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December 20, 2002 - Image 65

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-12-20

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Special to the Jewish News


outhern Jewish heritage is so
_uch pas-
colorful. I have so m
sion for both," said Vicki
Reikes Fox, the Hattiesburg,
Miss., native who conceived and wrote
the text for Shalom Tall: Images ofJewish
Life in the American South (Algonquin
Books of Chapel Hill; $24.95). The new
book of stories and black-and-white pic-
tures by photographer Bill Aron docu-
ments Judaism in the Deep South both
yesterday and today.
Reikes Fox, now making her home
on the West Coast, says some of her
favorite pictures in the book are of the
highway signs for such towns as
Kaplan, La., and Felsenthal, Ark.
She loves these pictures because they
illustrate how far back, sometimes
from the 1700s, Jews were contribut-
ing to Southern history and changing
the landscape.
Shalom Tall is the result of 14 years'
work. It was born when Reikes Fox, a
museum curator and educator, was
asked by the director of a Jewish sum-
mer camp in Utica, Miss., to help cre-
ate a museum using all the Judaica and
synagogue furnishings — things like
chandeliers and ritual objects — the
camp was receiving from unraveling
Jewish communities around the South.
As, the Museum of the Southern
Jewish Experience began to take shape
in Utica, Reikes Fox found few books
or articles on Southern Jewry to help
with her cataloging.

Fran M. Putney is a sta f f writer at our

sifter publication, the Atlanta Jewish Times.

"That underscored the fact that the
Southern Jewish experience and history
had hardly been acknowledged and
researched. It wasn't identified by the
American Jewish establishment as exist-
ing with any significance," she said.

Capturing An Era

So Reikes Fox decided to create a
book that would document the many
fading small-town Southern Jewish
communities and also look at emerg-
ing ones, in cities such as Tupelo,
Miss., and Birmingham, Ala.
She recruited renowned photographer
Bill Aron, and the project began in earnest
in 1988. The team averaged about two
trips per year on the project and worked
on funding more trips in between.
Aron, a Philadelphian who hadn't
spent much time in the South, says he
loved doing this project.
"What stands out are the people.
They were so thoughtful and so artic-
ulate. Many people opened their
homes and lives to us and told us the

stories of how their families came to
be where they were living," he said.
As one who took for granted grow-
ing up in a community of many Jews,
Aron was struck by "what a lonely
Jewish experience" it seemed to be for
such a minority.
With a foreword by Driving Miss
Daisy playwright and Atlanta native
Alfred Uhry, the book is divided into
parts that illustrate the many ways —
geographical, social, economic and
religious — that Southern Jews have
cultivated their lives, both as citizens
of their communities and as Jews.
Images, like the one of a sukkot in
Vicksburg, Miss., covered with cotton,
soybeans and cornstalks, or another of
fried chicken being served at a
Shabbat dinner at a Mississippi sum-
mer camp, illustrate the melding of
Southern and Jewish cultures.
So do such dishes as "charoset with
pecans, matzah ball gumbo and lox
and bagels with cheese grits," writes
Reikes Fox in the book's introduction.

Above: Big Sky
.Bread Company,
Birmingham, Ala.:
The challah is in
such demand that
you must order one
by Thursday if you
want some for

WORLDS on page 68



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