Rabbi visits Brookhaven to discuss Judaic culture, history

Thursday night the Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Society hosted a speaker, Rabbi Jeremy Simons, at the Jimmy Furlow Senior Center to talk about the evolution of Jewish weddings and marriage from the Biblical Period to present day practices.

The visit was part of the society’s yearly two-part program on Jewish life in Brookhaven. The historical society acquired a former synagogue, Temple B’nai Sholom, and in conjunction with leaving a lot of it intact and transforming it into a museum, the group holds two events a year regarding the history of Judaism in Brookhaven.

Simons is the director of Rabbinic Services for the Goldberg Woldenberg Institute of Southern Life. The institute’s primarily functions by providing support to Jewish communities.

“We’re here to be a resource in any way we can. We provide anything a Jewish community in a big city would have,” Simons said.

For Simons this usual means being invited to a community where he’d teach in schools and for adults, visit with people who were homebound or serve as a rabbi for life cycle events: conversion ceremonies, bar mitzvahs and funerals.

When going into these Jewish communities throughout the south, Simons notes these are generally long-standing communities who, generally, have good relations with their neighbors of other faith.

Brookhaven’s own Jewish community dates back to around 1852 when Jewish immigrants from Europe are believed to have arrived in Lincoln County by way of the Bogue Chitto River. After the community grew too large to continue worshipping together in private homes, the community formed the congregation B’nai Sholom and built a house of worship in 1896. In 2009 the congregation disbanded, and the synagogue became a museum to be used by the Historical Society.

“There’s a really long and proud legacy of Judaism in Brookhaven and I’m really appreciative of the partnership between the Jewish community and other faiths in the city,” Simons said.

Being a recent addition to the ISJL team, Simons was impressed at the turnout at the event and expressed he has been lucky to follow in the footsteps of the organization’s former rabbi, Marshal Klaven. Simons said because of Klaven’s connections with the communities the organization has visited, members are excited to meet him.

Simons said he was very active in his Jewish community as a teenager but didn’t take a single class in college. Post-college sights led him to consider law school, but he turned back to Judaism.

“Law school turned into rabbinical school, and here I am,” Simons said.

Now Simons is excited to teach.

“There is so much more to Judaism than just religion. There’s culture, food, nationality and ethnicity,” Simons said. “I’m happy to have conversations. It’s my job to make Judaism accessible.”

Simons invites anyone who is interested in learning more about the Jewish faith can visit the Institute of Southern Jewish Life at www.isjl.org or email him at jsimons@isjl.org.

The society’s next speaker Dexter Holloway, who will discuss black history in Lincoln County. Holloway is the director of workforce of the Mississippi Community College Board.