New marker unveiled for former Jewish temple
The Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Society unveiled a new historic marker for the B’nai Shalom Temple Wednesday.
The former temple, located on the corner of South Church and West Chickasaw streets, has served as the association’s museum since 2009, and now a marker in front of the building highlights the current museum’s original purpose among Brookhaven’s Jewish community.
“We wanted to be able to let the public know,” explained Rita Rich, current curator of the local museum and former president of the historical organization. “We want people to know, to read [the marker] and recollect that this was a former temple.”
“If you’re from Brookhaven, this is part of your history,” continued Rich. A small crowd, seated along the former temple’s front lawn, attended the unveiling ceremony. Other observers stood along the adjacent sidewalk. Several attendees photographed and filmed the event, helping preserve the same local history they were there to support and celebrate.
Rich spoke at the ceremony along with Hal Samuels, son of a former Brookhaven Mayor Harold Samuels and a leading voice in the temple’s conversion to a museum of local history and genealogy.
“This is a giving-back community,” asserted Samuels. “I think that is the key to the passion you saw here today.”
Samuels was visibly moved while speaking to the crowd.
“It’s a sad day because I know how much my dad would love to be here,” said Samuels, whose father was unable to attend because of health reasons.
But Samuels immediately added that the day is simultaneously happy, indicating the historic marker was one of his father’s final intended projects. Samuels’ mix of strong emotions mirrored a sense of harmony that reoccurs throughout the former temple and current museum’s history.
Rich explained, “the Jewish people helped build this town with their Christian friends.”
“It was a spirit of fellowship,” she continued, referring to both historic and contemporary relations between the two religions. “It’s been wonderful how both the Jewish and Christian faiths came together.”
Following Wednesday’s ceremony, Rabbi Matt Dreffin, a representative from the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, provided some reflection regarding the shifting Jewish population among rural regions, particularly in the south.
“The Jewish community is not as strong as it once was [here] – but it’s still living on,” offered Dreffin. “Young Jews are moving to the big cities for better social and economic opportunities.”
During the ceremony, Dreffin concluded the event with a brief prayer, alternating between Hebrew and English. He cited Psalms 15:1 along with a Hebrew prayer, the Shehechayanu, designed for acknowledging the arrival of a new or special time.