Jewish Roots in Southern Soil: A New History (Review)

Jewish Roots in Southern Soil, by Marcie Cohen Ferris and Mark I. Greenberg

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Jewish Roots in Southern Soil: A New History (Review)

by Leonard Rogoff
Southern Cultures, Vol. 14, No. 1: Spring 2008

Brandeis University Press, 2006

In the introduction to the anthology Jewish Roots in Southern Soil: A New History editors Marcie Cohen Ferris and Mark Greenberg begin defensively: “For more than a century historians have wrestled with the question, why study southern Jewish history?” Such opening gambits are commonplace in studies of southern Jewry. Ferris and Greenberg respond with a familiar litany: Charleston hosted the nation’s largest Jewish community in the early 1800s, and American Reform Judaism was born there; Jews served the Confederacy loyally; Jewish merchants helped create a New South. Today, Jewish numbers in the Sunbelt are burgeoning. After the publication of Eli Evans’s pathbreaking The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South and the founding of the Southern Jewish Historical Society in 1976 came waves of exhibits, archives, conferences, documentaries, local studies, regional societies, heritage museums, and a journal, Southern Jewish History. North Carolina, Emory, Virginia, and Duke universities have offered courses. The editors conclude, “The study of southern Jewish life has now come of age.”