Officials pursue donation of temple for history museum

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The former congregation of Brookhaven’s only Jewish temple hasagreed to its conversion into a local history museum, bringing thehallowed structure one step closer to long-term preservation.

After receiving letters proposing the donation from templefacilitator Hal Samuels, the former Jews of Southwest Mississippinow living across the country offered no objections to the donationof the Temple B’nai Shalom to the Lincoln County Historical andGenealogical Society.

The society plans to maintain the building as a local historymuseum. The temple still must be deconsecrated, properly deeded andthe historical society will have to raise more funds, but the firststep in transferring ownership is complete.

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“It’s looking very good, and we want to get this done the rightway for the city and county,” Samuels said.

Samuels said the next step in the temple’s transition would befor the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life – aJackson-based non-profit group that provides Jewish servicesthroughout the South – to send a rabbi to the temple for adeconsecration ceremony, a ritual that will effectively end thetemple’s status as a place of worship.

The temple’s deed – and exactly whom it should be addresses to -is a matter Samuels wishes to review with Bob Allen and JoeFernald, the county and city attorneys, respectively. Bothgoverning boards agreed to have their legal counsel assist him.

The historical society, meanwhile, will focus on funding themuseum and filling it with Lincoln County artifacts. Societypresident Rita Rich said rules for the museum would be drawn up anda selection committee formed to admit or deny the many potentialexhibits expected to flow into the museum.

Funding, however, could be a problem.

Rich revealed to supervisors and aldermen at a pair of Tuesdayboard meetings that local historian Dr. Jack Tindall has withdrawnhis pledge that proceeds from the sale of his book, “Early Historyof Lincoln County, Mississippi,” would go to the society. She saidTindall is taking back the remainder of his unsold works and plansto use the proceeds to recoup the printing expenses, leaving thesociety with $15,000 in the bank.

“From now on, we will just be soliciting membership, which is$20 per year,” Rich said. “We’re going to have some expenses as faras setting the museum up – we don’t know exactly how much rightnow. We will need some money as far as paying the utilities andupkeep from supervisors of Lincoln County.”

Rich asked supervisors, who are now accepting funding requestsfrom local entities as they prepare their fiscal year 2010 budget,and aldermen for a $10,000 annual contribution and $5,000 instartup funds, a total of $30,000 from both boards.

Samuels said utilities and upkeep for the museum – which havebeen handled solely by his and the Liverman and Friedman familiesof Wesson since 2005 – average between $2,000 and $2,500 annually,but the building is seldom used. Once open to the public, filledwith artifacts and constantly using electricity, Rich said themuseum may spend as much as $20,000 on utilities annually.

Meanwhile, Rich also asked the city leaders to waive water fees.Fernald said that wouldn’t be possible unless the city owned thebuilding.

Brookhaven Mayor Les Bumgarner instructed Rich to write a letterto him detailing her requests of the city and it would beconsidered. Ward Six Alderman David Phillips said he could see thepositives of the undertaking.

“I think this is a worthwhile endeavor, and I wish you all theluck on it,” he said. “I’m sure the attorneys can work it allout.”

Though supervisors initially stayed out of historical societyand museum funding requests last year, citing statutoryregulations, board president the Rev. Jerry Wilson predicted thecounty would support the museum with Rich’s requested annualappropriation.

“I think we’ll do it for the county,” he said. “It would be ablessing.”