The Southern Shmooze
October 2019
Shanah Tova ✡︎ שנה טובה ✡︎ Happy New Year
It's 5780
( and we're still writing 5779 on our checks )
OK, it's an old joke, but Judaism is an old religion. It's even old--by American standards--in the South. Jews were blowing shofars as part of congregational Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services in Savannah, GA, as early as 1733, in Charleston, SC, by 1749, and in New Orleans by 1828. If you've ever heard a shofar blast imagine its sound echoing through Benjamin Sheftall's Savannah home as British and Spanish soldiers fight nearby battles in the War of Jenkins' Ear in 1742 ( look it up ).

But Judaism in the South is also new--new in the sense that it is always changing, evolving. There are now Jewish studies programs established at universities in all 13 states and annual Jewish film festivals in 12. Dallas has a beautiful new Holocaust Center, Houston has the new Houston Jewish Archives, and nineteen Southern cities have active, dynamic Youth Leadership Cabinets preparing our communities for the next generation of Jewish leadership. The shofar pictured above was made by the youngest daughter of our executive director at one of the many Chabad "shofar factories" across the South.

The old and the new. Endings and beginnings. The Southern Jewish Experience.
From the Collection: Gamm Family Plantation
Many of the family histories in our collection share familiar milestones: immigrating to the South, traveling to an interior town, opening a store. But they don't all follow the script. That was certainly the case for Julius Gamm.

According to his archival records, Julius Gamm emigrated from Poland at age 14, arriving in New York in 1891. By 1896, he had made his way south to the town of Barton, in northwest Louisiana, and began working for Samuel Willer, a local farmer. Sam and his wife, Sara, were recent immigrants from Lithuania, and Sam Willer’s appearance in Louisiana’s Bossier Parish allowed the five practicing Jewish families in the town to finally achieve a minyan (a group of ten Jewish men required for Orthodox communal prayer). 
Julius soon married his boss’s daughter, Rosa, and the Willers and the Gamms set out to expand their holdings. Over the following decades, Julius purchased bits and parcels of land and soon established the Gamm Plantation. Like much of the region at the turn of the century, cotton was the primary crop, but Julius also diversified his 1,800 acres with alfalfa, sugar cane, and even peanuts.

The farm became so successful that the Gamm family hired a manager so the family could move to Shreveport, where they joined Temple B’nai Zion. Julius became a member of the Shreveport Lodge and played the saxophone in the B.P.O Elks marching band, while his son, Carol, played the clarinet. Although the Great Depression severely weakened the Gamm Plantation holdings, Julius remained a fixture of the community. Half a century after his arrival in the South as a young Polish immigrant, Julius was so well-known in his community that the Shreveport Journal printed his obituary on the front page of the newspaper in October 1938.

The Gamm family story is a part of the Museum's permanent collection thanks to the donation of artifacts by Janis Gamm Ablon. Do you have a family story you'd like to share with us? Let us know!
Why New Orleans?
(18.5 Million Tourists Can't Be Wrong)
New Orleans is home to the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience. Why New Orleans? Well, New Orleans has a long and colorful Jewish history (but so do a lot of other communities). New Orleans has a vibrant and welcoming Jewish community (but so do a lot of other cities). New Orleans is home to Tulane University, which boasts the nation's third highest Jewish student population by percent (that's a unique one).

But wrapped into the equation that makes New Orleans an ideal location for MSJE is its incredible offerings of cultural tourism. Year after year, New Orleans is voted onto top lists for Best Food Cities, Best Music Cities, Best Family Destinations, and more recently Best Museums. Cultural tourism--engagement with a region's people, history, and culture--gets top marks on surveys of why people choose to travel. That's a big pull for the 18.5 million tourists who visit New Orleans every year.

We point this out because the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience will not just be a museum for Southern Jews to visit. In fact, we are making special efforts to market to non-Jewish groups and individual travelers to New Orleans. We will be a destination for visitors from across the nation and around the world who want to expand their understanding of the South, of Jews and Judaism, and experience our unique contributions to the American tapestry. (Bottom center image courtesy of Touro Synagogue)
Keep Those Camp Sweethearts Photos Coming
We put out the call last month for photographs of camp sweethearts and many of you have responded. The Museum is creating a display of photographs like these of Jenny Zinn Kreitman and Ricky Kreitman, who dated while counselors at Greene Family Camp, in Texas, in 1990, and were married six years later by Rabbi Jake Jackofsky at Temple Shalom, in Dallas.
If you met your spouse at Greene, Barney, Coleman, Darom, Blue Star, Jacobs, CYJ, Echo Hill Ranch or other Southern Jewish summer camp and you have photographs like these that you're willing to share, we'd love to include them in our exhibit. You can email copies below. Please include your names, your hometowns, the name of the camp you attended, where and when you were married, and any special story about how you met. And... MAZEL TOV!
Words of Wisdom...
Some thoughts on Southern Jewish history and MSJE from our supporters:

"We are supporting MSJE to honor our parents, who helped make our lives complete, and, in addition, to show the world a little bit of our own Southern Jewish experience."
–Keith Katz, New Orleans

"The experience of Jews in the South is such a critical part of the overall Jewish story in the United States. We are pleased to be able to play a small role in this important undertaking."
–Kenny Friedman, Houston

"With deep family roots in the South, our Directors are pleased to be a part of the capital campaign for the new Museum in New Orleans.  The stories of our families and their impact on our communities will bring further understanding and appreciation for Jewish heritage and culture to our country."  
--Lenny Krasnow, President, M.B. and Edna Zale Foundation, Dallas

Meet Our Service Learning Students
Welcome Alec and Alex, our Tulane University Service Learning Project volunteers. They are joining us for the fall semester to work on several projects, including transcribing oral histories and helping to organize the Museum's artifacts. Here's why they're excited to get "hands-on" at the Museum:

Hi, my name is Alex Abramson (right) and I’m a senior at Tulane studying History and Philosophy. I’m looking forward to working with the MSJE because of my interest in history and desire to learn more about the trials, tribulations, and overall experiences of Jews who came before me in the South. -- Alex Abramson

Hello, I'm Alec Rosen (left), and I'm a junior studying Sociology and Urban Studies. I am excited to work with the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience because it connects me to my lineage a bit more--I grew up in Miami Beach. I hope to discover more as I continue to work with the Museum through the semester. -- Alec Rosen

Alec and Alex are pictured here examining photos from the Gamm Family, featured in this month's From the Collection . If you or someone you know is interested in interning with the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, let us know!
Support MSJE with your IRA
We're not tax experts ( we don't even play them on TV ), but we know that if you have a traditional IRA, you need to make a required minimum distribution (RMD) annually starting at age 70½. Please consider designating the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience as the recipient of this year's distribution. It's an easy way to help MSJE open in 2020. Ask your tax preparer about possible tax savings.

For more information, contact Executive Director Kenneth Hoffman
at   or call 504-338-4683.  
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Banner images (l-r): Song-leading at Southern Conclavette, Southern Federation of Temple Youth (SoFTY), 1969-1970, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Anshe Sfard Synagogue on Carondelet Street, New Orleans, Louisiana