A Story of Jewish Experience in Mississippi

A Story of Jewish Experience in Mississippi

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Leon Waldoff

Series: North American Jewish Studies
ISBN: 9781618118882 (hardcover) / 9781618118899 (paper)
Pages: 218 pp.; 11 illus.
Publication Date: January 2019

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Through the story of his Russian–Jewish parents’ arrival and in the Mississippi region, the author reveals the experience of the Jewish community in Hattiesburg from the 1920s through the 1960s, as it goes through times of prosperity but also faces the dangers of anti-Semitism. The story starts with the author’s father arriving in 1924 to become a peddler and then a merchant, joined by his mother in 1925, and follows the author himself as he searches into the history of his parents and the Jewish community, as well as a variety of its members: a young Jewish man who is tried and convicted of murder; Arthur Brodey, a Reform rabbi who gains wider acceptance for the congregation; Charles Mantinband, a rabbi whose civil rights activities won national recognition but stirred fears of Klan violence in his congregation; and Waldoff’s brother-in-law “B” Botnick of the Anti-Defamation League, whose work made him a target of assassin Byron de la Beckwith.

Leon Waldoff is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.  He is the author of books on Keats and Wordsworth, as well as articles and essays on other Romantic poets and British authors. He was born and raised in Hattiesburg.

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Caught in a treacherous landscape of race and faith somewhere between blacks and whites in the deep South, the Jews of twentieth-century Mississippi carved out successful but often troubled and secretive lives. Now, as America struggles with resurgent attacks on the Other, Leon Waldoff has written an insightful look into his own family history and a Jewish community’s painful search for the right path through hatred and jealousy toward a precious freedom.
— Marc Fisher, senior editor, The Washington Post and author of Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money and Power
Waldoff’s vivid account of his parents’ separate journeys from Russia to America and of the lives they created in Hattiesburg, Mississippi abounds in grainy personal details not usually found in histories of immigration or Southern Jewry. So too do his astute reflections on the life of their small Jewish community, never quite sure of its social position in the segregated South, as it endured through the Great Depression and World War II, and struggled to keep its moral balance during the conflicts over Civil Rights.
— Michael Shapiro, founding director of the Program in Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: From Russia to Mississippi
Chapter 2: A Merchant, After All
Chapter 3: Fear in Low Profile: An Incident in the 1930s
Chapter 4: Our Home
Chapter 5: Surviving the Depression, Finding Acceptance, Anticipating War
Chapter 6: Breaking the Silence about Segregation
Chapter 7: Fear in High Profile: Terrorism in the 1960s