I N THE tragic drama which is unfolding in, the South, the Southern Jew has been, until recently a minor actor, a bit player unsure of his lines, standing uncomfortably in the wings and hoping against hope that his cue would never come. But, suddenly, the script was changed and the bit player was shoved to the center of the stage to play a new role at a climactic moment in the performance. Synagogue bombings have focused public attention on the role of Southern Jews.
The segregation crisis has shaken Southern Jews more severely than any national event since the Civil War. They are torn by a painful dilemma. The Jewish community, comprising less than half of one percent of the population of the South, is largely composed of merchants dependent on the good-will of the community. The Jew is therefore the man in the middle, subject to pressures from the White Citizens Council crowd on the one hand, his Negro customers on the other. Most Southern Jews privately disapprove of racial segregation, realize the rightness of the Supreme Court decision, and are disturbed by the indignities heaped on the Negro. Many feel that segregation goes against the grain of their democratic beliefs and their religious faith. But there are few Southern Jews who will articulate this point of view publicly -- and fewer yet will act upon this conviction in the current atmosphere. To do so, they fear, will jeopardize their economic status.