloosa, Ala. He now lives in Hat-
tiesburg, were he is executive vice
president and general manager of
WDAM-TV, the local NBC affiliate.
Past president of both the Hatties-
burg Chamber of Commerce and the
town's country club, Reuben said he
experienced his only brush with
anti-Semitism years ago when he
worked in the north. He said he felt
he had more in common with a Chris-
tian from Mississippi than a Jew
from the north. Reuben steered me
crosstown to his friend Milton Wal-
doff, a department store owner. Wal-
doff expressed similar views. Reuben
reappeared near the end of my inter-
view with Waldoff and we all chatted
for a while. The two men lolled in
their chairs and seemed to deepen
their drawls, much enjoying the role
of Dixie gentlemen showing off their

easy lifestyle to an over-anxious
Yankee. The casting, though, was a
smidgen off. I asked if they felt any
different talking with each other
than with gentile friends.
Reuben thought, gently nodding
his head. "There is a certain free-
dom," he said.
"An unquestioned acceptance,"
Waldoff added, "like in a family."

In Mississippi, the Jew is
"not-quite-white." A
young Black said of his
neighbors, "They're not
white. They're Jewish."

Other Jews may experience
their isolation more explicity.
"Socially there's never been
much of a mixture here," says Joanne
Bloome, a life-long resident of
Clarksdale, a Delta town that once
had the state's second largest con-
gregation. "My kids were,. very popu-
lar in school, but when •they pit to the
age when everybody was joining the
country club, they were cut off. I
think that's part of the reason they
married Jews." It's also part of the
reason that they — and almost all

Civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, above, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were murdered June 21, 1964.
.:.
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t,a)
•,,,z,1

1■ I

I II

Friday, August 17, 1984 15

other Jews under 35 — have left
town.
In Jackson, Mississippi's largest
city and home of its largest Jewish
congregation (225 families), there is
much of the same feeling. The
Jackson Country Club was opened to
Jews only a few years ago but the
local chapter of the Junior League is
still formally closed.
It would be unfair to conclude
that Mississippi Jews have simply
huddled together in the face of exter-
nal pressure. And while some prob-
ably feel that the less publicly said
about their faith the better, others
make a point of sharing it with the
Christian majority. One man, the
only Jew in a Delta hamlet, has for
almost 50 years made a seder'for his
neighbors. Younger Jews have given
their children names like Abram or
Hannah or Rachel.
Generally, Mississippi Jews are
proud of their heritage. They are de-
termined to enrich it. They are work-
ing to pass it on. What they will
amost certainly not do — much to the
irritation of younger people — is risk
controversy.
Ronna Pritchard, a feisty woman
in her mid-30s who moved to Jackson
after growing up in the Delta, offered
what she saw as a typical example of

Continued on next page

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