The Quiet Voices: Southern Rabbis and Black Civil Rights, 1880s to 1990s

By Mark K. Bauman; Berkley Kalin | Go to book overview

What Price Amos?1 Perry Nussbaum's Career in Jackson, Mississippi

GARY PHILLIP ZOLA

Perry Nussbaum led a peripatetic career that ultimately brought him to Mississippi. He attempted to inculcate Jewish traditions among his congregants, fight anti-Semitism, and create organizational ties crossing many boundaries. In a pattern reminiscent of Max Heller's, key events seemingly transformed Nussbaum into an activist whose Jewish identity intertwined with his stand on civil rights for African Americans. Gary Zola's study traces the man and the forces that pushed and pulled him in many directions.

Perry E. Nussbaum ( 8 February 1908-30 March 1987) retired from the active rabbinate in August 1973. His retirement was a bittersweet event for him and for his congregation, Temple Beth Israel of Jackson, Mississippi. Nussbaum was admired and resented. On the one hand, he had unquestionably revivified Jewish life in the capital city of Mississippi and, in the process, left a lasting impression on the community. As one congregant noted, "He made the Jew in Jackson Jewish-conscious. . . . He left a Jewish heritage to [the congregation]."2 On the other hand, Nussbaum's rabbinate in Jackson coincided with the compulsory dismantlement of segregation in the South--a societal transformation foisted on an unwilling white populace by the federal government. As a leading spokesman for Mississippi's Jewry during this explosive period, Nussbaum became a human lightning rod in one of the state's stormiest periods.

Actually, the emotional pot boiled over six years earlier. On 18 September 1967 a bomb destroyed a significant portion of Beth Israel's newly dedicated house of worship. Two months later, on 22 November, the temple's parsonage--the rabbi's home--was bombed. These bomb

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