Chloe Edwards, MDAH Electronic Records archivist, brings us this post in an ongoing series celebrating Electronic Records Day and Archives Month. The series features items from the MDAH disk collection.
A Frightening Time: The Jackson Jewish Community, Rabbi Perry Nussbaum, and the Civil Rights Movement
Call no.: Disk 0041
Run time: 13 minutes
Although Rabbi Perry Nussbaum retired as the leader of Jackson’s Beth Israel Congregation in 1973, he remains very much present in the memory of the community for his outspoken role in the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the active involvement of many Northern Jews on civil rights issues, the Jackson Jewish community was far more reticent, largely because its members were fearful of drawing the attention of the local Ku Klux Klan. Rabbi Nussbaum, however, harbored no such concerns, although he restrained his activism to sermonizing on segregation until 1961, when the Freedom Riders, many of whom were Jewish, arrived in Jackson.
After the Freedom Riders were sent to the state penitentiary, Rabbi Nussbaum attempted to organize Mississippi’s rabbis to visit the inmates. When they refused, Rabbi Nussbaum began making weekly visits to Parchman alone, at his own expense, and without the knowledge of his congregation. He led a brief service and took down riders’ names and addresses so that he could write to their parents, both Jewish and non-Jewish, assuring them that their children were incarcerated, but alive and well.
As the movement grew more heated, the rabbi became more outspoken. In 1964, Nussbaum helped organize an interracial group of ministers that raised funds to rebuild churches bombed by white supremacist groups. He also presided over an interracial dedication ceremony for the synagogue’s new building in the late fall of 1967, which proved to be the final straw for the local Klan—the synagogue was bombed on September 18, 1967. Three days after the bombing of the temple, the Greater Jackson Clergy Alliance held an interracial, interreligious Walk of Penance as an expression of sorrow and solidarity with the Jackson Jewish community. Two months later, Rabbi Nussbaum’s home was bombed, although both he and his wife escaped injury (shown above). Nussbaum felt strongly that anti-Semitism, not his outspoken activism, was the reason for both attacks and sought to leave Jackson. He was unable to find another post, however, and remained at Beth Israel until his retirement in 1973. In the course of nineteen years at the synagogue, he also reintroduced elements of traditional Jewish worship and established an adult education program. Nussbaum died of cancer in San Diego, California, in 1987.
The documentary A Frightening Time, produced by Jackson’s Institute for Southern Jewish Life, discusses the bombing of Beth Israel through interviews with older congregants, and also includes archival footage of the Walk of Penance and Rabbi Nussbaum. The documentary was produced as part of the fortieth anniversary commemoration of the bombings and was shown as part of the program.
To find out more about this disk, search our online catalogue for disk 0041. To browse the disk collection, navigate to the advanced search page, check the “Electronic Records” box, and type “disk” into the keyword search bar.
All catalogued disks are available to view or listen to in the Media Room; patrons should request disks from media staff using the four digit call number.
Although the documentary appears to have a running time of twenty minutes, the film ends at approximately 00:13:00.
“Congregation Beth Israel.” Accessed October 6, 2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congregation_Beth_Israel_%28Jackson,_Mississippi%29
“Rabbi Perry Nussbaum Dies; Activist in South during 1960s Racial Unrest.” Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1987. Accessed October 6, 2014, http://articles.latimes.com/1987-04-13/news/mn-496_1_rabbi-perry-nussbaum
Rockoff, Stuart. “Nussbaum, Perry.” Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed October 6, 2014 at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0015_0_14986.html
Caption: Rabbi and Mrs. Nussbaum in their home after the bombing.