Monday, June 15, 2009

USA: Brookhaven (Mississippi) Synagogue Likely to Become Museum

USA: Brookhaven (Mississippi) Synagogue Likely to Become Museum
by Samuel D. Gruber

The 19th-century Temple B'nai Shalom of Brookhaven, Mississippi is likely to be transformed into a museum, if all goes according to plan. Hal Samuels, a member of the small town's last remaining Jewish family, has negotiated the transfer to the local historical society with the assistance of the
Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, the Jackson based Jewish charitable and educational group that also maintains the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience in Utica, Mississippi, and at several satellite sites in synagogues throughout the region.

Read more in the (Mississippi) Daily Leader.

Brookhaven, Mississippi. Temple B'nai Shalom. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber, 1991.

The Brookhaven synagogue is one of the most charming in the South. I had the pleasure of visiting Brookhaven when I was a guest of the Museum of the Southern Jewish experience in 1990. Even at that time, it was clear the synagogue would have to close - or at least undergo a transition. One option - the one that has been tried until now - has been to keep the building open nominally as a synagogue, even though it is rarely used for worship. Its upkeep is donated by the Samuels family and through donations from descendants of Brookhaven Jews. This is a solution that has been used to preserve other small town and rural synagogues such as in Brenham, Texas and Alliance, New Jersey.

As caretakers age, however, it is often hard to guarantee preservation for another generation unless some institutional affiliation is established.
Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life is a pioneer in such arrangements. One of the Institute's goals is that when synagogues of the region must close, that they do so in dignified way, and one that provides the optimum opportunity to protect and preserve the history and memories of the congregation, as well as the physical integrity of the ritual object and art, and the synagogue building, too. Sometimes this means finding a Jewish use for a site, sometimes for an appropriate reuse. More and more, local historical societies are turning to former synagogues as useful facilities. The synagogues are exhibitions themselves, and they are often adaptable for exhibition, lecture and concert activities. Another example of such as transformation as in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

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